Myth Busting of the Car Wash Quick Lube Combo Shop

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Adding a service can be a great way to draw in new customers, but, obviously, the service needs to have synergy with the existing business. While oil and water are two liquids that are immiscible, meaning that they don’t mix together; a quick lube and carwash can actually have a good synergy as both involve car care and maintenance.

However, many questions abound around the business model involving the carwash.

Determining whether an existing quick lube shop should, or even can, add a carwash business is one of the right things to research, said Kevin Collette, Vice President of Sales CTO of Sonny’s, an industry leader for the carwash equipment, parts, education and software.

“We tell our clients that it all starts with research to determine that a carwash is right for your business to grow,” Collette said. “Just as shops need to consider other expansions, there are many specific factors to consider with a carwash.”

Sonny’s, which has been in the carwash business since 1949, currently has around 50-percent market share. To help dispel concerns, Collette discussed today’s five biggest myths in the world of the carwash.

Myth One:

It Won’t Bring Enough Business

Adding a carwash is a costly process that involves time, space and output of capital investment. Many quick lube operators probably think a carwash — like water and oil — won’t mix because it won’t bring in enough business.

However, many customers will see the opportunity to get the car cleaned while getting the oil changed.

“It comes down to proper analysis,” Collette explained. “You need to look at the potential that the two services offer together. We see that a quick lube can do even more business when a carwash is added when it is done right.”

One advantage a carwash business can offer is via a wash club-based subscription service, where customers pay monthly and can use the service as often as they want. This is a way to get those customers to come back quite often.

“There is the potential, too, for a bundle marketing play, where those who pay for the wash club are offered a discount on the oil change or other services,” Collette said. “This is a good way to entice customers to come back.”

Myth Two:

A Carwash Can Be Added to Any Shop

It might come as a surprise that Collette would be blunt and to the point that not all locations or shops are ideal for a carwash. Many suppliers might simply say, “build it, and they will come,” but Sonny’s is built around providing the right services for the business.

“That is absolutely correct, and we see many shops that simply don’t have the physical room,” Collette said. “But we also see that some shops may not have enough volume. There might also be the issue that there is a carwash that is doing well close by, so adding that service may not make sense from a business standpoint.”

However, any quick lube that is thriving, that has the space and doesn’t have an existing carwash that will take away business could be a good fit.

Myth Three:

It Takes More Labor to Wash Cars

Many existing business owners may be apprehensive about adding a carwash as it could mean hiring multiple employees to operate that side of the business. But an equal myth is that a carwash can be completely labor-free.

“Saying you don’t have to have more labor isn’t true, but so is saying you need a lot more labor,” Collette said. “It really comes down to how many cars you wash and the type of machines you use. With a tunnel, you really need a guy there to ensure the cars run through, but the machines do most of the work.”

Myth Four:

Customers Want Full Service at the Carwash

Some automotive service operators may think that a carwash runs contrary to the notion of quick lube as customers expect their cars to be painstakingly detailed. The truth is, many customers don’t want to drive around in a dirty car and don’t have time to wash it themselves.

One only needs to think why Starbucks has displaced the diner for the place to get coffee. It is about getting in and out quickly.

“It isn’t true that full service is what customers want anymore,” Collette said. “The millennial customer is changing our way of business, just as the smartphone is changing the way we do business and communicate.”

Today, the customer wants convenience and value, and Collette added, “Convenience is speed and efficiency, which is why they go to a quick lube in the first place. Quick lube is the very definition of convenience.”

Thus the full service carwash, where a driver drops off the car and it is hand-washed and vacuumed, is a dying breed in the industry.

“That used to be the backbone of the industry, where it would take 30 to 45 minutes for the exterior and interior of the car to be cleaned,” Collette said. “Today, that is very little of what most shops offer and really only accounts for about 6 percent of the new ground up market.”

Instead today most new carwashes are about express exterior service, where the driver stays in the car and may have the option to vacuum out the car after it is cleaned himself for free.

Myth Five:

A Carwash is a Seasonal Business

Perhaps the biggest myth is that a carwash will only operate during the summer “driving” months, when people head out for vacation and bugs collect on the windshield. Yet, customers are just as likely to head to the carwash in the cold months when it would be unheard of to pull out the hose and wash their own car!

“It is actually always carwash season,” Collette noted. “There is no such thing as the off-season for carwashes, but there are some points to understand. First, there are peak demand business hours, and that can be after work and on weekends.” The issue becomes one of ensuring that demand can be met, because the customer will dictate the “when,” so it is up to the operator to determine the “how” to get the job done.

“We tell quick lube operators that with the right equipment and planning they can see up to 60 cars an hour, but the thing to remember is the peak traffic may occur over 25 primary hours each week,” explained Collette. “There are windows, and a carwash business is going to be time-driven as much as weather-driven.”

This means that business will be slow to non-existent on a rainy day, but if the sun is shining, the cars will come. That is true even — maybe especially — in colder weather after the cars have gotten spray from the salt on the roads.

“Many operators do great business in the winter because no one wants to wash their car and they really want to get the salt off it,” Collette said. “People go to the carwash because they care about their car and want to keep it clean. That is as true in January as it is in June.”

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