The New Trend in C-store Car Washes

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The New Trend in C-store Car Washes

By Renee M. Covino, Convenience Store News - 03/29/2016

NATIONAL REPORT — Car washes are on the move in the convenience channel.

More specifically, there is a movement underway among convenience stores with car washes to upgrade their operations by transitioning from an in-bay automatic system to a tunnel/conveyor system, which can handle a higher volume of vehicles.

Car wash suppliers say while in-bay automatics can move maybe 12 cars an hour, a conveyor system can move 100 cars or more in that same timeframe.

The rationale for c-stores is that the site has the fuel traffic already, so why not capitalize on it from a wash perspective with a more professional touch — one that can give it an edge over nearby fuel competitors and put it on par with the professional car wash businesses in the area.

“C-stores are falling in love with the car wash business,” Kevin Collette, vice president of sales, CTO (Compact Tunnel Organization) for Sonny’s Enterprise in Tamarac, Fla., told Convenience Store News. “The profits they are generating, the incremental growth at the pumps and inside the store are all very appealing. Secondly, they are experiencing how easy it is to manage a high-volume, professional-level car wash requiring few employees and few vendors.”

Sonny’s is witnessing more operators in the convenience channel utilizing existing land for building a better car wash, properties which are turning out to be ideal for high-volume express car washes.  

“Conveyors can definitely wash more volume, and in the ‘80s and ‘90s, major fuel retailers like BP, Exxon, Mobil, Shell, Petro Canada, Sunoco and others had thriving car wash sites with conveyor systems on them,” recalled Rob Deal, vice president of international and corporate sales for Innovative Control Systems (ICS), a supplier based in Wind Gap, Pa.

“Many of those sites have been converted back to in-bay automatics for various reasons. I think the c-store market is ready to get back into more conveyor systems as part of the overall ‘bigger site’ trend, which continues to grow,” Deal relayed.

But does that mean all c-stores with car washes should convert to a conveyor?

CSNews got the following tips from car wash industry insiders:

A Multifaceted Evaluation Is Needed

“If the site can service over 100 customers fueling at the same time, then you need a conveyor car wash system to handle the volume,” Deal reasoned. But, of course, the answer isn’t always that easy. For most c-store operators, a multifaceted evaluation is needed.

Just deciding to conduct an evaluation is the first step. Once that decision is made, a site evaluation and ROI calculation are critical in the determination whether or not to convert, advised Laura Edgmond, marketing specialist with Ryko Solutions Inc., based in Grimes, Iowa.

Start With the Physical

C-stores should initially make a physical evaluation, according to ICS’ Deal.

“One of the most basic ways to evaluate a site is to look at the volume of current car wash business and the size of the site,” he said. “The layout and stack/queue areas are critical to ensure you don’t disrupt the current business. Having ample room to make modifications is a must.”

The physical evaluation should also include looking at the length of the wash tunnel; if/where vacuums can be installed; and how point-of-sale entry systems can potentially be placed to manage the flow into the wash, added Collette of Sonny’s.

Observationally, c-stores can evaluate their lineup of cars. If it is constant, then they should consider an upgrade to a conveyor system, according to Deal.

Be Proactive With a Market Evaluation

A market evaluation can be considered if a c-store operator wants to take a more proactive approach to converting to a conveyor system.

“You can be an early adopter by doing a market evaluation of current car wash types in a three-mile radius from the location to be upgraded,” Deal advised. “If the market is full of in-bay washes, it might be opportune to be a market leader and capture more car wash volume” with a tunnel system.

Have Financing Ready

Finally, obtaining proper financing is a crucial step as a conveyor system requires more capital for the equipment and more land to fit the tunnel operation and underground installation.

“Tunnel car washes are a greater investment compared to a rollover or touchless, so financing is an important factor,” advised Ryko’s Edgmond.  

For other c-store car wash trends, look in the April issue of Convenience Store News.