Integrating a Car Wash Program


Source: IGM • March | AprIl 2017 | 55 | By Maura Keller

According to David Dougherty, senior product manager for in-bay automatics at PDQ Manufacturing, Inc. in Depere, WI, a car wash program is a great addition to any convenience-store operation. 

“It has historically been the highest margin item at a location,” Dougherty says. “If you add a loyalty program to the mix, it will not only drive business to the car wash but the car wash can help drive business inside the store. The typical car wash can sell car wash codes both at the pumps as well as in the store.”

Experts agree that car washes have always helped to drive volume at the pumps and in the stores. In fact, having a top performing wash in your market is a great way to pull consumers to your store and drive overall store revenue. Offering promotions or discounts that require customers to come inside the store are also effective in increasing revenue.

That said, it’s important to remember that a car wash can sometimes be thought of as a luxury instead of a necessity. If you are in a region with a struggling economy with consumers experiencing tighter incomes, they may not be as willing to spend the money for something they think they can do without. Because of this, retailers have to be more creative in their efforts to entice them to utilize their facilities.

However, today’s equipment can advertise in-store specials as well as print discounts that can be redeemed in the store, truly making the equipment not only generate revenue as a car wash but as a source for in store sales.

As Bob Lye of Washing Equipment of Texas, or WET Inc., explains, car washes have been increasing in popularity as car washes provide a good convenience option to people already parked and getting gas.

“Sometimes, it’s hard to get out to the car wash only location, so having a quality car wash in the same place that you fill up is a great convenience for customers,” Lye says. “And car washes are much more energy efficient than they used to be. A fraction of the water is all it takes to wash a car, and the detergents can be bought in concentrate and mixed, making them more affordable than ever. A lot of stores opening car washes tend to sell the car washes as a bonus when getting gas. If you’re already parked and getting gas, why not take three minutes or less to get a car wash too.

Joseph Bona, veteran c-store/petroleum designer and consultant and president of Bona Design Lab, New York, NY, says car washes give consumers more reasons to patronize a site even when not buying gas on a particular visit.

“They provide more opportunities to drive traffic to a site and can establish a strong loyalty to both the store and gas pumps,” Bona says. “Cross-promotional opportunities can really help drive transactions and loyalty.”

When incorporating car washes into c-store environments, Bona sees a common mistake—namely a lack of proper planning for queuing both pre-wash and post-wash.

“It’s critical to ensure that you aren’t giving up store parking space or having lines interfere with fueling or general site ingress/egress,” Bona says.

It’s also paramount to invest in the “latest and greatest” car wash technology that your budget allows. Next-generation friction wash systems have begun incorporating new technologies that control and optimize how brushes come in contact with the vehicle, improving throughput and cleanliness.

“Likewise, new touchless washes have sensor technologies that allow cars to just drive into a bay without having to worry about being perfectly aligned, reducing anxiety of drivers and improving speed of service,” Bona says.

Jerry McDaniel, owner of Dirtbuster Car Wash, stresses that user experience is vital to any successful business, but especially integral to the success of a car wash. Menu options need to be highly visible and clearly state what’s included. Timers should have an audible warning.

“New technology has allowed car wash owners to provide a user experience that goes well beyond those seemingly basic considerations,” McDaniel says. “A great example is the use of mobile apps to enhance the convenience factor of the car wash experience.”

For example, the Dirtbuster Mobile App allows users to select their location from a list, choose their desired wash, activate the wash, and pay, all with a few button presses, without eve rolling down a window.

“Not only does the app greatly improve the convenience of visiting the car wash, it also rewards customers with free washes just for using the app. A points system is used, similar to a punch card system,” McDaniel says. In addition to the points system, Dirtbuster also offers new app users a free wash for downloading the app and award points for referrals, which are sent to friends via text message. These benefits are beneficial to end-users, but they’re even more beneficial for Dirtbuster’s marketing efforts. They utilize Facebook and Instagram to promote app downloads, using the free wash reward with download as an attractive call-to-action. Furthermore, they’re able to track customer behavior, active users, and more.

Key Marketing Tactics

Marketing is critical for any business, and a car wash is no different. Because a car wash purchase is often the result of convenience or impulse, actively promoting the car wash is the best strategy to follow. And due to the high margins associated with operating a car wash, it is important to convert as many opportunities as possible to a purchase.

One easy and effective technique is to discount at-the-pump sales, typically structured as cents-per-gallon off with purchase of car wash. Another strategy for success is to offer Point-of-Sale (POS) codes for your car wash. This follows the basic marketing premise, “make it easy for your customers to do business with you.”

POS marketing materials are very effective at communicating the various car wash programs available and the associated incentives with each package. With automated pay machines and self-serve gas, the only way to communicate with customers is through this kind of marketing, which can be very effective in getting customers to buy a wash or upgrade to the top package.

Cashier training with emphasis on suggestive selling can also help increase car wash purchases. That’s because a high percentage of customers will accept a cross-sell or up-sell offer if you simply give them a good reason to accept it, so make sure that every customer that makes a purchase in the store gets asked if they want or wash or, if they’re already buying one, if they want to upgrade to the top wash to get the added features that it includes.

Dougherty says offering a loyalty program and advertising has proven to be a big success for most operators.

“Monthly programs are the trend lately; however you will need to make sure your payment terminal is capable of handling this without the expense of added labor,” Dougherty says. “Loyalty is typically spread best by word of mouth and can be a huge benefit to an operator.”

And many c-store operators don’t discount the car wash, they discount the gas. Given the high profit margin on the car wash and the low margin on gas, plus the average consumer’s obsession with gas prices, discounting gas a few pennies a gallon is a more powerful marketing tool than discounting the car wash
a dollar or two. And, as mentioned above, taking advantage of every opportunity (signage, transactions in the c-store, etc.) to up-sell the customer is very effective if you just articulate to the customer a reason to spend that extra dollar or two.

Of course, a simple approach to marketing that is often overlooked is talking to your business neighbors to co-brand your sites or loyalty programs, which can be great for both businesses.

So are there certain parts of the country where car washes are more prevalent or do better? In actuality, a car wash can be successful in any part of the country. There are local weather issues that can dirty vehicles in every part of the world.

“The old adage ‘location, location, location,’ holds true with every business including the car wash,” Dougherty says. “The north cold weather climates may have the winter months where they are more busy, but the south has seasons that cause consumers to wash more frequently.”

On the horizon

Running a car wash for the first time, in many ways, is the same as any other new business venture. The winners seek out the industry experts and learn from their experience. They find the success stories and adopt their best practices.

And as with any capital improvement or addition, there are bound to be problems and mistakes made. “The biggest mistake we see is purchasing equipment that doesn’t truly meet their needs,” Dougherty says. “They may purchase based on price, however they will pay dearly for that in the long run with limited revenue-generating services, higher rates of consumables, and poor local service and support. As retailers research a car wash they should be focused on consumption efficiencies, throughput, revenue generating features, and strong local support.

Also, understanding the technology available, as well as the future potential for technological improvements in today’s car wash systems, will help c-store owners and operators make educated decisions surrounding the appropriate car wash technology to use.

Technology improvements are a constant in all industries, and the car wash industry is no different. An important item to consider when purchasing a car wash, is to make sure the manufacturing company is a technological leader. You don’t want to buy the same equipment/technology that was offered 50 years ago.

“Make sure the equipment you choose is made by a forward-thinking company,” Dougherty says. “PDQ is part of Dover.

Corporation and we are constantly challenged to be innovative in our designs and products. We always have open projects that are looking into new and creative ways to wash a car.”

Bona believes that as sites continue to increase in size, it will be important to treat all site activity with the same level of importance and brand presence. This means creating related but-equal service offerings that on their own operate and function as individual businesses but, at the same time, are all connected to make it easy and efficient for customers to both understand and use the site for multiple needs and occasions, thus promoting loyalty to the location.

As for the future of technology within the car wash industry, McDaniel foresees the continued development of convenience related technologies that further enhance the user experience.

“C-store owners are poised to not only benefit from the added convenience of an on-site car wash, but also from the marketing opportunities, relationship building, consumer data, and enhanced customer experience,” McDaniel says.

Operators who put the time and energy into marketing the car wash and maintaining the equipment to ensure a good quality product are consistently recognized as being leaders in the c-store industry. Of course, that’s not because of the car wash alone—it’s because they devote the time and energy to maximize the return of every profit center within their business model, including the car wash.

New Bona Design Lab Delivers Elevated Strategies to Convenience Retailers Across the Globe

- Rebranded and relocated design firm continues the ‘foodvenience’ focus of Moseley Bona Retail. 

NEW YORK, N.Y. (3/8/17) – MoseleyBona Retail, the global design firm known for its elevated approaches to c-store and fuel retailing, has rebranded and reincorporated as New York-based Bona Design Lab, LLC.

The change follows the sudden passing last March of longtime foodservice consultant Thomas C. Moseley, Jr., who had co-founded Massachusetts-based MoseleyBona Retail along with veteran c-store/petroleum designer and consultant Joseph Bona in December 2015. In launching the new venture, Bona acquired the outstanding shares of MoseleyBona Retail from Moseley’s estate. The rebranded firm has relocated to Manhattan, with an office in London via its alliance with Dan Munford of Insight Research, a noted UK-based global specialist in convenience retail strategy.

“Tom and I were just getting started with MoseleyBona Retail when the devastating news came that Tom, who was only 58 years old, had passed away while traveling in Saudi Arabia,” Bona explained. “I am so thankful for the time I was able to spend with him and am particularly grateful for the generous support I have received from his family. Bona Design Lab will continue our mission of delivering transformative design and consulting services to c-store, fuel and food retailers around the world.” 

The new firm’s suite of services includes brand strategy, consumer insights, naming/logo development, site planning, store layout, exterior/interior design, and graphic design. Its capabilities in business analysis/consulting run the gamut from menu and communications strategies, to equipment layout and workflow analysis, to financial metrics and operational consulting. 

“Our goal is to help leaders in this sector integrate the science of retail with the art of retail design,” Bona said. “However, this isn’t just about big-picture strategy. Bona Design Lab drills into the details of practical execution.” Toward that end, the firm assists clients with concept rollouts, architectural drawings, project management, culinary initiatives and integration of the latest touchscreen and digital menu technology.

Bona’s retail design career spans 30 years and six continents. Following 21 years at CDI Group, where he rose to President, Bona was founding Partner and President of GroupRed, which subsequently merged with New York-based branding and design consultancy CBX in the mid-2000s.  At CBX, Bona served as President of Branded Environments for a decade, personally directing a wide range of initiatives for names such as Duane Reade, Shinsegae Department Stores, Wawa, Statoil, Topaz, PetroChina, OXXO, MOL and AM/PM. While at CBX, Bona was featured on the Discovery Channel’s “Modern Marvels” series, bringing his expertise on c-store design to TV audiences. He has been a regular speaker at the annual convention of the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS) in the United States, as well as Insight/NACS in Europe, and has also presented at several other domestic and international trade events. The veteran designer’s work has led to numerous international design awards, and many of his projects have been featured in design publications.

Faced with challenges like channel blurring, today’s convenience retailers are under pressure up their game, Bona noted. “That’s why we’re so focused on elevated approaches to what we call ‘foodvenience,’” he said. “The old model is giving way to a more sophisticated one, and our clients are on the leading edge of the change.”

A new animal: Why foodvenience represents the future, by Joe Bona

If a biologist in the Amazon rainforest finds a new frog species, the next step is to give it a name. And since a new animal clearly has evolved in the convenience retail ecosystem, we might as well do the same. The animal in question is neither a full-blown QSR/fast-casual chain nor a traditional convenience store. Rather, it skillfully blends elements of these established concepts in ways that are both advantageous and new.

What to call this new creature? My vote is for the term foodvenience.

In the natural world, new species evolve in part because of changing environmental conditions. In the same way, foodvenience concepts are an adaptive response to significant shifts in the retail jungle—a kill-or-be-killed world in which finicky consumers increasingly expect higher quality and healthier foods (with customisable choices to boot) pretty much anywhere they go.

Today’s consumers are eating out more frequently and tilting toward premium offerings. They also crave something that is even more challenging for retail operators to provide—authenticity. This is not just a Millennial thing. These days, Gen Xers and baby boomers are just as likely as Millennials to shop at farmers markets, eat at “farm-to-table” restaurants or carefully scrutinise ingredient labels to avoid GMOs, added sugars or food allergens.

In nature, adaptations allow new species to out-compete older “models.” But in the retail world, do traditional c-stores selling mostly beer, cigarettes and lotto tickets truly represent where the industry is headed, or is the future better represented by the evolutionary efforts of Irish chains such as Topaz and Applegreen, or U.S. concepts like Sheetz and Wawa?

To be sure, thousands of traditional, no-frills c-stores will continue to exist. However, they will not be able to crawl onto dry land and exploit the new niche increasingly occupied by foodvenience concepts. While these next-generation stores do sell beer, cigarettes and lotto, they happen to be so focused on food and the customer experience that they can actually steal market share from both fast casual and QSR formats alike.

In years to come, the best foodvenience chains will give the likes of Pret A Manger, Itsu, Chipotle Mexican Grill, Five Guys Burgers and Fries, Shake Shack, Planet Organic and Leon a run for their collective money. More and more consumers will buy into the notion that they can get customised, high-quality tossed salads, pizzas or fresh-made sandwiches (not to mention some petrol) at stores that happen to be an easy stop on their way to work.

As foodvenience becomes more commonplace, players in this space will need to up the ante. The fast-casual arena offers a picture of what this will look like. Twenty years ago, a concept like Sweetgreen would have been viable in just a few “granola” college towns around the United States. Today, Sweetgreen has 51 locations across the country, with nine more on the way. Walk into a Sweetgreen and you’ll find a dizzying array of greens, grains, bases, proteins and dressings— all of it marked to indicate gluten-free or vegan, of course. Some customers buy readymade dishes such as “Rad Thai” or “Guacamole Greens,” while others build their own creations. Everything about Sweetgreen suggests a cut above. In marketing materials, Sweetgreen describes its cornerstones as “scratch cooking, transparency, sustainability, local sourcing and food safety.” It highlights store finishes that include “reclaimed hickory, barn board pine and bowling alley tables.” Not so long ago, all of this would have been unthinkable for a restaurant at this price point. But retail evolves.

Moreover, the appeal here is broad-based. When I was at a Sweetgreen location in New York City recently, I couldn’t help but chuckle at the hardhat-wearing construction workers standing in line alongside bearded Millennial hipsters and affluent moms in yoga pants. By offering healthier options, convenience-oriented food retailers are not just widening their appeal among women and younger people— all around the world, health-consciousness, choice and customisation are on the rise.

In the fast-casual space, some operators are seeking an edge by taking these trends even further. Oath Craft Pizza, a new U.S. fast-casual chain, strives to be much more than “the Chipotle of pizza,” as has been the goal for so many others in this particular category. With a brand rooted in an “oath” of quality and sustainability, Oath Craft Pizza offers high-quality ingredients, easy customisation and a 90-second cooking time. Thanks to the seriousness of its commitment, Oath Craft Pizza succeeds in conveying a greater sense of authenticity. And the pizza happens to be incredibly delicious.

Who would have thought that the likes of Oath Craft Pizza and Sweetgreen could ever represent competition for c-stores? In fact, they do. To remain competitive, the new foodvenience concepts must continually get better. In Boston, we recently helped Global Partners at its new Alltown Market modify the menu and up the ante on its ingredients. The goal was to offer more quality and customisation, precisely because of today’s competitive dynamics in convenience retailing.

Alltown also added touchscreen ordering, which highlights a potential competitive strategy for foodvenience concepts. The right technology, after all, can allow you to save on payroll costs even as you boost convenience. At the California concept Eatsa, people walk in and see no employees whatsoever—because the employees are literally behind the walls. The entire process, in fact, is automated, sort of like a 1950s-era automat. The four-store chain offers customisable bowls with names like “Yogurt Quinoa Parfait” or “Mediterranean Scramble,” along with fresh gourmet coffee and tea. You order and pay using a touchpad, then pick up your food at glass windows in the walls of the store. It is an easy and novel experience. In the years to come, count on evolving foodvenience retailers to tap tech solutions that boast similar advantages.

So what’s the formal definition of foodvenience? I’d say it’s any retail business that strives to give the public a highly convenient location; fast, efficient, takeout-ready foods at affordable prices; and a wide array of consumable products and services. Within this broad template, there’s plenty of room for creativity and growth. I can’t wait to see how foodvenience continues to evolve.

Joseph Bona is President of Franklin, Mass.-based MoseleyBona Retail, which specialises in elevating the convenience retail experience;

Source: Insight Global Convenience Store Focus