Updating the Car Wash to Increase Throughput and Revenue

Why mini-tunnels can be preferable to in-bay roll-over car washes
Photograph: Shutterstock

A convenience store’s car wash option can be a cornerstone of the business. With most in-bay roll-over systems costing under $400,000 to build and capable of washing about nine cars every hour, they’re a relatively low investment way to earn extra money. But what if c-stores could earn more by upgrading to a mini-tunnel? It’s a trend among some stores, and it’s easy to see why—despite a higher cost investment to build, mini-tunnels can wash more cars than in-bay models can. And it’s not a matter of just a few more cars, either—in fact, a mini-tunnel can wash as many as 40 to 50 cars each hour.

So how can switching to mini-tunnels boost revenue? Aside from the obvious increase in throughput, mini-tunnels can increase customer satisfaction and loyalty and edge out competition.

Increase customer satisfaction

Perhaps the most obvious way mini-tunnel car washes can increase customer satisfaction is by speeding up the process—without a reduction in wash quality, of course. Upgrading to a mini-tunnel involves more than simply reloading an in-bay car wash with a faster rollover to cater to more cars. Rather, it offers an improved wash that also happens to be faster. A faster wash means less time waiting in line—or, worse, skipping the long line entirely to go elsewhere. C-store retailers operating in a growing market have a unique opportunity when switching to a mini-tunnel wash—the opportunity to earn more money while catering to the needs of their community.

Remain competitive

In a similar vein, c-stores that have mini-tunnels are able to compete with other nearby c-stores that have in-bay roll-over washes. If other c-stores in the area stick with slower, in-bay car washes, their lines can build up quickly. And on busy days, that line can be the difference between where those customers go. If a different spot on the same block offers a faster, higher quality wash, it’s easy to see where they’ll gravitate toward.

“From the independent market, we’re seeing a lot of questioning—'How can we increase our wash counts without having to expand our wash bays?’ – that’s where the short-tunnel reloads come into play,” said Jim Rennie, sales manager, tunnel products for Mark VII.

“Where short tunnels come into play is when you get your peak volume—pollen season in the south, road salt and winter conditions in the northeast. You can manage the peak seasons significantly better with a tunnel car wash versus the traditional in-bay automatics.”

Car wash upgrade considerations

C-store retailers who are considering making the switch have a lot to think about. While switching from in-bay roll-over washes to mini-tunnels is a trend right now that’s expected to continue growing over the next few years, they may not be right for every store.

“If a retailer is looking to do this, the first thing to do is a full-site evaluation,” Rennie says. “What does the water look like, what does the power look like – determine if there are upgrades needed.” Beyond possible site upgrades and construction, when deciding whether a mini-tunnel is ideal for a site, retailers should consider these factors:

  • Is there typically a long line for the existing car wash? When consumers have to wait, they may get frustrated or even leave—mini-tunnels increase throughput and speed up the line significantly.
  • Is the store’s surrounding area growing in population? If so, a mini-tunnel could help with population expansion and increased demand. Some new stores are choosing to build mini-tunnel car washes from the get-go, Rennie said, as they’re becoming more of a trend due to their speed and efficiency.
  • Have gasoline sales dropped due to electric or hybrid cars? A faster car wash can help boost revenue from customers who may not need the other goods or services available.
  • Do other locations around the area offer mini-tunnel washes? If so, c-stores may want to consider upgrading to increase competitiveness and to stay up-to-date on current technology.
  • Is the location set up to handle a car wash closure for a few months while upgrading? If a store’s profits hinge heavily on those dollars, upgrading may need to be planned strategically to avoid a loss of profit.

Another factor to consider is staffing. There are two types of mini-tunnels—one that is self-serve and one that requires an attendant to help customers load their vehicles onto it—and retailers should consider what their labor costs are currently and whether it makes more sense to choose one model over the other.  Lot size should also be assessed; mini-tunnels require more space for the cars to queue before they get loaded onto the car wash, so retailers should be sure to take that into consideration.

To learn more about whether a mini-tunnel is right for a particular location and to learn more about mini-tunnels overall, visit https://www.markvii.net/.

This post is sponsored by Mark VII

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