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Vacuums & Vacuum Islands

The True Value behind Vacuum Islands


Car wash owners typically look at vacuum islands as a necessary evil, instead of seeing their true value. Contrary to popular belief, vacuum islands are one of the most under-rated revenue generation points at car washes, vacuum islands can draw customers into your wash increasing revenue in other cost centers such as self-service bays, in-bay automatics, tunnels, pet washes… etc. The following are concepts that could be addressed by an owner/operator to increase revenue.

Appearance – What customer wants to use equipment that looks worn out? Regardless of the functionality of your equipment, if it appears in bad shape, customers are going to be less likely to spend the money to use your equipment. Proper maintenance of your vacuums should include routine changes in hoses, claws, couplers and sun faded decals. Keep an extra hose on the shelf and rotate them out as necessary. Cleaning the old hoses is easy, power wash them and hang them to dry. Vacuum claws can be purchased for very little money so there is no excuse for not replacing them when they are damaged. Typical life span of vacuum decals is 3-5 years, based on weather climate and exposure to sun. Keeping the area around your vacuum clean is just as important. Over-filled trash cans and pop bottles laying around are a deterrent. Don’t underestimate the eye appeal of sweeping or blowing off your lot on a regular basis.

Functionality – As a consumer, there is nothing worse than putting money into a machine and nothing happening. People are creatures of habit. If they don’t get what they expect the first time they are not going to be willing to try again later. The flip side is, if they get excellent performance and are satisfied with their expenditure, they will be back. It is very important to inspect/test your equipment on a regular basis. How many self-service operators are guilty of using a remote to start their bays when they wash them down? How do you know if your coin acceptor or bill acceptor is functioning properly if you don’t test them? Same is true for vacuums.  You should regularly check your coin/bill acceptors and make sure the vac has ample suction. If you have a combo vacuum, test all of the functions – air machine, spot remover, fragrance, turbo vac…etc

Maintenance – Internal items should be checked on a routine schedule, including vacuum bags, door gaskets and scent/shampoo hoses. It is a good practice to keep an extra set of vacuum bags on site. Based on usage, vacuum bags should be taken out, washed and dried on a regular frequency. As you may have heard the cliché “The life of an engine is dependent on regular changing of the oil filter”, well the same is true for your vacuum motors. Cleaning your vacuum bags is beneficiary in two ways. One, the customer gets more suction when the bags are clean. Two, your vacuum motors will last longer since less debris is being pulled through the cloth bags into the motors. Door gaskets can be visually inspected while you are dumping the collected debris. If you suspect the gasket has been compromised cycle the vacuum and check the suction. You will know right away if there is a problem. Door gaskets are less than $6, while motor gaskets are less than $2. Make sure you have a back-up on the shelf. Replacing gaskets in cold weather can be difficult. If you have one that is suspect, change it before the snow flies. Some adhesive will not set in cold climates. If you have a combo vacuum, it is a good habit to do visual inspections of the suction hose. Over time they become brittle and lose their flexibility. Operators can fracture the lines when changing out solutions. Make sure to take time to look them over every couple months. 

Vacuum Options – With all of the options available on vacuums a person can easily be perplexed considering what options are right for their site. Knowing you want to get ahead of the competition down the street you have to ask yourself one simple question, “What differentiates my wash from his?” The following are a list of options that can help drive revenue towards your wash and away from the competition.

  • Three motor vacuum
  • Dollar bill acceptor
  • Credit card acceptor
  • Combo vacuum

The American way has always been “more is better”. One might take advantage of that fact by installing a vacuum that has an additional charge for the use of three motors vs. two. People will pay the up charge, thus generating more revenue.

As an owner you need to prepare for the future of currency in the car wash industry, one in which quarters are not allowed! Bill acceptors at a minimum should be a standard feature on any new equipment you purchase. Industry price points for start up on new vacuums range from $1 to $2. You may think this is an irrelative thought, but I ask you to recall how you paid for your gas 10 years ago. Most went inside to pay with cash. Now a majority of customers pay at the pump. Hence, the car wash industry is evolving away from quarters towards the use of dollars and credit cards. This leads me into my next point, if you are installing a combo vacuum such as JE Adams Ultra 6 in 1, a credit card swipe should be in the picture. With the options available on combo vacuums, customers are enticed to not only vacuum their car but clean the carpets, add fragrance and more.

Combo vacuums offer the customer several options. After vacuuming the car the customer can spend more time applying a fragrance, cleaning the coffee stain on the floor mat and/or adding air to a low tire. These choices keep them at your vacuum longer, spending more money. Don’t forget, car wash owners are in the business of selling time!

Island Location – As an owner/operator your must keep traffic flow in mind when building a new car wash or installing new vacuum islands. I would not recommend putting vacuum islands in front of self-service bays. This blocks the flow of traffic and can cause loss of revenue in your bays. On busy days you need to maximize profit. If a bay is being held up by a customer vacuuming out their car, you are losing dollars every minute. Additionally, customers will spend more time if they don’t feel a pressure to move forward into the bay. Space permitting, vacuum islands should be located out of the flow of traffic. If you don’t have the room, locate your combo vacuums in front of low volume bays.

On average, self-service owners generate $210/month per vacuum or $2520/year (PC&D January 2008). The cost range of a combo vacuum is $3,000 – $6,000 based on options. The typical self-service car wash can generate enough revenue to pay off multiple vacuums in one to two years. With such a short payback period it is cost justified to add or upgrade your current vacuums. As stated above, differentiating your wash from the competition will drive business directly to you! Drawing business to your self-service bays, pet washes, in-bay automatics and other on site cost centers which benefit the owner. Don’t look at vacuum islands as a headache but as a solid source for revenue and good investment for the future.

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