Car washing can be divided into three elements: point-of-sale system, wash-bay or tunnel, and a mechanical room that contains support equipment and inventory.
By Robert Roman
The equipment in the wash bay is made exclusively by car wash equipment manufacturers.
Support equipment — such as air compressors, high-pressure pumps, electrical switches, sensors, etc. — is made by a variety of manufacturers some of which make car wash equipment.
Conversely, point-of-sale (POS) systems are made almost entirely by a host of companies that do not make car wash equipment. This is an important consideration today because POS technology is what allows for the three elements to be connected.
Connectivity begins at the starting line with either a self-service payment kiosk and/or hand-held wireless device. Kiosks allow customers to exercise a full range of payment options and feature an easy-to-read touch-screen display that provides simple instructions for customers to follow and voice prompts to select the products they need.
Digital technology allows for processing electronic payments in under five seconds as well as loyalty rewards or VIP card information with a built-in barcode reader.
Locations offering subscription programs have either radio frequency identification (RFID) technology to read windshield tags or license plate recognition (LPR) systems and automated queue car stacking.
Windows-based POS management systems and tunnel control software makes everything work together including the equipment that cleans cars.
This technology allows operators to view conveyor speed, queue, tunnel activity, alerts, warnings, and other information at-a-glance and online with a web-based browser.
Data encryption technology allows for the transfer of sales, labor, and customer data over the Internet as well as storage in the cloud.
POS systems can also be customized according to need (e.g., single site,network), business model, or corporate culture.
Unmanned washes can get into the game by installing black boxes that contain interface modules that allow customers to activate wand-bays and in-bay automatics with their mobile phone. Unmanned washes can also offer subscription programs like unlimited washing by joining a digital car wash network.
Digital networks are made possible by tech firms that have developed marketing platforms that integrate vehicle recognition technology, operator dashboard, and customer app into existing car wash systems.
Diversification in this segment includes firms that also build and host websites or will create a private brand image for a digital network.
Arguably, the next advancement in digital technology will be the ability to connect customer and car wash through a vehicle’s computer. For example, wiTECH is a diagnostic system that provides a secure wireless connection to a vehicle so technicians can check for problems.
Undoubtedly, someone will clone this technology and come up with a product that will eliminate the need for LPR and RFID.
On the other hand, digital technology does present certain challenges such as preventing unauthorized users or malicious actors from gaining access to networks or carrying out exploits and threats.
For example, digital networks require advanced antivirus and anti-malware software. Mobile and wireless device security is needed to keep network-traffic private.
Web security and a threat-focused firewall are also needed to protect the gateway onsite and in the cloud.
And finally, software applications are needed to protect e-mail gateways and customer data from being lost. The importance of this cannot be overstated.
According to the Better Business Bureau’s State of Cyber Security Report, the annual loss from cyber crimes cost small businesses about $80,000 on average.
Consequently, as more small businesses become equal parts digital and brick-and-mortar, securing both aspects of the company will become more important than ever.