Seven years ago in this space Craig MacKay, owner of Clean Planet Car Wash, discussed his decision to rip and replace his five-year-old in-bay automatics in favor of more efficient and feature laden models. And now he is at it again, this time replacing one of his two hybrid in-bay units with a first-of-its-kind solution that he believes is one of the biggest advancements in car washing in years.
“There hasn’t been any breakthrough technology in the way we wash cars for a long time,” says MacKay. “There have been some incremental improvements with technology and payment, but nothing revolutionary.”
MacKay has partnered with car wash startup pl’over to launch their robotic Contour machine.
The installation will be the first for the company and features innovative technology that has yet to be leveraged in the car wash environment.
The Contour marries 3D scanning technology with robotics to efficiently wash vehicles with a minimum amount of water and chemical. The in-bay concept advances the traditional touch-free solution by personalizing the wash cycle for every vehicle.
When a car pulls into the bay, the system produces a 3D scan of the vehicle to capture its unique size, shape, and accessories and tailors its wash passes to this distinctive profile.
“Every wash is custom, and this 3D scan knows every nook and cranny of every individual car,” says MacKay. “Whether it’s a mirror, spoiler, antenna, or whatever the system has a full 3D scan model of the vehicle. And that’s how it goes about applying chemical and washing the car.”
Unlike traditional touch-free automatic solutions that utilize fixed nozzle positions, the Contour’s robotic wash head follows the outline of the vehicle within inches of the surface allowing for precise and economical application of high-pressure chemical and water. The result is an ultra-modern wash experience that is sure to impress customers with its futuristic in-bay approach.
The robotic technology will garner plenty of early attention from curious customers, but long-term success will be predicated on the machine’s ability to provide a clean and shiny car. “Yes,” MacKay says point blank when asked if the innovative in-bay will produce a clean car. “We expect our wash to be the best touchless quality available in the marketplace.”
As of press time Clean Planet was days away from unveiling its new in-bay experience. The solution was fully installed and being tested and fine-tuned, readying itself for launch.
For months leading up to the unveiling, customers have been kept abreast of progress on the company’s website and social channels with videos and releases describing the new technology, building excitement for the ribbon cutting.
Currently, MacKay plans to operate his shiny new pl’over machine alongside his traditional hybrid unit, with the goal of eventually converting both bays to the pl’over solution.
“I like being on the cutting edge and I’m all in with these guys,” MacKay says. “We are going to learn some things from this installation that will probably impact not only my next installation but inform tweaks to the product going forward.”
As a car wash veteran MacKay’s expertise was critical to the development and installation of the first-ever pl’over machine. The car wash startup reached out to MacKay during the development process to pick his brain over the challenges and opportunities facing the in-bay market. MacKay was brought on as a consultant and minority stakeholder nearly two years ago and agreed to allow Clean Planet to be used as a test site for the technology.
“I have consulted with them on the overall in-bay business,” MacKay says. “We are putting in machine number one and we have set up Clean Planet Car Wash to be a show site for their machines. As they sell into other markets, this will be the spot for now that people will come to see it.”
In addition to introducing the new technology to the industry, pl’over is also pioneering a new business model. The pl’over approach will not be simply to sell equipment, but provide a subscription service that includes chemicals and maintenance. Similar to other ‘as-a-service” models utilized across the business landscape, pl-over will collect a minimal per-car fee as part of the service agreement.
“This is going to be a foreign concept to a lot of car wash owners, although it’s not unheard of,” MacKay says. “pl’over is trying to revolutionize the car wash industry. The company can offer the end user a very competitive price per car that includes maintenance and chemical that in most cases will be equal to or less than traditional operating costs.”
The experimental equipment and operational model will raise some eyebrows across the industry, but MacKay is confident the new approach will make a splash. The industry veteran has been operating in-bay automatics for over a decade and is no stranger to daring business models.
He introduced an unlimited wash club at his two-bay site, looking to capitalize on the growing popularity of the primarily tunnel-based concept. “Tunnels don’t have the throughput problems that in-bays are faced with,” he says. “The concern for in-bay operators is that club membership will lead to increased volume which will increase wait times and negatively impact the wash experience. We haven’t found that to be the case.”
One inventive way MacKay and manager Gabriel Foster are approaching the potential throughput issues surrounding the unlimited wash plan is with a car wash live stream. Customers can view current wait times from the Clean Planet Car Wash website via a real-time look at the car wash queue.
“The live stream was a response to customer requests,” MacKay says. “It has helped alleviate some of the long wait times experienced during peak hours. It has been really well received by our customers.”
With more than 1,300 current wash club members, efficiency and throughput are vital to ensuring a quick, easy, and enjoyable experience. When MacKay first offered the service two unlimited wash options were available, one for the basic wash and one for the top package. What MacKay and Foster found was that more than 90 percent of customers were opting for the top option. In response, Clean Planet is doing away with its introductory unlimited wash club option and will only be offering the service for its top package.
The top package costs $15 ($12 after 9 pm) and is available in an all-you-can wash monthly membership for $26.99. In conjunction to the switch to a one-price format for its unlimited club, Clean Planet will allow club members to select any of the wash’s three menu options at the point of sale. This ability to select any wash will allow customers that are strapped for time or do not require all the services included in the top package every time they wash, to opt for a quicker, less intensive wash experience.
Whether it is tweaking his wash packages, installing a live stream, or pioneering all-new wash equipment MacKay is on the cutting edge. He keeps his wash fresh with innovative concepts designed to take the in-bay wash experience to the next level while setting the pace of change across the market.
Name: Clean Planet Car Wash
Location: Woodinville, Washington
Owner: Craig MacKay
Concept: In-Bay Automatic
Wash Equipment: Mark VII & pl’over
Point of Sale: Washify
Unlimited Wash Members: 1,300-plus