It is my practice to make car washing an impulsive purchase. Truth be told, it is a planned impulse buy. Let me explain this apparent contradiction: Rather than limit my car wash experience to one favored location — though there is one that I return to more often than any other — I prefer to stop in at any car wash that happens to be in the vicinity as I’m out and about. This allows me to see a broader picture of the industry in my market.
During a recent gas station stop, I decided to give the onsite car wash a try. An attractive decal on the gas pump clearly displayed the available packages. The purchase of the top package was easily and seamlessly accomplished along with the gas purchase. A neatly demarcated roadway led to an automated pay station at the car wash entrance.
Receipt with wash code in hand, I was greeted by a synthesized voice presumably welcoming me to the wash. I say presumably because try as I might I could not make out what the boxed-in voice was telling me — the sound crackling and breaking up repeatedly. There was yet another impediment: The screen of the pay station faced directly south — this in a market blessed with more harsh sunlight than anyone could possibly be grateful for. The glare was such that I could discern my own reflection on the screen but little else.
Undeterred, I entered the code, figuring I’d let technology take its course. Lo and behold, the green light on the gantry blinked on, beckoning me forward. Let me say at the outset that for an in-bay automatic the wash quality was acceptable, possibly even good. How it got done, not so much. The gantry stuttered and clanged as it made its various passes. To say that, at times, I feared for the safety of my car would be but a slight exaggeration.
Exiting the wash presented another challenge. After the wash, customers drive slowly out of the wash bay under a freestanding dryer. A countdown timer at the exit helps drivers regulate their drive-through. However, as with the pay station, the timer faces south, making it near impossible to read at certain times of the day. In the late afternoon, for example, the timer would be in the shade eliminating the problem.
It should be said, in fairness, that this is an older wash and that the equipment shows clear evidence of aging. The pay station could charitably be described as “vintage.” For a business operating in the so-called experience economy, this one came up short.
I subsequently returned to the wash that sees me most often. This is also an older wash. A full-service conveyor operation, it has little beyond the basics in the tunnel.
A triple-foam application is the closest it comes to a “show.” It does not serve coffee and has no TV in the lobby, but it provides every service smoothly, efficiently, and seemingly effortlessly. That friendly employees provide the service adds to the value.
A good customer experience does not require a theatrical production, though it couldn’t hurt. What is absolutely essential is a clean, shiny, dry car at the tunnel exit within a reasonable timeframe and at a fair price. That’s the experience I’m after, and that’s the experience I get at this car wash.