Starting on page 39 in this issue, we report on the results of the 2019 In Bay Automatic Survey. It was encouraging to see that half of the respondents, overall, experienced year-over-year increases in wash volume. In our 2018 survey only 42 percent were able to report such progress.

That was the good news. What might be cause for concern is that only 38 percent of respondents who do not have self-serve wand bays on site (i.e., located at convenience stores and/or gas stations) were able to report growth in their numbers. Last year that number stood at 36 percent, while an equal percentage reported declining volumes. In this year’s survey, fully 50 percent of these IBA-only participants washed fewer cars than last year, nearly twice the percentage of IBA/wand-bay combos that experienced the same.

Why the disparity? What motivates a consumer to purchase an IBA wash at a self-serve/IBA combo as opposed to gas station or convenience store? Washing at a self-serve car wash with and IBA is a purposeful purchase: we’re going to the car wash. Washing at a c-store or gas station IBA is, in my estimation, most likely an impulse purchase — the purpose of the visit being to gas up or, perhaps, buy a newspaper or a soft drink.

Even if true, that couldn’t fully explain why one group would thrive while the other withers. I stopped by my regular gas station to fill my tank and, in search of some answers, to purchase, purposefully this time, an onsite IBA car wash. Now, I’ve used this car wash on a couple of occasions previously and wrote about its shortcomings in this space in April 2016 and again in September 2017.

Several weeks prior to this visit, I’d noticed new IBA equipment being delivered on the site, so I was expecting some change in the experience. The wash menu was displayed at every pump, so I was able to pay for gas and the wash with one swipe of my credit card. The menu looked about the same, though the top package now carried a famous-name brand as opposed to the c-store house brand. Price points remained unchanged at $6, $8, $10, and $12.

The new auto pay station was a huge improvement over the old model, which had a blurred, reflective screen and an unintelligible synthesized voice. The replacement’s instructions were clear, the screen bright and intuitive. I was invited to upgrade my wash for an additional $2 (I’d opted for the $10 package), which I declined. While the wash quality remained good, the performance of the new rollover was a remarkable improvement — the frightening noises and stuttering eliminated.

And here the makeover ended, the stand-alone dryer a holdover. Though still operating satisfactorily, it looked like it had seen better days. The countdown timer, too, is unchanged — still difficult to read in direct sunlight and now with the additional complication of a failed light bar resulting in readouts like 2E [seconds left].

If you are going to reequip, why not go the whole hog? And while you’re at it, let everybody know about your new wash. Had I not noticed the new equipment being delivered, I would never have known a new IBA had been installed.

Could it be that some c-store/gas station operators too easily neglect car washing as an incidental? Consider: out of 60 seminars and workshops at last year’s NACS show, one seminar and one workshop dealt with car washing. At this year’s show? None.