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BONNET & SPOKES: A Fresh Approach to Vehicle Cleaning

[box type=”shadow” ]Vijay and Ravi come from a corporate and consulting background. In the course of a conversation, they realised that most car service stations were currently concentrating more on the sales part and neglecting the service aspect of car wash. None of them were getting in depth into saving water or treating effluents. In the year 2015, Vijay and Ravi saw a business opportunity here that led, after a six-month desktop exercise, to the creation of Bonnet and Spokes Car and Bike wash. Ravi Chandran visited their service centre at Rajajinagar, Bangalore, and spoke to them at length about their new outlets and future plans.[/box]

What types of chemicals/ materials and processes are employed for vehicle wash at your centre? Do dif ferent types of vehicles require dif ferent types of treatments?

Starting with the wash, we have three kinds; the first is the traditional water wash; the second kind is the steam wash; and the third being the dry wash (or chemical wash).

Whether it is the dry wash, steam wash or even water wash, all the chemicals used are completely ecofriendly and bio-degradable. No harsh compound is used that could be harmful either to the car being washed or to mother earth. We have also installed an effluent treatment plant (ETP).

The reason we do not encourage automatic car washing is because in India today nothing is standardised. For example, the car width may vary from between eight and six feet (sometimes even four feet). In an automatic car wash, the nozzles are designed for a width of eight feet, so if a car of smaller width drives in, these nozzles keep flowing, resulting in a lot of wastage of both water and chemicals.

Another thing is that we clean on need basis. Some cars may be dirtier and may require more water. Others may not have so much dirt, so there is no point in using more water, as would be the case in a standardised model. Abroad it is very different. It is mostly a dust free , so 60 – 80% of the cars that come in for wash will be in a similar condition. Here it is very different. Weather conditions for one, are variable. It may be raining in some part of the city, and conditions may be dry and dusty in another. So every car requires unique attention. Labour is also not expensive in India, unlike abroad, so the situation demands a special solution.

Our approach was to bring a sea change in the car washing paradigm. Unlike earlier, where 500 – 600 litres of water were expended using bucket wash and other methods, we have created a system that minimises the use of water. We achieve this in two ways. First, by using special ecofriendly chemicals; second by using specialised equipment designed to both provide high pressure cleaning and also minimise water wastage.

We met at least a dozen equipment manufacturers and tested their water pumps for usage of water. We did a time and motion study to select the best one – the one with the least amount of water consumption for the same pressure output. We found one IPC machine that fitted the bill.

Was there much experimentation before you rolled out your store?

Yes, we did a pilot that ran for six months. We experimented in a small garage with one car, where we tried out our different equipment and techniques. Now we have this rented place at Rajajinagar. We plan to open two new outlets in Bangalore at HSR Layout and Yelahanka.

What is the financial model?

It is a question of shifting people’s mind set. Most people are only familiar with water wash and may not be willing to pay a premium for advanced washing methods. Yes, we may not be that profitable in the short term, but if we can run our store and still make money we will be satisfied. It’s “wait and watch” for us at this stage. A lot of people approached us to partner in a franchise model, but we would rather run it ourselves. Wherever there is a requirement, we are open to setting up a centre.

Could you elaborate more on your processes and technology?

We have a very scientific process. We have soiled our hands ourselves working out how the time required for cleaning can be effectively compressed. A wash that traditionally takes an hour to complete, can be performed by us in 10 – 15 minutes. We have designed processes for every type of car from the smallest to the largest – from a hatchback to a sedan to an SUV. We cater to all brands including the ultra-luxury segment. All our staff members are trained by us to perform the same steps.

Is there any special treatment you have for two wheelers?

Our two wheeler process is designed to be completed in less than 10 minutes. Here too, we have all the three options – water wash, steam wash and dry wash.

We also do something called detailing, where we pay attention to the tank, seats, headlights, spokes and rims. All of this gets detailed with tested and proven chemicals. Needless to say, the chemicals are all biodegradable and sustainable. However, the acceptance of detailing – looking after the end to end cleaning, care & protection of your vehicle – still remains a challenge. Customers have still not changed their mind set.

When do you typically recommend a chemical or steam wash in place of the standard water wash?

If you look at the engine, sometimes dirt gets hardened. We could use a jet of water, but it is more affective to use steam in this case. Sometimes there is a combination effect of steam and water. Often we come across a pipe with a lot of oil stains, In this case, water will not be effective, and so we ourselves use the steam.It also depends on the package the customer picks up. In the case of a detail package where body cleaning is included we typically use a combination of water and steam.

The dry or chemical wash is recommended if there is only a layer of dust on the vehicle and the interior is otherwise spic and span. If there is a coating of mud or dirt, the chemical wash will not work. So we use the chemicals just to give an outward shine to the surface. There are three companies we source the chemicals from. All are imported, though one of the companies is an Indian manufacturer.

In addition to your standard treatment, do you recommend any special treatments to your customers, for example, if there is a high-end vehicle coming in for wash?

Yes, of course. Every vehicle is different. Just as a doctor prescribes different medicines for different ailments, we advise our customers based on the type and state of their vehicle. That’s also why we have all these machines in place. We don’t take a call just by touching the surface of the vehicle. We have assembled the best equipment in the world to measure the paint thickness. We take one measurement near the door frame where the clear coat is less and another on the outside where it is more. This gives us precise information to say that the paint thickness is 80 microns and the clear coat is 40 microns, for example. This gives us an exact measure of how much to scrape off and refill to get a matching thickness. It is important not to damage the base coat.

We have sent our staff to special detailing centres in Thirussur and Nagpur to undergo training, so that they are up to date in the latest treatments. We also have direct connects with OEMs to source our chemicals, not just with dealers or distributors. We prefer dealing directly with OEMs as they can better explain the benefits and features of each product as opposed to distributors who are only interested in selling.

What has been the feedback from your customers?

How do you plan to expand your customer base? We find that they are very excited, either to experience the detailing or even a simple wash and interior cleaning. As for expansion, we plan to focus on local catchment areas. Another target is organised bike rides.

We are also planning workshops for customers to learn how to take care of their own cars. They could come in on a weekday, and under the guidance of an expert, learn how to clean, care and do detailing on their vehicles for themselves.

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