According to reports, the U.S. auto industry reached a sales milestone of 17.55 million vehicles sold in 2016.
Not only is this larger volume of vehicles good for U.S. fuel marketers, it’s also good news for convenience store operators who offer car wash services. Coupled with lower gas prices, Americans are driving more, increasing demand for car wash services.
The car wash industry has experienced annualized growth of 2.9% from 2011-2016, according to IBISWorld. As regulations prohibiting at-home car washing become more prominent, the revenue opportunities for convenience retailers offering car wash options are expected to rise in the next few years.
While convenience stores’ biggest selling point is convenience, the same selling point also applies to car wash operations, where the capabilities at the point of sale (POS) should ensure a seamless transaction—part of a value-added service, making c-stores a “one-stop-shop for many consumers in transit,” said Andrew Alvarez, IBISWorld industry analyst.
“Easy-to-use and consumer-friendly POS systems are a must,” Alvarez added. “Drivers getting car washes are predominantly on-the-go consumers; that is, short on time and typically unwilling to return to an establishment that isn’t streamlined.”
Chet Cox, president of Henderson, Nev.-based Get N Go convenience chain, is growing a burgeoning convenience chain based primarily on quality car wash services. Six of the eight retail locations have car washes.
Though car wash services today are a competitive enterprise—among both full-service car wash companies and c-store providers—the U.S. marketplace overall is approachable for c-stores willing to do their due diligence before making a significant capital investment, Cox said.
“The car wash industry is seeing some of the biggest growth ever right now,” Cox said. Knowing what’s going on around you in your market and what competitors are doing is key. Do your homework on the type of wash you want to get involved in, the equipment, the installers and the soaps. If you don’t have all these things lined up, there’s a chance for failure.
Staying on top of current technology, and implementing it when feasible, helps grow a sparkling car wash business, Cox said.
“Every year, technology dives deeper into the car wash industry. The RFID with unlimited membership programs has been a big driver in the wash industry lately, and I believe it will continue,” Cox said. “I’m most excited about what we will see coming down the road in regards to profiling and scanning vehicles,” Cox said. “I think in a few years we will be far more advanced on how we profile each vehicle that enters a wash which will minimize damages and provide a better overall wash for each vehicle.”
Other technological innovations are helping retailers boost their rate of return.
“Express washes are among the most popular car washes today, which are less labor intensive and have more specific cleaning equipment than in-bay automatic washes,” Alvarez said. “Express washes take an average of five minutes (versus 15 minutes for the standard conveyor car wash), enabling industry operators to generate a higher volume of customers. With that in mind, a location providing an operator with high-volume turnover is key for this kind of model to work.”