NACS Comes Clean About Car Washes

Now, more than ever, is the time for convenience retailers to analyze the costs and benefits of adding a car wash to their existing operations.

Because a growing number of U.S. consumers believe washing you’re their vehicles at a professional wash is more convenient, enjoyable, better quality and value, safer for the environment and costs less, the opportunity for convenience retailers to delve into this side of the industry has never been more lucrative.

That was one aspect a panel of car wash experts at the NACS Show 2018 discussed Oct. 8.

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In a session entitled Your Next Big Category: The Car Wash, the car wash solutions on the market are plentiful, but isn’t something to rush into. Now, more than ever, is the time for convenience retailers to analyze the costs and benefits of adding a car wash to their existing operations, said Claire Moore, chief operating officer of the International Carwash Association and moderator for the session.

According to data from the International Car Wash Association:

  • 96% of Americans wash their car at least once per year. Of that 96%, , 80% wash their car in a professional wash.
  • Those who washed at a professional care wash in the past year increased slightly, from 79% in 2014 to 80% in 2016.
  • The economic recovery has led to greater discretionary income and consumer confidence. Car sales reached a high of $18 million in 2016. New vehicle owners are washing their vehicles significantly more.

As part of the $19 billion market, there are 28,500 conveyor car washes in North America, as well as 27,000 rollover/in bay car washes in North America.

TERRIBLE IS PROFITABLE

Scott Horner, vice president of operations at Terrible Herbst Oil Co., based in Las Vegas, Nev., said his company operates a variety of car wash systems, including express car wash offerings and monthly car wash club plans. Currently, Herbst operates at least 50 car wash locations in Nevada.

“The unlimited plans are becoming really popular,” Horner said.

As result Terrible Herbst’s car wash business has proven to be a singular profit center for the chain. Among the reasons, the company has been able to provide its customers

Jack Kofdarali, president of J&T Management a Corona, Calif.-based company that develops c-stores—many with car washes—and other commercial projects, said as tobacco sales and margins have continued to slide in the c-store industry, most retailers have turned to foodservice to fill the void. However, there is another means that doesn’t require as much trial and error.

A few years ago, his company operated about 30 ARCO ampm convenience stores.

“A car wash, in the right location is a relatively easy solution to that problem,” Kofdarali said.

However, there are key considerations that should be contemplated before committing capital to a car wash venture. Among them, retailers should look at the zoning and permitting required, the perspective distance to residential areas and the utilities that are available.

The NACS show concludes Oct. 10.