Retailers can find new sources of revenue with c-store car wash operations.
Almost no other bolt-on operation at a convenience store requires such a big capital commitment and promises such a free-flowing revenue steam as a car wash.
Whether a car wash operation is ultimately profitable is based on several factors. However, a growing number of convenience operators are adding their spin on the category.
Technological advancements in equipment, computers and wash materials are making car washes an enticing option for c-store operators prepared to tackle this add-on business.
Express exterior car washes are growing in popularity, in part because they boast lower operating costs by reducing labor expenses and shortening the learning curve for new operators. Often patrons engage with automated “attendants.”
One option is to buy an existing full-service wash and convert it to an express wash. The alternative is to build from the ground up, which today, depending on the land prices, averages $3.3 million to $4 million-plus per location, according to Auto Laundry News.
Chuck Space, executive director of Southwest Car Wash Association, said express car wash operations still require due diligence to succeed.
“Operators will need to be committed to the car wash business and being directly involved. This is not a hands-off business,” Space said. “They will need to have car wash educated/trained employees also committed to the success of the wash. If they do not approach the operation in this manner it will have an adverse irreversible impact on their car wash business as well as the c-store operation.”
C-store operators with car washes are also implementing unlimited membership programs that allow customers to pay membership fees in return for receiving unlimited car washes.
Once customers have signed up for an a car wash plan, streamlining them through the wash process is straightforward. The most widely used method is to install a Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tag.
Car washes that will be successful moving forward are the ones that can best meet the customers’ needs, Space said.
“The unlimited passes are successful in most car wash operations,” Space said. “However, if the consumer uses the gasoline purchase to get a discount and the car wash operation is an after thought or a secondary business, the unlimited plan may have limited success” or not be successful at all.
Casey’s General Stores, which operates more than 2,000 stores in the Midwest, is mulling the feasibility of such a program at its car wash business, Casey’s Express Car Washes.
“Casey’s has not rolled out the unlimited program at the car wash locations but is actively working towards this,” said Dante Pierangeli, the car wash supervisor at Casey’s Express Car Washes.
Under Pierangeli, the Ankeny, Iowa-based retailer currently operates 100 car washes, comprising 15 express exterior tunnels, one flex serve and 84 in-bay locations.