As attitudes about the environment changed, so did attitudes about car washes. But not in the way you may think.
“We’ve been in the car wash industry since 1974, and I think our biggest competition then was people washing in the driveway,” said Paul Vercollone, senior vice president of VERC Enterprises, which operates 33 c-stores and seven car washes in the Northeast. “Perception has changed, and people look at the water used in driveways as much more than what is used in professional car washes.”
Water conservation technology alleviated concerns about chemicals in the soil and water. Other enhancements like more car-friendly brushes, soaps and waxes, softer cloths and high-pressure washing systems have helped remove worry about possible damage. And multiple options for how, when and where to wash have brought stability.
“The convenience of a car wash is more popular than ever,” said Joseph Chatel, president of the Midwest Carwash Association.
“Cars are more complex now, but so is the washing technology and more care is taken across the board to increase things such as efficiency, sustainability and customer service,” Chatel added.
Large tunnel conveyor washes still comprise nearly half of industry revenue, according to IBISWorld, but in-bay automatic washes (20%) and self-service bays (11%) are growing. Those options mean flexibility in location and options in an industry lacking in space and trending toward speed and convenience like touchless and express washing.
“The old model of a car wash at a gas station is disappearing and moving heavily toward a standalone facility to accommodate the newest technology in washing,” Chatel said. “Traditional services can be offered quite easily while adjusting to market trends in more frequent express washing.”
Promotions Drive Sales
To do so, many car washes are turning toward discounts and incentives to draw customers.
“To bring them in, everyone is running some sort of promotion,” Vercollone said. “A lot of tunnels are doing unlimited plans where you pay a monthly fee. But you do need to produce a clean car. They’re not going to return if you’re producing a vehicle that’s substandard.”
Still, car washes remain popular for one good reason.
“There will never be a shortage of dirty cars in the world,” Chatel said. “This means the industry can continue to thrive and become one that remains at the forefront of automobile maintenance.”