While c-stores had plenty to do in-store to cope with the pandemic, many were surprised to find those changes extended even to their car wash operations.
“Yes, COVID did affect car washing,” said Justin Alford, one of the principals of 69-year-old B-Quik Convenience Stores/Benny’s Car Wash, which operates nine locations in Baton Rouge and Gonzalez, La. “A lot of it depended on which state you were located in.”
Some states required car washing to shut down completely, while others allowed it to continue. The full-service side, which includes cleaning car interiors, was hit the hardest and continues to struggle to regain pre-COVID levels.
“The exterior side was hurt initially, but it is returning to pre-COVID levels, Alford noted. “We are still cautiously optimistic for 2021 and hoping for no more lockdowns.”
The technological trends were similar to those in many other businesses, Alford added. “‘Contactless’ was a big word in the car wash business as well: pay stations instead of people, and everyone is trying apps.”
The International Carwash Association (ICA) emphasized the valuable services that car washes provided to COVID-19 essential workers, which includes providing disinfection services for all essential methods of transportation such as ambulances, FedEx, UPS and medical services vehicles, and allowing essential workers to continue to operate. The ICA added that car washes can also support automotive maintenance facilities and the safe transportation of chemicals.
The size of the car wash and auto-detailing market is expected to increase 5.3% in 2021, said Dr. Colleen Meyer, president of Meyer and Mintz Consulting LLC in Forest Falls, Calif. “That is good news.”
Retailers will continue to focus on technology, whether that means using apps and focusing on the mobile aspect of car washing or continuing to offer no-touch options. “It must be customer-focused,” she said. “The best way to provide an excellent customer experience is to listen to them and stay current with trends in technology.”
Advances in technology have also helped the car wash industry become more compliant and engaged through operators’ ability to place their business into the palms of their customers through smart phone apps.
“This technology,” Meyer said, “allowed car washes to offer on-demand services by utilizing car wash mobile apps, which attract a younger audience, create convenience and can help car washes build a stronger relationship with their customers.”
While mobile apps are effective, Meyer urged c-store operators to remember the tried-and-true practice of subscription or club packages. “Subscription packages create loyalty with customers. Customers get to save some money, and car washes are more likely to see an increase in customer traffic. Remember that old saying, ‘If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it’? Well, it is true when it comes to subscription and reward programs.”