Consistently across the U.S., car wash construction is currently at a historic pace, according to Eric Wulf, CEO of the International Carwash Association (ICA), and “the performance of the industry amidst the pandemic was nothing short of remarkable, with estimated sales upwards of $13 billion — a record high in 2021.”
“We estimate that 600 new (car wash) stores are being built annually,” he continued. “The reasons all relate to consumer preferences and proliferation of the subscription model, whether monthly or annual.”
Benny’s Car Wash & Oil Change has nine tunnel car washes in Louisiana, three of which are co-located with its three B-Quik convenience stores. Benny’s Owner Justin Alford credited several factors that helped his car wash business successfully navigate the pandemic.
“People drove around more and stayed local on their vacations,” said Alford. “The average age of the cars on the road is 12 years, so people are, more than ever, taking care of their vehicles.”
Ride share drivers also accounted for a good share of the business because many wash their cars frequently, he continued. Contactless pay stations made customers feel safe.
Technology Adds an Edge
The transition from identifying unlimited plan customers by scanning an RFID code on the windshield to snapping a photo of the license plate and comparing it with membership information is a good move for car washes and has the potential to increase plan sales, Alford said.
“We can track how many times customers go through the car wash and target non-members with offers to enroll in an unlimited plan,” he said.
Alford said he would like other technology to catch up to the needs of car wash owners.
“In some ways, we’re lagging,” he noted.
For unlimited plan customers, Alford said he would like to have the membership information saved to the cloud rather than the older, big databases that are available now, so they could be accessed on iPads or other wireless pads. Also on his wish list is the technology that would allow customers to purchase car washes from their cell phones.
To promote car washes at Benny’s, Alford used to do a lot of paper couponing in newspapers and Valpak mass mailings. Now, he said, nobody reads their mail, so he relies on digital and social media avenues such as Google, Facebook and geofencing, which makes an ad pop up when the consumer enters a particular geographic area.
“Digital has its downside, too,” he pointed out. “In the ‘90s, if we would send out 1,000 coupons and get 500 back, we knew our promotion was working. It’s harder to track digital marketing efforts.”
Car washes are also suggested at the gas pump at the company’s B-Quik Convenience Stores.