The Car Wash Business is On The Move

The car wash industry has been experiencing considerable growth, both short and long-term. This is not surprising as the number of cars on the road continues to grow, year by year. Although it regressed a bit during the height of the pandemic, this growth is predicted to continue, especially as the Covid-19 pandemic wanes.


Carwashes – a growing industry

In the United States alone, there are 16,000 car washes whose yearly revenues add up to $9 billion. Globally, there are a total of over 150,000 car wash locations. The vast majority of car washes, some 90% are owned by small business owners. But that is starting to change as there is a trend of consolidation in the industry that is gaining momentum.

47% of consumers get their car washed every couple of months. 24% of car wash users do so more than once per month, and 4% visit car washes at least once a week! Only 25% go to a car wash once or twice a year.


Carwashes in the post-corona era

Until Covid-19 struck, car washes were a growing industry for many years running. The quarantines and increase in work from home trend cut down on car usage and as a result, there was a drop in sales. Luckily, in the US, carwashes were deemed an essential business — a notion that is supported by the office of Homeland Security so that many car washes were able to continue to function throughout the period.

Another factor that kept car washes profitable was the fact that COVID-19 resulted in lower gas prices. In the past, lower gas prices were great for car wash operators since when gas prices were low, people traveled more, their cars got dirtier faster and they needed to clean them more often. Also, when gas is cheap, customers have more discretionary funds to spend on things like washing their car.

Now, the gradual return to work, easing of restrictions and rebound in car sales has set the car wash industry back on track for continued growth. The car wash business has always been attractive since there are many opportunities for entry due to the low capital outlay necessary compared to other industries.


The different types of car washes

There are several different types of car washes, the two main types being manual or self-serve, and automatic car washes.

The self-serve type of car wash is where the customer washes their own vehicle with the provided equipment or bay. These are also known as coin-operated car washes. The equipment provided typically includes a sprayer, brushes, and soap or detergent. Customers choose how long they want to spend washing their car by paying for the time the machine operates.

Automatic car washes use machinery to do most of the work, without human intervention. These are usually divided into two types: In-bay where the vehicle stays stationary during the wash process, and machinery or washer moves around the vehicle, and tunnel structures where the vehicle moves through the wash equipment by a conveyer belt which drags the car through the washing procedure.


Automating the process

More and more, car washes have started to use use RFID (Radio-Frequency Identification) chips to recognize monthly membership holders. With convenience being a major factor in providing sticky services, RFID chips remove hassle from their visits. When a driver arrives at your facility, a scanner reads the RFID chip on their windshield and lets the driver through, automatically charging their credit card. The customer gets in and out faster without hassle or physical contact.

Another automation technology is a license plate reader that can read the customer’s information and determine whether they’re a loyalty cardholder or not.

Sonar profiling senses cars and automatically adjusts equipment to the size and shape of the vehicle using only the amount of water and soap needed for each car. It has the added advantage of providing saving water and being more environmentally friendly.

Mobile apps and online booking services increase convenience for customers who can book services online and skip the wait when they arrive.


Paying for the service

At automatic car washes, payment is usually by cash or credit card. In self-serve car washes where the key is keeping down on personnel, coins were the major form of payment, hence the moniker coin operated. COVID-19 accelerated the move to cashless payments and by 2028, 72% of the revenue is projected to be generated by contactless payment forms.

Car wash business owners are increasing their efficiency to boost sales and obtain detailed insights on their clientele by installing an integrated contactless payment solution. Car washes are also becoming equipped to accept mobile payments. In an increasingly cashless society, car washes with more payment options appeal to more customers and can grow faster.

Millennial customers expect to use what is most convenient for them such as contactless payments, mobile payments, debit cards, loyalty cards, and EMV-enabled credit cards.


Smart Pulse interface

Some habits die hard. That’s why carwash/airvacs with cashless/contactless payments with a Smart Pulse Interface make more money. The ability to retrofit existing equipment with smart pulse interface means operators can get the best of all worlds – cutting down on capital expenses by continuing to use existing equipment and continuing to accept coins together with contactless payment forms.

OTI’s TRIO-IQ is the ideal contactless/cashless retrofit solution for any tunnel, carwash or airvac self-service business. It is quick, easy and cost-effective to integrate. It enables both cash and cashless transactions, has Pulse + QR-code scanner + large touch screen and supports QR-code promotions “loyalty programs”. In addition, it adds remote oversight and control to your operation.


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