The car wash industry has entered in a period of rapid transition, with new technologies and practices making inroads and bringing change to both customer expectations and industry norms. As we look forward to the coming year and beyond we’ve come to expect the following five car wash industry trends to play an increasingly central role.
1. Paid Vacuum Center Systems Replacing Freevacs
Free vacuums were originally deployed as a way for express or exterior-only car washes to compete with full-service model car washes. However, in most of the country there are very few of these full-service carwashes left with which to compete.
So many operators in the country are tired of expending significant resources on high-maintenance, high-cost vacuum centers without a clear return on investment, and systems are being tested to address this issue. We expect to begin seeing operators retrofitting large, costly free vacuum centers with credit-card or membership-integrated alternatives. This strategy has the added advantage of increasing the value that comes bundled inside club memberships.
2. Revival of Interior Cleaning Services
In another strike against free vacs, we anticipate interior cleaning services becoming more common once again. Free vacuums were an effective option to include for the benefit of customers during the great depression a decade ago. However, the economic boom of recent years brings with it a willingness and desire among customers to pay more for expanded services in the name of convenience.
We anticipate slow move away from the current low labor exterior only concept and towards new Flex models which are able to process vehicle interiors far more quickly than traditional full service washes using assembly line-like procedures.
3. Changing Automotive Technology
Vehicle technology is advancing, and while driverless cars are still years away there are already standard automotive features that that make it difficult if not prohibitive for some modern vehicles to wash in traditional chain and roller style car washes.
Notably these systems include Electronic Parking Breaks (triggered by tire rolling) and Automatic Emergency Braking systems (triggered by incoming objects, such as mitter brushes). Both of these can automatically engage the vehicle’s brakes in the wash tunnel, causing it to jump rollers and collide with incoming customer vehicles behind.
While these systems can *usually* be deactivated, the methods used to do so are non-standard and often complex, and disabling them introduces car wash operators to potential liability. However, both systems are compatible with Tommy Transporter Dual Belt Conveyor system, which carries automatically braking vehicles through the tunnel without issue.
Upgrading a conveyor to a dual belt system costs $100,000 and takes around two weeks. Washes that reinvest in this improvement will gain a quick competitive edge. Overall we anticipate an inevitable cleansing of obsolete car washes across the market.
4. Inbay Automatic & Rollover Wash Conversions
Most of small-town America is serviced only by old, slow-processing rollover or in-bay automatic washes, each of which is its own missed opportunity. However, these facilities may be readily converted into short, conveyorized tunnel washes.
The conversion process involves removing the floor, re-pouring the conveyor pit, and installing new equipment, ultimately improving the processing speed from 8 cars/hour to 40 or more. This opens up a tremendous opportunity for car wash-minded operators to acquire and execute these conversions now, particularly in small towns unable to support tunnels or in urban centers with no land available.
5. Teardown & Rebuilds
Even among full-size tunnel washes, there are countless outdated and struggling facilities waiting on extraordinarily valuable land in locations brimming with untapped potential. In the past these aging sites would be readily purchased and propped up with new branding, fresh paint, and maybe an updated equipment package to provide moderately improved performance.
But this practice is no longer sufficient. Old sites will increasingly be closed, demolished, and replaced with modernized buildings and equipment able to take full advantage of the local market.
Two years ago our sister company acquired a car wash that had recently closed, leaving a sturdy building bordering a major roadway. Instead of investing in the old facility everything was promptly leveled and a full acre of concrete removed before being replaced with a brand new 130’ Tommy’s Express franchise.
This modern site, in the same lot that couldn’t support an outdated car wash only years before, washed over 400,000 cars in 2018. We believe this same lesson will soon be proved over and over again in locations around the nation.
About Tommy Car Wash Systems:
Built on fifty years of car wash experience and innovation, Tommy Car Wash Systems provides designer stainless steel equipment, high performance detergents, car wash conversion services, and performance-focused facility designs while supporting the design, development, and logistics of the Tommy’s Express Car Wash franchise.
Tommy Car Wash Systems