Like every other business, car washes face the challenges of keeping up with consumers’ changing habits, needs, and wants, not to mention advancing technology.
By Stefan Budricks
Like every other business, car washes face the challenges of keeping up with consumers’ changing habits, needs, and wants, not to mention advancing technology. These changes affect the way we do business, and, while they hold implications for car washes, their impact on retail amounts to a veritable dismemberment.
Pam Danziger of Unity Marketing foresees a sweeping restructuring and downsizing of physical retail over the next seven years as online sales grab 25 percent of the market compared to today’s 16 percent. This growth in online shopping at the expense of brick-and-mortar stores will force 75,000 stores to close by 2026 in what she terms a “retail apocalypse.”
By mid-April this year, according to The New York Times, companies had announced the closure of 5,994 stores, already more than the 5,854 that closed last year. The consequences of these closures are more than an “Available” sign in an empty shop front at the local mall. It means lost jobs, lost consumer dollars, and less support for the remaining occupied retail space. It also means suburban blight.
I recently passed by an intersection that once housed a thriving K-mart store, now abandoned and boarded up. The Village Inn restaurant that used to occupy the same site is similarly vacated and boarded up — no other operating business in sight. The empty parking lot says it all: nobody comes here.
That’s the point: you want people to want to come “here,” whether you’re an ice cream shop, a health club, or a car wash. Being the traffic generators they are, surrounding retail establishments have always been an important consideration in the car wash site-selection process. In his article, “Wash Volume Potential” (page 68 in this issue), Bob Roman discusses how traffic and larger retail centers, among other factors, can influence volume estimates.
With the draw of retail diminishing, in some cases disappearing, how do car washes maintain their attraction? If others won’t generate traffic for you, perhaps you should do so yourself. This might involve offering multiple services on the same site: wash, gas, c-store, detail, lube, etc. That, however, is the old model and not compatible with the current preoccupation with the express-exterior format.
One sure way to keep traffic flowing at the wash is to set up, maintain, and expand a monthly unlimited wash club — an essential element in the successful operation of an express exterior. You can sweeten the deal for club members by providing them with Buff N Shine dryers and baskets of cleaning products at no extra cost, as does MILES Auto Spa in Tennessee.
Even non-members can be given a little extra: drying towels and compressed-air lines in the vacuum slots, for example. And cast the net wide in providing access. Just-opened Dutch Car Wash in Aurora, CO features auto pay stations, a dedicated lane for club members, and a drive-up live-cashier window.
If you can’t lick them, join them. Adopt the high-tech world and become part of a digital car wash network. While you’re at it, read AJ Rassamni’s take on how to use technology to automate aspects of marketing and to gain and retain customers (page 18 in this issue).
The good news is that, while consumers have fewer physical stores to shop in, they are still spending. According to the National Retail Federation, spending for this year’s Mother’s Day (which happens to coincide with the start of The Car Wash Show’s opening events) is expected to hit $25 billion — the highest in 16 years of being tracked.