Auto Laundry News - April 2013

Car Washer’s Lament — Operators Need to Keep up With Trends and Adapt

By Robert Roman

U.S. car wash equipment spending (index 2005 = 100)

Estimated store counts and sales

I’m disappointed in the direction that the show is going. Does anyone else feel the same way?” noted a self-service operator, referring to The Car Wash Show in a posting on a car wash forum in February.

However, our car washer’s lament over the event itself is misplaced because he is actually bemoaning his grief about consequence — the car wash industry has changed, he has not.

Estimates may be crude and imprecise but the industry, once growing by as much as 6 percent to 10 percent per annum, has undeniably contracted over the last four or five years and faces nominal organic growth in the foreseeable future.

Present growth is occurring mostly at the expense of the self-service category, which is being slowly assimilated by express tunnels and expansion of conveyor chains.

Consequently, we find a show agenda quite different from years past.

Instead of teaching how to build a self-service wash or express tunnel, or instructing convenience and petroleum retailers how to become better car washers, the show agenda is more forward-looking.

Consider the session topics: brand building, customer experience, social media, online marketing, growth, teamwork, and traits of managers and franchisees.

Instead of car wash professionals, the session presenters are highly paid consultants, and virtually all of them are certified sales professionals. Plus, there is a separate investor seminar spearheaded by the car wash school folks.

Our self-service car washer further laments, “I checked out the agenda, to learn there was no early-bird and really no seminars that [interested me].”

Perhaps our car washer is bemoaning the fact he doesn’t get it, because these are exactly the type of sessions he should be interested in attending.

After all, the absence of much self-service discussion at The Car Wash Show and other trade shows speaks

Today, the car wash industry continues to change.

In the private investor market, we see mostly the development of new express tunnels and expansion of conveyor car wash chains.

In the convenience and petroleum industry, big chains are gobbling up small ones, and many analysts believe future consolidation will occur via master limited-liability corporations looking to make real estate plays.

In the final analysis, the International Carwash Association’s trade show sessions are simply better aligned with the current and future needs of professional car washers.

Arguably, car wash operators who don’t keep up with events and trends and adapt will only come that much closer to the day when they are standing on the outside looking in at their exit strategy.

Enjoy the show.

Bob Roman is president of RJR Enterprises – Consulting Services ( You can reach Bob via e-mail at

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