Auto Laundry News - December 2012

Car Love Adjust to Demographic Dictates

By Robert Roman

A recent post on stated the auto industry is concerned that young people with less money to spend and that connect online rather than in person could hold down car sales by two million units each year.

If sales reach 14 million units in 2012, two million is 14 percent. Two million vehicles represent a lot of potential car washing. Other industries are also concerned about the young generation’s falling out with cars. Consider NASCAR.

Prior to 2011, NASCAR suffered several years of declining TV ratings and lost traction in the vital 18-to-34-year-old-male demographic. NASCAR rebounded in 2011, gaining in ratings and renewing sponsorships. However, the writing was on the wall.

Evaluating weaknesses and threats, NASCAR learned it needed to do a better job of explaining the sport’s basics to newbies, improve attendees’ ability to use wireless communication at events, upgrade amenities, expand celebrity of drivers to engage casual fans, and create interactive fan events.

Subsequently, NASCAR has put in place a five-year plan designed to reach new audiences. The goals are to build star power of drivers; attract more children, college-age, and multicultural fans; fashion a better social-media strategy; and improve the racetrack experience for fans.

In early 2012, NASCAR selected ad agency Ogilvy & Mather to help grow its audience in youth, Gen-Y, and Hispanic categories. The agency’s responsibilities will include target segmentation, brand vision and storytelling, media strategy, promotions, and support for the growing NASCAR digital team.

The why for NASCAR’s strategy is demography. In 2007, 40 percent of NASCAR’s 75 million fans were women and 21 percent were minorities; 50 percent of people between the ages of 7 to 17 reported they were NASCAR fans. So strong was the racing-mamas fan base, NASCAR partnered with Harlequin romance novels to publish three NASCAR-themed books.

Of course, a lot has changed since 2007. People then 17 are now 22 years old and, like their older Gen-Y counterparts, many are struggling with jobs, living expenses, and student loans and are buying used cars, bicycles, and mopeds. Those who can afford to buy a new car may base their decision on how easy it is to play Internet music from an Android phone, rather than horsepower.

So, we find organizations like NASCAR and GM spending big bucks to extend brand and expand market reach. Today, there is even a NASCAR-branded car wash venture. What about the car wash industry?

To begin with, there is no national chain and the NASCAR-branded wash is just getting off the ground. We also know there’s been little growth recently in industry wash revenues or units of existing franchises. Arguably, what growth has occurred is coming mostly from the gas/c-store segment and assimilation of markets from the expansion of small chains of express washes.

Today, stewardship comes from over 15 regional, state, and local organizations plus the International Carwash Association (ICA), which proclaims it is the official voice of the industry. However, when I visited ICA’s portal, I was disappointed.

ICA’s virtual presence focuses on operators, manufacturers, and suppliers with the goal of being the primary source of innovation that facilitates growth and profitability. However, it was difficult to find a PR campaign. The link to ICA’s Car Love PR campaign and research report prepared by Ketchum Global Research Network, January 2003, no longer works.

Next, I visited — ICA’s portal to the general public. On the home page, I was greeted with several pictures of Formula One racecars, an announcement of a sweepstakes winner, and an advertisement for an investor seminar at a car wash college.

What I didn’t find was any links to social media or anything interesting on the home page that would keep me from leaving (like why I should clean and protect my car, or how I can save money by using a professional wash). Surprisingly, there is not even one picture of a car wash on the site. However, I did search and find the ICA official Facebook page that has roughly 1,500 followers, most of which appear to be industry participants.

Over the last several years, ICA has focused on knowledge gaps caused by Big Oil’s exit from the retail gas selling business, evolution of supplier market, knowledge about equipment sales, store counts, and environmental advocacy by trying to raise awareness with consumers through the Water Savers program.

Certainly these are crucial issues. However, with the exception of Water Savers, it appears the official voice of
the car wash industry isn’t speaking to a lot of potential car wash customers.

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

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