The car wash of tomorrow is really about technology. It’s amazing how technology has become so ingrained in our culture in such a short period of time and how fast it has advanced. In 1965, Gordon Moore, the co-founder of Intel, wrote an article for Electronics Magazine about advancements in technology and computing power. He did it with such accuracy that his theories are now called “Moore’s Law.” Basically, it says that computing power will double every two years; that’s amazing when you consider where we are today.
If you do a simple Google search on technology, you will find some interesting dates: • 1973: the term “Internet” was born when a college in London connected to the Royal Radar Establishment in Norway • 1976: Queen Elizabeth II hit send on her first “e-mail” • 1991: The Internet opened to the public • 1998: Google was started • 2003: Blackberry smartphones were introduced • 2007: The iPhone was introduced • 2010: Facebook had 400 million active users; today it has 1.86 billion • 2012: A Japanese inventor filed a patent for the ‘selfie’ stick • 2013: ‘Selfie’ was the Oxford Dictionary word of the year
Previous generations saw amazing technological progress: our great grandparents and grandparents saw the automobile, our parents saw space travel, and I’ve often wondered what we will see. Here we are today with a world of information via the Internet at our fingertips and able to communicate on cell phones, keep our calendars, take pictures, and socialize with the world on the same device.
The 2014 ICA Consumer Study reported that 97 percent of consumers had not received digital communication from a car wash.
Consumers are using technology everyday to find other businesses, look up information and decide on purchases, yet we are not doing the same thing and meeting our customers where it’s convenient for them.
In 2000, a Pew Research study reported that only 50 percent of Americans were on the Internet. Today that number is over 80 percent. Currently, 64 percent of adults use a smartphone. However, this number is held low by older generations since younger adults have almost a 100 percent usage rate.
It’s amazing how far and how fast we have come. So what does this mean for the car wash industry?
When we talk about the car wash of tomorrow, what we are really asking is, “what does the future look like?” Back in grade school, I was asked to draw what I thought the year 2000 would look like. Can you guess what I drew in the early 1980’s? The Jetson’s! I had flying cars, robots, a belt conveyor to shuttle me around the house, and I think I even had a dog named Astro drawn in. Now here we are in 2017 and I still drive on a road in a pickup that takes normal gas.
Movies, cartoons, and TV shows like Star Wars, Star Trek, the Jetson’s, and Back to the Future shaped my vision of the future. But in reality, that was someone else’s dream or vision and nearly none of it is true today. However, we still need to think ahead, so the question remains: what will your car wash look like five, 10, 15 years from now?
THE FUTURE IS NOW
If you have been in the car wash business longer than five years, you have already caught a glimpse of the future. Some developments have slightly changed how we process cars. As technologies evolve, the way we do business will incrementally change. Consider the advent of automatic wipers that turn on when they sense rain — or an approaching spritz in the car wash. This is an issue to which your staff had to pay attention. Perhaps they needed to learn how to shut them off, and maybe you needed to reassess your damage-claim policies. Another small change involves the vehicle’s transmission. How many of us have had to help a customer get a Prius in neutral? These types of changes in technology only altered the way we do business, and did not fundamentally change the industry. Consider the effect the following might have: • Car mapping technology: sensors or cameras map the car and connect to the wash, adjusting chemicals and water pressure on the fly. • Active communication between the car, customer, and wash: something akin to Amazon’s cashier-less stores. Customers might select a wash package on their phone; payment is automatically made; cars/customers load themselves; the car wash system recognizes the car, provides the paid-for wash package, and off they go. • Biometric entry to and starting of the car: This operates much like the iPhone fingerprint security. Full-service sites might have to contend with daunting challenges. • Millennials respond to and primarily utilize smartphones to find things, comparison shop, and make purchases. This demographic will form a growing proportion of our customer base for the foreseeable future. We need to cater to them. • Back-up camera obstruction: the camera recognizes that its lens is covered in dirt and that the driver is not getting an image on the dashboard screen. It alerts the car through the GPS that the car needs to be washed; your car wash location appears on the screen providing directions.
Some technological advances will be big. An example of this is the already troublesome automated collision avoidance systems. This issue, and the complications it is causing in the wash tunnel, was one of many advanced driver assistance systems discussed at the recent The Car Wash Show in Las Vegas. These developments are considered so important that the International Carwash Association has partnered with Schwartz Advisors, an automotive consulting firm, to liaise with the auto industry to research and craft solutions.
Technology drives innovations that do not alter the way we currently run operations, but can fundamentally change the industry: • Lyft and Uber: At some point in the future our “normal” customers no longer drive, and “neighborhood” car washes no longer exist. But these companies are rated on how clean and presentable their vehicles are. There will be a growing need for strategically placed locations dedicated to washing these cars, perhaps incorporating parking facilities? • Driverless cars: Technology like this could completely change the industry, but in what way? Imagine segments of the population that currently can’t drive or own cars. Serving this population would expand the car market dramatically and increase miles driven. Imagine a lot where 5,000 driverless cars show up every night and it’s your job to wash them: • One wash, controllable costs • Controlled damage claims, no angry customers • Simple building and costs • Guaranteed rain or shine
All of these things are fun to talk about, but how do we currently deal with changes and how will we deal with it in the future? This is about the only thing I can predict for the future: it will cost. Whether it’s retrofitting yourcurrent operation with a belt conveyor, building a new facility on the outskirts of town to handle 5,000 cars a night, or new marketing on the Internet, your company will need cash or the ability to get it. You need to be prepared to invest in technology for the future. The day could come when you cannot operate with your current system. So what do we take away: • Our vision of the future is usually far different from what it turns out to be • Some tech advances will be small and only alter the way we do business; some will be big and alter the industry • The future will cost money, so start preparing today The retail world is changing, we are headed to a subscription-based economy: Apple music, Amazon Prime, Netflix, etc. are changing the way future generations will understand how to pay. Consider these current retail findings: • The largest personal transportation company doesn’t own a car — Uber • The largest “hotel” company does not own a single room — AirBnB Start preparing today for how you will change your business for the future.
Aaron Green is with Focused Carwash Solutions. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.