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Coming around full circle

October 11, 2010
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In the past year, the American carwash industry has gone through a lot. Between the weather and the immigration debate and the express exterior trend, it’s been a busy year for us. (And that’s not even getting into my favorite topic: DaimlerChrysler’s attack on carwash owners.)

As the industry has grown and adapted, so too has Professional Carwashing & Detailing®. This month, it is my distinct pleasure to welcome you to a magazine that has a new look and feel, and a tone that better suits the industry it serves. It is also my pleasure to introduce you to a new column, Prep Work, PC&D’s Letter from the Editor.

For inspiration in writing my first letter as editor in chief of PC&D, I found myself breezing through the past columns of my predecessor, Kevin Hart. Those of you who remember Kevin will recall his keen understanding of our industry, which is why I read his one column with particular interest, “Will express washing bring us full circle?” (August, 2005).

Kevin theorized that the rise of express exterior carwashing would make price the main focal point of the consumer’s buying decision. This particular prediction is especially disconcerting when you consider the state of our nation’s gasoline industry.

To save a penny
At press time,, an online magazine tracking the convenience store/petroleum industries, was running a story titled, “Pennies for Consumers’ Thoughts.” The gist of the article was this: high gasoline prices have significantly changed Americans’ spending habits. According to the article, today’s consumers base their gasoline purchases by price, first and foremost.

A recent study by the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS) supports this claim. The study found that 27 percent of drivers would take a left-hand turn across a busy street to save a penny per gallon, while 20 percent would drive five minutes out of their way to do the same. Perhaps even more alarming, 11 percent of consumers said they would drive 10 minutes out of their way to save about thirty cents on a fill-up.

Combine these percentages with Kevin’s prediction, and you have a pretty grim outlook of what our industry might become in the next ten years.

But Kevin’s article also noted that this emphasis on price would place a premium on washes that offer services above and beyond the express exterior’s limited options.

“Before the bubble bursts, there will be a flurry of activity from these washes as they look to build value,” he wrote. “In the end, many will probably end up catering to a much more upscale clientele, reaping large tickets on lower volume.” In essence, express exterior operators will most likely have to adopt services, akin to the full-serve and flex-serve formats, to survive.

So it is, much like everything else, that conveyorized carwashing will come full circle. Maybe not in the next five years, maybe not in the next ten years, but you can note that in my first editor’s letter, my prediction was this: Someday, express exterior carwashing will give way to a revived interest in full-serve carwashing. Not only that, but just as full-serve carwashes will remain relevant and necessary during the express exterior’s heyday, so too, will express exterior carwashes remain relevant and necessary during the full-serve revival.

My apologies to Bill Consolo and his crew at Chief’s Car Wash for insinuating the staff there handed out moist toilettes. Consolo knows handing out commodes would hardly improve his bottom line. Instead, he and his employees give customers moist towelettes at the beginning of the carwash line, in addition to litter bags, which together cost about 14 cents per car. My apologies to Mr. Consolo and his staff! Although, after reflecting on it for a bit, a free toilet or appliance might not be such a bad gimmick in today’s market.

Kate Carr is the editor in chief of Professional Carwashing & Detailing® magazine. In exchange for story ideas, she’ll be more than happy to personally autograph your copy of PC&D at the magazine’s booth at the ICA Car Care Expo this 26-28. Just drop by booth number 465.

Send your grumblings, compliments and suggestions to Not only does Kate enjoy talking with grumpy (old?) men (and women!), she would absolutely relish the opportunity to talk carwashing with you.

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