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National recognition

October 11, 2010
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More than ten years after the first wave of consolidation hit our industry and we are still lacking a national carwash.

I say lacking because I truly believe there is a place for a chain of this magnitude. Some may fear the overwhelming competition of a deep pocket operator, but in the end, having one name that reminds the public about professional carwashing is a benefit to our industry.

In fact, I’d be willing to bet that if we conducted a survey of consumer attitudes toward carwashing in a market dominated by a regional chain (say in Buffalo, NY where Delta Sonic is King); we’d find that consumer is a much more educated, passionate carwash customer than one in, say, Burlington, VT.

For instance, my aunt was raised near Albany, NY. When I talk to her about carwashing, she instantly thinks of Hoffman Car Wash and full-service conveyors. But several of my friends think only of self-serve carwashes in Northern New York, and don’t think much of them at that.

Imagine the impact a national chain would have on these friends. Imagine a 30-second commercial playing on day-time television. Imagine the power of being able to educate your customers without having to pay for the advertising.

Taking off the rose-colored glasses
That is not to say there aren’t drawbacks to a national chain. The effect is largely influenced by the type of carwash involved, and yes, even the investor. If Home Depot succeeded in making its c-store/gas station/IBA a successful national concept, it would be a far cry from the benefits of seeing an operator like Autobell go national.

And if a posh operation like the one Procter & Gamble is proposing with its Mr. Clean Car Wash concept were the first to make a national impression, the public might invest too heavily in brand recognition.

But, even weighing the disadvantages to large-scale competition, the benefits of national recognition remain. When I talk to colleagues at work who aren’t involved with my magazine, I get the same lackluster attitude about carwashing. “Does it really make a difference?”

The difference
Not only are these people grossly misinformed about the benefits of washing their vehicles, but also the benefits of professional carwashes for the environment and for their wallet. And this is what you’re truly stacked up against — not against the weather, not against market over-saturation, not against rising utilities — but against the public’s pre-conceived notion about carwashing.

Each year, the stats from the International Carwashing Association’s consumer study come back bigger and better. More people are using carwashes — but is that enough? Should our industry settle for knowing that slowly but surely, more people are coming around to the professional carwash side of things?

I don’t think so. I think our industry needs to accept the fact that there is a long and difficult road ahead. Unless a trailblazing national carwash gets there first, our industry will have to set a standard and reach out to the public to make them understand the benefit of professional carwashes.

If you’re holding this magazine while standing on the floor at the Car Care World Expo, you’re half-way there. You’re getting the tools you need to make a difference. But it’s an everyday battle, and along the way many carwash owners and operators will get tired. Be there to pick them up. Because believe it or not — what your competitor is telling people about professional carwashes influences your business.

And what a national competitor tells the public will likely change everything.

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 March 26-28. Just drop by booth number 465.

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