Professional Carwashing & Detailing

Georgia on my mind

October 11, 2010

When did petroleum marketers and convenience store owners in Georgia lose confidence in their carwashes? All across the state, revenues are rapidly declining at convenience store and petroleum site in-bay automatics. Owners are jumping ship left and right as express exterior washes rise from their ashes, and one has to wonder what has become of this once very popular profit center.

It is important to note that the negative trend in Georgia during the past few years is not a nationwide one. In fact, according to the most recent “Consumer Car Wash Behavior and Attitudes” study published by the International Carwash Association (ICA), in-bay automatics remain a very viable and popularly-used profit center throughout the U.S.

So why have so many in-bay carwash buildings been converted to hand washes, emission stations, or even closed down altogether in Georgia?

An intriguing question
I have studied this complex issue for much of the past year while recovering from knee replacement surgery. I came up with three specific and troubling reasons why carwashes have lost much of their “wow” appeal in Georgia.

First, many of the operators who now own carwashes at convenience store sites are second-generation owners. In many cases, these new owners bought their c-stores within the past five years and did not have the benefit of experiencing first hand the glory days of the in-bay automatic. In those days, the early 1990s, many washes were generating $10,000 or more each month in carwash revenue.

Next, many of the in-bay automatics, both friction and touch-free, were purchased in the mid-1990s and are in need of costly maintenance and repair. For the new carwash owner/operator, replacing an old, under-grossing unit with a new carwash is beyond reach. They also lack motivation to repair their current wash — why should they bother fixing up a profit center that only brings in an additional $3,000 a month, and costs nearly that much to maintain?

The third reason for the alarming decline in carwash revenues is the development of a significant new competitor in Atlanta, the so-called express wash, designed to compete directly with the carwashes at convenience stores and petroleum sites.

The express wash is essentially a stand-alone, exterior-only conveyorized wash. Its price points compete very favorably against the $5, $6, and $8 washes which I see regularly at convenience store washes.

As you would imagine, these three factors conspired to create a most challenging problem today for Georgian carwash owners and operators. Given this unfortunate situation, what direction should they now take?

A plan
First and foremost, each carwash owner/operator must commit to an ongoing marketing program designed to create happy and loyal customers while finding new ones. I often recommend operators consider their carwash as a true “retail business,” where new and repeat customers must constantly be reminded and even induced to use this often-overlooked service on a regular basis.

Operators must be especially leery of the too-common temptation to not market the carwash, wrongly thinking they cannot afford to do so now. Many operators overlook the root of the problem — lack of a solid customer base.

In order to defeat this, some money must be spent to attract customers who will use the carwash on a regular basis.

Next, carwash operators must commit to three basic tenets of every successful carwash:

  • Keep your car wash bay clean;
  • Keep your carwash, especially an older one, in excellent working order. If you are not using a planned maintenance program, you are losing potential revenue each day.

    If you own a carwash, you are familiar with Murphy’s Law — a carwash not on a regular maintenance program will always break down on a beautiful, busy Friday afternoon and, naturally, your service provider won’t be able to make a service call until Saturday afternoon at the earliest.

  • Always use safe and reliable chemicals which work properly to clean, protect and help dry the car as it leaves the bay.

Man’s best friend — a carwash
Lastly, carwash operators must remind themselves their carwash can become their best friend or their worst enemy. To stay on good relations with your carwash, proper treatment and care are in order. If the wash is neglected, it will no doubt become your foe. How you treat your wash is a critical choice every carwash owner/operator must make every single day.

Remember, a carwash at an above-average location with a neglectful owner will consistently lose to a carwash at a less-attractive site with equal equipment because the second owner has made the commitment to become a professional carwash operator. The second owner displays a much stronger desire to better serve his customer and will be rewarded with repeat business and higher profits from his carwash.

A necessary evil
Recently, I read an article that listed the nine most popular methods to finding and keeping new customers. Eight of the nine methods made common sense for any growth-oriented business owner.

The last method for finding and keeping your customers should be a lesson to everyone. Marketing is indeed a necessary evil and should not be taken lightly.

Thus, I hope that this ninth method to grow your top-line revenues will never apply to you or your company: “Light candles and pray that market demand (and carwash revenue) rises.”

It is important to take decisive and constructive action, in conjunction with your service provider, and regain your confidence in one of the most important profit centers at your site.

Someone believed enough in a carwash at one time to invest $90,000 or more at this site for a carwash. This is not the time to neglect or forget that investment. After all, it can become your best friend.

Mike Perry is the sales manager of the Petroleum and In-Bay Division for Carwash Services of Georgia. For more information, e-mail Mike at