Before I started in the carwash industry, I was accustomed to one carwash and one type of carwash only: the self-serve. Maybe it was the meager income, maybe it was the lack of access to other types of carwashes. Any way you slice it, when I thought of carwashing, I thought of foam guns and wand bays.
So it’s always a bit surprising to me that most self-serve operators consider themselves the forgotten carwash segment. At this year’s Car Care World Expo, I heard quite a few self-serve operators observing that too much of the show catered to automatic and conveyor carwash owners.
And then when I read the online bulletin boards, it seems self-serve owners have even more to gripe about. Not only are they the forgotten segment, but self-serve owners have to worry about bucket washers, low-price competition, crime, vandalism and… mudders.
Now comes my real confession: I am a mudder.
I wasn’t always this way. I used to drive a sensible Dodge Spirit. But I crashed that car so I could move on to the even more sensible Toyota Corolla (the model with one side mirror, to make backing out of our two-car garage a bit easier.) Then, when I got sick of that, my brother crashed the car so I could upgrade to the reliable Nissan Sentra.
Unfortunately, I’m about as good with cars as I am with diets. The Nissan Sentra passed away a few short years later, and this is when my boyfriend and I decided to buy a Jeep.
My boyfriend has this funny thing about vehicles. If it doesn’t have a roll cage, he doesn’t consider it drivable. And if I can get into the cab without a ladder, it’s probably boring.
Long story short, modifications got made, and I found myself in the extra large self-serve bay with one very muddy Jeep.
I know self-servers really hate these customers — especially the ones that don’t clean up after themselves (I swear I do!). And I understand where they’re coming from.
But I do want to point out that you hardly ever hear full-serve carwash owners complaining about the ultra-picky,
snotty-nosed Jaguar-driving jerks that whine about every minor detail after the wash. They don’t complain because that’s probably their best customer group, both in revenue per visit and in repeat business.
Now, I’m all for putting up signs discouraging the inconsiderate mudders. You know — the jerks that leave clumps of mud in the bays and spend two hours just fooling around. But two weekends ago, my boyfriend spent $12 washing his Jeep in a $1.25 self-serve. He is your version of the Mercedes, A-list client.
On the other side of the fence is my grandfather, a life-time farmer who has the same sort of situation — only with farm vehicles and not big, hulking modified Jeeps. As a professional hazard, he’s always bringing in some truck or another to the carwash with mud clumped up in the wheel wells.
My point is this: before you throw up the “No Mud” sign to discourage any and all of these customers, perhaps its time to consider the value certain types of customers bring to your wash. And I’m not just talking about the mudders.
Mark Thorsby, executive director of the ICA, directed an educational session on this very topic at the Car Care World Expo in March. When it comes to self-serve carwashes, one thing is known: you’re catering to a budget-conscious clientele.
Gender, age, population density — none of this seems to matter very much to the self-serve operator. But income does.
So keep your carwash clean, well-lit and secure, because anyone can appreciate those attributes. But remember that mudders, farmers, fixed-income adults and lower-income students make a majority of your customer base. And you should plan accordingly.
Kate Carr is the editor in chief of Professional Carwashing & Detailing®
magazine. You can send your grumblings, compliments and suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org