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The forgotten 38 percent…

October 11, 2010
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Do you think new waterless carwash products are a threat to the automatic and self-serve carwash industry?”

The majority of survey respondents (81.8 percent) answered in the negative and only a few operators submitted their opinion in the “Additional comments” box, but one operator’s response was enough to convince me the question had merit.

“These products will appeal to the home user more than the carwash consumer. It’s too expensive and time consuming for our customers,” the respondent wrote.

I would argue the first mistake in this discussion is drawing a distinction between “home users” and “carwash consumers.” As the International Carwash Association’s (ICA) Study of Consumer Car Washing Attitudes and Habits Study continues to show, these home users are quickly becoming carwash consumers, and the goal for our industry should be to turn all of the home washers (38 percent cited in the 2005 study) into carwash customers.

The second mistake is in thinking that customers are drawn to a commercial carwash because it saves them money. While there are bargain washes out there, too many customers are dishing out the big bucks for full-serve and even in-bay automatic carwashes.

He is right in suggesting that carwash customers want convenience. But some new waterless carwash products are going after that niche service by offering their product in shopping mall parking garages and as a mobile service.

Which leads me to the third mistake; thinking that this product appeals mostly to home users. Instead, I think the newer waterless products and European franchise models are designed to appeal to carwash customers and home washers. They are appealing to a customer’s environmental sensitivities with clever marketing focused on the “green” aspects of their product. You may recall, the ICA found that 55 percent of consumers believed home washing to be more environmentally safe than professional carwashing in its 2005 survey.

Instead of discounting these new waterless carwash products and franchises, I think the carwash industry needs to have a frank and honest discussion. Individual operators will have to decide for themselves whether to embrace the waterless services and offer them at their car care centers (like one green-centric operator featured in our cover story on p. 48), or they need to start creating a marketing plan to help educate customers about the key differences between their commercial carwash service and a waterless product or franchise.

This month’s “Green Issue” will give you ideas to help green up your business and methods to market it. Regardless of whether you consider these waterless products a threat or an asset to your business, the trend is coming and you need to be prepared. Let PC&D be your partner in that effort.

Kate Carr is the editor in chief of Professional Carwashing & Detailing® Magazine and loves the color green.
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