The Car Wash Show™ 2021 is currently taking place through Wednesday, Nov. 17 at the Las Vegas Convention Center. Every morning of the show, leadership from International Carwash Association (ICA), CEO Eric Wulf and Board President Ken Littrell, have discussed the state of the industry in an informal “Car Wash Magazine Live” interview.
According to Wulf, the ICA has recognized five key trends in the carwash industry this year: the growth of the express conveyor wash, countless mergers and acquisitions, the success of the subscription model, the importance of technology and talent management concerns.
It comes as a surprise to no one in the carwashing industry that the prevalence of express conveyor washes has continued to grow in the past five-or-so years. Out of all the sects of carwashing, self-serve washes have continuously seen less and less growth every year. While full service washes aren’t as common as they once were, Littrell doesn’t believe they will go extinct all together. “I think there will always be an opportunity for the full service carwash … not to the same level, perhaps, as the express,” he said.
Merger and acquisition
In 2021 alone, the carwashing industry has seen an immense amount of growth and added value, largely due to the quick pace companies are merging, expanding, selling and buying. While various companies have been adding new locations to their brand by the dozens, ICA leadership reassurers smaller, independent operators that they do not need to be overly concerned of this trend. “The independent operator has the advantage of being hands-on,” Littrell said. These carwash owners can keep a close eye on the operations of their wash, which allows them to provide the best possible experience and product.
When discussing the subscription payment model, Wulf and Littrell noted that this type of model, while newer to the carwashing industry, is not a new concept. They compared carwash subscriptions to a gym membership, Netflix accounts and even Panera Bread’s coffee subscription.
However, carwash subscriptions have proven to be a little more complicated than the ones found in other industries. “It’s going to be different than Apple TV, Netflix, Hulu … [customers] won’t have five carwash subscriptions,” Wulf said. This makes competition and the importance of brand loyalty a key concern operators need to think about today. This is especially important considering up to 3-5% of wash memberships will be terminated monthly, according to Wulf, which makes the search for new members a never-ending process.
When comparing The Car Wash Show™ 2021 to the show of years past, Wulf reflected on the changing make-up of the exhibitors. Less than a decade ago, the show floor was exclusively run by equipment, soap and chemical manufacturers. Today, attendees will find numerous technology companies promoting innovative solutions to carwash problems of days past.
In every industry in the U.S. this year, the trend of the labor shortage continues to be a strong talking point. In the carwash industry, retention of great talent is as important as it has ever been. But Littrell, who as the president of Clean Sweep Car Wash has first-hand knowledge of employee-relations, explains that operators can take the labor shortage and spin it to their advantage. Regarding raising wages for workers, Littrell said, “I can raise my expectation for this individual I am going to pay more.” These expectations can include higher professionalism and better, more consistent results. By expecting more out of employees, it can be a win-win situation — employees have strong professional development that can lead to promotions and even management and owners and managers can see a better product.
The Car Wash Show™ concludes on Wednesday, Nov. 17, 2021 at 1 p.m. PST. The next show is scheduled for May 9-11, 2022 in Nashville, Tennessee, where attendees can learn more from the industry’s top leaders.
Camille Renner is the associate editor of Professional Carwashing & Detailing.