For centuries of recorded history, people have been fascinated with the concept of looking into the future. Leaders, academics and laborers alike have all had an unending curiosity — and in some cases an obsession — with the idea of knowing what lies ahead. Generally this foreknowledge is desirable as it allows preparation and activities that will ultimately lead to future success and safety.

Obviously the exact path of the future will forever remain unclear; random factors and surprise instances catch businesses and individuals unaware each year. That said, there are often trends or issues that can be prepared for with accuracy, and looking into 2015, there are a few items that will certainly have a direct impact on car care operations. No one needs tea leaves to see that upcoming trade show changes and continuing technology upgrades will affect owners and operators in 2015. In addition to new and unexpected issues, owners should also pay attention to the further development of known industry trends including labor, training, detailing techniques, wash conversions and more.

Trade shows and road shows

One big issue for the carwash industry in 2015 promises to be upcoming changes and additions to the yearly trade show schedule. “It will be an interesting year for trade shows, and we’re excited to see what is coming,” says Eric Wulf, CEO of the International Carwash Association (ICA).

New for 2015 is ICA's Car Wash Show Europe. Scheduled for October 5-7, 2015, in Amsterdam, the first European ICA show will mirror the North American show, according to the initial ICA press announcement. Launched for the benefit of the car care industry, the European event will include educational seminars, a trade fair and networking opportunities.

Also announced earlier in 2014, ICA and the Western Carwash Association (WCA) will cosponsor The Car Wash Show 2015 scheduled for April 23-25, 2015, in Las Vegas. ICA and WCA partnered after determining that members, exhibitors and other attendees would be better served with a cosponsored event instead of separate trade shows, the release notes.

“We’ve already seen very positive support for our inaugural event in Amsterdam … and believe that our new partnership with the Western Carwash Association will make for a very successful Car Wash Show in Las Vegas next April,” Wulf states. “Trade shows will usually reflect the health of an industry, and with the carwash industry experiencing growth, we have high hopes for both events.”

According to the The Car Wash Show partnership press release, WCA plans to expand its number of regional membership meetings, road shows and networking events through the 12 Western states it serves in 2015.

This type of road show has proven popular with Southeast Car Wash Association (SECWA) members as well, according to SECWA’s President Jim Rooney. “Seasoned operators, new carwash owners, potential investors and vendor-partners love to attend SECWA road shows as there always seems to be something new to see and learn,” he says.

These road shows provide on-site, hands-on opportunities to see and learn more about carwash topics, including:

  • Liquid wax and delivery
  • LED lighting effects
  • Drying equipment advancements
  • RFID retention programs.

These concepts were all “hot subjects” last year and these tunnel or bay trends are expected to continue in 2015, Rooney shares. Further, design, layout and architectural materials showcased during these road shows motivate many participants to return home and make some kind of improvement to their businesses.

Payment options, new technology

After a recent wave of new payment technology, credit card options have become mainstream in the carwash world — even for unattended and self-serve washes. Today a new generation of cellular phone and web-based payment technology stands ready to change retail payment systems yet again. One high-profile example, Apple Pay, is a mobile payment service announced by Apple in September 2014.

According to the press release, Apple Pay works with the newest generation of the company’s iPhones and the new Apple Watch. The service is made possible by the phone’s NFC antenna design, a designed Secure Element chip and the technology’s Touch ID capabilities. This payment option is supported by credit and debit cards from three major payment networks, and many retailers will support this payment option including McDonald’s, Macy’s, Staples, Subway and Walgreens locations.

Here, the early adoptions obviously speak to the widespread use of Apple phones and products. But how will this type of payment option trickle down to carwashes and detail operations in 2015 and beyond?

Much like credit cards, cell phone payment options may take a while to become common across the car care market. “I expect that this area will remain fragmented and without a clear standard for quite some time,” Wulf says.

For many detail operations, new technology is accelerating a number of common business tasks. Greg Swett, president of the International Detailing Association (IDA), as well as president of Classic Appreciation World Class Auto Detailing, states that various types of software are having an impact on numerous detail businesses.

“Many are using scheduling software and new invoicing software in the office,” Swett reveals. “This helps streamline the collection of customer information and requested services so more time can be spent detailing the cars.”

Rooney says SECWA education sessions in 2014 showed operators today are hungry for automation and technology that benefits their businesses in multiple ways. They frequently rely on new technology to help separate their businesses from the competition, increase their ticket averages, and return to healthier bottom lines by generating greater customer retention and frequency. 

“Creativity seems to be at an all-time high with many operators looking to modify their wash formats in search of the next big thing, or to simply reinvigorate their business and recapture lost business,” Rooney notes. “Expanded customer services, increased technology and comprehensive educational programs continue to [draw] the most interest.”

Labor, employees and regulation

Hiring quality employees is always a challenge for carwash owners, and this situation looks to remain unchanged in the New Year. “Interestingly, the carwash market seemed to benefit from high unemployment rates over the last several years in terms of attracting employee talent,” Rooney states. “Now that the national unemployment rate has dipped under [six] percent, the employee talent pool in many cases is not as rich or of the same quality.” In 2015 and beyond, this change could have a negative impact on businesses in the industry.

Additionally, labor-specific demands are continually put on carwash owners, according to Rooney. First, minimum wage rates are increasing faster than both transaction averages and wash volumes in some states. Next, as automation and wash counts have increased, carwash managers have been expected to have both comprehensive people skills as well as mechanical and electrical skills. This varied skill set makes candidates harder to identify and recruit.

Asked about industry labor issues, safety legislation and unionization, Wulf expects continued effects on carwashes in 2015. “I would expect that all three of those issues will continue in 2015,” he states. “‘Partnerships between government and labor unions have certainly created new operating and administrative costs for carwash operators.”

Labor, legislative and economic trends are even harder to course or predict in today’s changing and somewhat unstable political climate. “It’s difficult to speculate on how these trends will affect the overall industry in 2015,” says Rooney, who is also owner of 3 Minute Magic Carwash in Knoxville, Tenn.

“At 3 Minute Magic, we believe you are only as good as your people,” Rooney explains. “From our perspective, any measures taken to ensure the carwash employee’s safety and overall well-being is a welcomed effort and can only increase retention and improve operational soundness in the long-run. Although some may view these issues as a hindrance, I think they will ultimately help elevate the profile of the industry.”

Training opportunities

Finally, one front-of-mind issue for both detailers and carwash owners year after year is employee training. In the detail market, IDA provides detailing-specific lectures and demonstrations at several industry trade shows in the U.S. and includes educational content as part of its e-newsletter, website and social media sites.

IDA offers a Certified Detailer program that consists of written exams created to evaluate a detailer’s technical knowledge and proficiency. The certification program can be taken online or at a “CD-In-One-Day” event hosted intermittently around the country. Swett reveals that IDA will introduce a hands-on, skills-validated exam as well.

Additional online learning options are available to detailers. IDA will present training throughout the year via webinars. These will cover everything from marketing tips, instructional sessions for specialized detailing skills and technology, customer service ideas and more, Swett notes.

“Detailing technology, products and techniques are constantly changing and improving now more than ever,” Swett shares. “Detailing professionals need to stay on top of this fast-changing industry in order keep up the quality of their work, increase efficiency and customer satisfaction and to grow their businesses.”

In 2015 Rooney sees training and education for employees as an important part of the continuing trend of carwash conversions. “Yes, I think conversions will continue in 2015 and beyond, regardless of the wash format du jour. In the Southeast we’ve seen a massive and concentrated shift to one particular side of the wash market leaving opportunities wide open for those willing to work a little harder.”

Over the years, automation has made things easier, but operators who are willing to invest in education, training and certification will be better prepared to pivot their companies when the time comes, Rooney says.

“Pivots in business, as on a basketball court, are essential to changing conditions,” Rooney concludes. “Those who research and prepare themselves and their organizations will be ready when the opportunity appears. It’s been said that all boats float in a high tide — I say don’t get caught on the rocks because you missed the pivot.”