Opportunities Abound at the Car Wash

Increasing profits at the car wash depends on two tasks: drawing new customers and tempting current customers to increase the frequency of their visits, said Jim Callahan, director of marketing for Geo. H. Green Oil Co. in Atlanta.

“To succeed with a car wash, you must be convinced that it is worth the effort. I have come to realize that being able to offer a quality car wash adds a whole new dimension to your business and really separates you from the competition,” Callahan said. “While most of us don’t have the time or the dedication to wash our own vehicle, everyone feels better driving a clean car. Yet, most major convenience store chains have very few stores with a good car wash, giving you an opportunity to create an important point of differentiation to set you apart from the pack.”

There is a significant opportunity with car washes for convenience store owners. According to Professional Carwashing and Detailing research, car wash sales reached $5.8 billion last year. Currently, about 65% of all car washing units now sell gasoline. The average annual profit per car wash was $86,531.
Car washing, to some, carries a reputation for not being very profitable because of the costs of chemicals, an increased water bill and ongoing repairs. “But let’s not forget that a car wash provides a steady cash flow every day,” Callahan said. “That is your greatest opportunity to get these customers into the convenience store to boost in-store sales.”

Professional Washes More Effective
According to the International Carwash Association (ICA), professional car washes use less than one-tenth of 1% of the water used by a municipality, daily. Plus, most professional car washes use water reclamation systems that significantly reduce water usage. Here are some simple tips to achieve an extra 10–20% profit with a car wash:
• Having a car wash equipped with cash and credit card acceptors will appeal to road warriors in a hurry. It’s akin to having pay at the pump on your fuel pumps.
• Don’t let your vacuum business slip away. “This is another often overlooked destination. Check your hoses regularly and offer other items like air fresheners to boost incremental sales,” Callahan said.
• During freezing weather, open the car wash as soon as the temperature hits 34 degrees and is on the upswing.
• Spend time investing in your employees’ training.
• Capitalize on the different seasons. In the winter, salt damages the paint on cars.

Embracing the Car Wash
The U.S. car wash industry is cleaning up on profits and revenues. The industry annually generates an estimated $5.8 billion in sales at more than 113,000 car wash facilities across the country. About 65% of all car washing units now sell gasoline, according to Professional Carwashing and Detailing magazine.

Car wash Industry Statistics   
Car wash industry annual revenue    $5.8 billion
Car wash industry annual revenue including gas purchases    $48 billion
Number of full-service car washes    9,000

In-Bay Automatic Statistics   
Average number of cars washed annually    19,947
Average sale per vehicle    $6.34
Average profit per vehicle    $4.35
Average annual profit    $86,531
Average annual revenue    $139,000
Number of exterior conveyor washes    10,500
Number of self-serve car washes    36,000
Number of in-bay automatics    58,000
Total number of car washes    113,000
Total number of car wash employees    350,000
Number of cars washed annually    2.3 Bil
Number of cars washed per day    8 Mil

Percent of car washes that also
dispense gasoline    65%
Average annual number of gallons
of water lost per car wash    48,000

Busiest Car wash Days by Percent
of Weekly Washes
Saturday    25%
Friday    20%
Sunday    12%
Monday    12%

Strongest Seasons of the Year by
Percent of Sales
Winter    32%
Spring    25%
Summer  25%
Fall    18%
Source: Professional Carwashing and Detailing, Jan. 1, 2014

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