The evolution and future of the car wash industry may be best illustrated by the recently opened Flagship Carwash. Located in Loudoun County, Virginia, the 65,000-square-foot facility is billed as the largest indoor car wash in the United States. Features include side-by-side double wash tunnels, 22 free vacuum stations, 10 detailing bays and three dry-belt conveyors for full-service interior cleaning. For $69.99 per month, consumers can receive an unlimited supply of car cleanings with services, including hot wax and rain repel applications, air purge, undercarriage flush and tire shine.
A higher number of vehicles per household, time-deprived consumers, growing environmental restrictions on water usage and an industry that has embraced higher customer service levels is driving growth in the car wash industry. In 2021, sales reached $13 billion, according to the International Carwash Association.
More vehicles = more car washes
Pandemic-induced car buying has substantially increased the number of vehicles on the road as consumers moved away from public transit and ride-sharing options. The International Carwash Association reports 77% of all consumers now use professional car wash facilities, compared to 48% in 1994 with these time-deprived individuals visiting any of the more than 63,000 facilities nationwide.
Magnolia Wash Holdings recently revealed plans to add 70 locations in seven primarily southeastern states and intentions to add 100 units annually over the next five years.
Flagship Carwash – which employs a hub-and-spoke model that consists of full-service centers providing interior and exterior cleaning services, in addition to smaller express centers that offer exterior washes only – currently has 15 locations. According to owner Guy Paolozzi, the target age for customers is between 35 and 55, with more than half being women.
Regulations restrict car washing
Drought conditions have placed restrictions on lawn watering and car washing in some locations. JBS Industries, a manufacturer of industrial car wash chemicals, indicates that “professional car washes use approximately 35 gallons of water per vehicle, compared to the more than 100 gallons of water required by Joe Homeowner. In addition, most modern car wash facilities feature advanced water reclamation systems that allow the recycling of water.”
Not your grandfather’s car wash
The image of single-lane car wash operations connected to a gas station or convenience store is rapidly diminishing. In its place are experiential facilities containing touchless steam cleaning, vending machines, children’s play areas, dog wash options, and oil change and lube services. Now, instead of dropping six to eight quarters into a machine to trigger the cash wash, consumers purchase monthly subscriptions, with some provided unlimited usage.
Mister Car Wash, which operates 400 car wash facilities in 20 states including Maryland, added nearly 60,000 subscribers last quarter to increase its customer base to more than 1.8 million. PYMNTS.com says that, despite inflation, “consumers are not cutting back on car wash subscriptions in their desire for affordable luxury.”
The Changing Consumer
“The phrase ‘there’s just not enough time in the day’ has been spoken more and more in the past years. So, consumers are chasing efficiencies in every form of service or shopping experience,” according to Tom Fidler, Executive Vice President and Principal, MacKenzie Retail. “This industry pivoted years ago into high tech, high friction wash facilities that expedite the process and provide a quality wash. Consumers see the advantage of a monthly, unlimited membership, and the time they save compared to the normal, multiple hour wash in their own driveway. Now add the proliferation of multi-family residential development, which do not provide outdoor hose connections, and you have the perfect match. More people with no ability to self-wash or no time, and an industry that is competing on quality and experience.”