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Self-Serves: Chump Change, or Big Bucks?

Self-Serves: Chump Change, or Big Bucks?

It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone in the car wash industry that there is a general consensus that “self-serve car washes  are dying.” At tradeshows, and online, it seems like everything is catered to big tunnel washes, with big dollars to spend. But what about the little guys? 

Where are they REALLY sitting in the industry? 

Our data shows that small, independent self-serve wash operators are actually doing very well. Especially those who are taking credit and debit cards and/or mobile payments. Look at these facts based on our car wash operators reported sales:

  • The average monthly sales for self-serve car wash operators in mid-summer is $11,000 
  • This revenue is based only from loyalty and credit cards
  • Average revenue within smaller operations is a healthy $7,500 per month
  • Self-serve operators make up 45% of total wash sales 

It’s clear that self-service car washes are still a vital part of our industry, and our retail communities. 

Now these facts and data are great and all. Someone is making money in the industry, right? But how, and why, and from who? Plus, what can you do to get a piece of the self-serve pie? 

Good Equipment  

Up-to-date equipment and payment systems are critical. Operators who only take coin- or token-only payments are a dying breed – unfortunately. Why? As sales decline, maintenance budgets suffer. Frequently, equipment is just old and hard to take care of and broken parts are no longer available. Outdated equipment is complicated by the fact that some manufacturers of older equipment are no longer in business. 

Down the road from my house, there is a 4-bay self-serve wash. Unfortunately, it’s run down, the lighting is inadequate and after 20+ years it simply has not been kept up. Consumers don’t want to wash there, except for 50 cent Tuesdays. Upkeep is super-important.

Lots of Payment Options

Self-serve operators don’t always offer payment options; and so the biggest reason for the sales decline is because consumers want options. They don’t carry quarters, or dollars for that matter. They carry a credit or debit card, and a phone. And if one of those doesn’t work at your wash, they’re on to the next and you’ve just missed out on potential income. Mike Shonka of Bubble Land car wash says 80% of his sales are credit card & mobile app, not cash

There is no substitute for making your wash easy to buy. Period. The only way to accomplish that is to take all forms of payment possible.

Great Experiences

It’s so incredibly important to ensure the experience of your wash is as positive as possible when a consumer comes on your car wash lot. Even though self-service washes aren’t attended, it’s not an excuse for customers having a feeling of “yuck” before, during, and after their visit to a wash.

Clean and bright bays with easy-to-read instructions are critical. It’s impossible to be 100% up, 100% perfect, 100% of the time. However, it’s to your benefit, and your customers, to be as good as you can get as often as possible. 

Great Focused Marketing 

How can you be more successful? Consider being willing to reach customers you don’t think you can. 

There is a huge variety of vehicles that can’t fit in an in-bay or a tunnel, or they simply don’t want to. 

One of our WashCard customers focuses on serving high-end cars of all sorts: Corvettes, Rolls Royces, Lamborghinis; you name it. Self-service bays are preferred for many of these car owners. 

Another WashCard customers focuses on “play” vehicles: RVs, motorcycles, dirt bikes, boats, jet skis and snowmobiles. While these vehicles can increase maintenance concerns due to creation of messes and spills, owners of these toys are loyal, willing to spend money, and typically spend the most time in self-service bays. 

Finally, another WashCard customer focuses on businesses in their area. Construction, welding, accounting businesses, travel agencies, pool cleaning, you name it. Serving local businesses that can’t wash in an automatic wash brings in literally hundreds of thousands of dollars every single year. 

Finally, Great Community Service 

So, first, take this information into consideration. Looking at everything from payment options, on-site customer experience, and what types of vehicles you’re catering – all the factors that can help you grow your business. 

Then, remember that education about car washing is also incredibly important to our communities. This year we’re seeing record droughts across North America. Asking our community to use the car wash vs. washing at home is a responsibility that can be addressed head on. Car wash operators know the facts. It’s safer and more efficient at the car wash. Fewer chemicals are sent down the “city drains” and the communities conserve total water usage. 

Here’s the Pitch

Now we’ll hit you with the sales pitch. UWashApp is a great option for all operators to be able to add mobile, touch-free payments. Not only do you add a custom app to your wash, you open your sales opportunities up to younger demographic groups. If nothing else, UWashApp makes running and solving your customer concerns a breeze

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