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2024 OUTLOOK: Car wash

Industry leaders discuss the issues, trends and opportunities shaping the car wash business.
Tom Venetis
Associate Editor, Convenience Store News Canada + OCTANE
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OCTANE reached out to industry leaders and car wash experts to find out what's on their radar for 2024. 

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Mark Ewing Transchem Group and Turtle Wax Pro

Mack Ewing

Director of strategic initiatives
Transchem Group and Turtle Wax Pro 

In 2024, a significant trend in the car wash chemistry space is a focus on reclaim-optimized products that enhance customer experience while ensuring effective vehicle cleaning. This trend is driven by the need for sustainable practices and consumer demand for an engaging car wash experience.

The shift towards reclaim-compatible chemicals involves formulations that are safe for water recycling systems, avoiding substances like harsh dyes and heavy solvents. Innovatively, LED lighting is being used for visual appeal, reducing chemical loads on reclaim systems and offering an environmentally friendly alternative to traditional dyes.

Simultaneously, the industry is introducing pleasant scents into car wash chemicals, enhancing customer satisfaction through a perceived sense of cleanliness and enjoyment. These scents are carefully selected to be compatible with water reclamation processes.

The paramount focus remains on the cleaning effectiveness of these chemicals. Advanced chemical engineering is enabling the creation of eco-friendly formulations that powerfully remove dirt, oil, and grime without harming the environment.

This trend represents a balanced approach in car wash chemical development, aligning environmental responsibility with customer experience and maintaining high cleaning standards. It's a strategic response to environmental awareness and a way for car wash businesses to stand out in the market.


 

Matt Verity

Matt Verity

Principal
Car Wash & Self Storage Consulting Services

In 2023, the Canadian car wash industry flourished, setting the stage for a promising year ahead. In 2024, car wash operators eagerly seek insights into upcoming trends that will shape their success. While familiar trends like the growth of membership programs persist, two emerging post-pandemic trends stand out for sustainable growth in the coming year.

1.  Automation drives profits: Technology's evolution has revolutionized consumer-business interactions, notably accelerated by the pandemic. Car wash operators increasingly rely on technological advancements—apps, virtual wallets, remote monitoring, RFID chips, License Plate Recognition (LPR), and point-of-sale (POS) systems—to enhance convenience, streamline operations, cut labor costs, and boost profitability.

2.  Embracing green initiatives spurs growth: The rising emphasis on eco-consciousness reshapes consumer preferences, driving a shift towards environmentally responsible practices. Car wash operators incorporating eco-friendly methods like water recycling systems, energy-efficient technologies and biodegradable cleaning solutions not only align with consumer values, but also position them as champions of environmental sustainability, gaining a competitive edge.

Optimism abounds for the Canadian car wash industry, yet challenges loom, including supply chain disruptions, labour shortages, escalating operational costs, increased taxes and borrowing expenses. Addressing these challenges is crucial for operators to sustain their competitiveness. The year ahead holds promise, but adaptation to these trends and adeptly handling challenges is essential for car wash operators to thrive.


 

Constance Wrigley Thomas

Constance Wrigley-Thomas

Director of operations
Canadian Car Wash Association

The Canadian Carwash Association has observed an increase in interest by investors, who view car washes as a viable investment. It is no coincidence that investors, who in the past may have parked their money in Real Estate Investment Trusts or commercial office real estate (which is experiencing high vacancies), are now seeing the long-term economic value and profitability of Canadian car wash operations. We anticipate that this will continue to be a trend over the next few years.

There are still challenges ahead to be sure. For someone wanting to build from the ground-up, there are regulations, paperwork and bureaucracy, which slows the pace for permitting and building new car washes. This can be a deterrent for those looking to come into this industry. Once they clear these hurdles, however, the car wash industry can be an attractive business investment.

CCA recognizes the increasing demand for market data. As the trade association for the car wash industry, we are working on securing Canadian statistics that will help investors make informed decisions but will also provide value to our car wash owner/operator members. We hope to gather data that will provide a more detailed look at the car wash industry, how it is growing, how much it costs to get into the car wash business and how profitable it can be. Access to this data will be exclusive to members.


 

Tim Walker

Tim Walker

President
Soapy Brushy

Several important trends will impact car wash operations.

Technology integration: Car wash operations use more technology, including smartphone apps, for scheduling and payment, automated payment systems, and cutting-edge equipment for faster, more thorough cleaning.

Environmental concerns: Many car wash businesses are using water-saving technologies and eco-friendly cleaning solutions since there is an increasing emphasis on environmentally friendly practices. Consumers are growing more ecologically sensitive, so this trend is probably here to stay.

Customization and upselling: Car washes may offer more customized services and push extra waxes to their exterior wash to boost income.

Market consolidation: As larger car wash chains buy up smaller, independent businesses, the market may experience additional consolidation. Larger companies are attempting to attain economies of scale, as observed in several industries.


 

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