Big Boxes Hope to Clean Up in Carwash Biz

Discussion
Jul 11, 2006
George Anderson

By George Anderson


Wal-Mart, Costco and Home Depot are among the retail powerhouses looking at the potential of automated carwashes to bring in consumers and grow their already impressive top and bottom line performance.


According to an article in The News-Press, Costco has begun testing a carwash at a club in Seattle. Home Depot has installed carwashes at two of its convenience store test sites and Wal-Mart has carwashes operating at a number of its locations.


The big box operators are expected to use the same strategy that has helped them dominate in other product and service categories they’ve entered in the past – cutting prices. A basic exterior wash at a big box facility can cost as little as $4.


John McCarthy, owner of Technology at Work, a distributor of carwash equipment and supplies, said automated carwashes are becoming more attractive for business owners because of the costs associated with running full-service operations.


“When you get to a point where land gets to a certain price, a traditional car wash can’t get the cash flow to pay for it,” he said.


Mr. McCarthy, a former car wash owner, said full-service carwashes offer superior quality to automated systems but the gap is shrinking as new technologies and cleaning methods emerge.


Moderator’s Comment: What factor do you believe is most important in a consumer’s decision in choosing a carwash? What will the entry of retail chains
into the carwash business mean for traditional independent operators?

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8 Comments on "Big Boxes Hope to Clean Up in Carwash Biz"


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David Zahn
Guest
14 years 7 months ago

My belief is that the car wash service is more about convenience than anything else. The service appeals to those that do not wish to take out a pail, soapy water, towels, etc. and do it themselves.

My suspicion is that cost, quality and other factors are less critical than the ability to do it fast and with a minimum of waiting time or “upset” to the daily routine.

Secondarily, when I had much younger kids, the ability to “drive thru” was an adventure with the kids…not having to get out of the car as the automated brushes, water hoses, etc. all did their thing was seen as “fun” for my kids (kind of an amusement park ride thrill without the need to defy gravity, speed, or other nausea inducing activities). Ahhhh, to be young!

Ian Percy
Guest
14 years 7 months ago

Unless money is a very critical issue (in which case you’d wash your own car) and you drive a klunker, why would you pay $4 to have your car whacked to death with dirt from the car before you? And you’re still left with atrophied McDonald’s milkshake remnants on the consol, dirt in your mats and smog film on the windows! For $4 more I get my car hand washed and dried, totally vacuumed, and every surface squeaky clean.

I love watching people wash my car and consider it therapy – just like watching someone shine my shoes. It’s not about getting your car cleaned – it’s about having a spiritual experience! It does a soul good.

Mark Lilien
Guest
14 years 7 months ago

Traditional car wash owners minimize labor costs by hiring the undocumented. So any major chain retailer is competitively disadvantaged if they don’t maximize automation. Other big issues: environmental costs (water recycling, toxic waste liability) and damage claims (scratch, dent, antenna allegations). Big box chain retailers will probably have lower real estate costs than locally owned car washes, although some of the latter own their real estate. Car wash technology is equally available to everyone, so there is no great advantage to be gained.

Ben Ball
Guest
14 years 7 months ago

Two distinct usage occasions probably dictate most consumer choices. One is the “quality wash” occasion where the vehicle/consumer involved have sworn that never a whirling strip of plastic shall scratch my paint!” The big boxes have no hope there. The second is the “whatever’s fastest and cheapest — but mostly fastest” occasion. In this case, big box volume may be their downfall if lines develop. I wonder if they are considering multiple bay units the same as multiple gas islands or checkout lanes to minimize wait times?

Rick Moss
Guest
14 years 7 months ago

Editors note: A consumer poll conducted in January of this year on Phil Lempert’s Supermarket Guru website goes into the when, where, why and what of consumer choice in carwash services.

Click to see results of “Washing Your Car” poll.

Robert Straub
Guest
Robert Straub
14 years 7 months ago

What I want to know is where can I go to get my car washed and detailed for $8?

Carol Spieckerman
Guest
14 years 7 months ago

I agree that, as straightforward as you would THINK car washing would be, there are indeed “occasions” and different customers and that calls for different approaches.

I often see beat-up service vehicles (privately-owned rural route postal cars and trucks for example) in the cheap bays – they just want to get the dust off as cheaply as possible. There are the “big occasion” washes like before a date, take-a-client to dinner or family coming in town – all of which can be sold at a premium. Long lines can make the difference between “Might as well knock it out” and “I’ll do it myself this weekend.”

The approach that will be the most successful in the end (that will look like overkill at first), will be if retailers take the same “good, better, best” approach to car washing that they do with their product offerings. Something for everyone, in one location, at escalating price points. That would put nails in a few local car wash coffins.

Stephan Kouzomis
Guest
Stephan Kouzomis
14 years 7 months ago

None of these Big Box operations will give the detailed and caring service that I and others want. Nor will a “cookie cutter” car wash system bring the gentleness wanted for outside and especially, inside cleaning. Robots anyone?!

Not even a free wash would entice the many American upscale and foreign car owners found in the Big Box retailers’ parking lot.

Just a perspective from one who loves Sam’s Club, but would not trust the “cookie cutter” car wash operation. Hmmmmmmmmmm

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