Car wash performance is thought to be a function of traffic density, attraction, and conversion.

Density is the amount of pass-by highway traffic. Attraction is the proportion of consumers that can be encouraged to pull in. Conversion is the proportion of customers who can be encouraged to return.

Empirical studies have shown that pass-by traffic is the main contributor to car wash performance. Furthermore, the relationship between pass-by traffic and attraction indicates only a small portion will buy (i.e., 1.0 percent).

Evidence also shows loyalty differs little between competing stores of vastly different size. This implies the difference in market share between very large and small stores is almost entirely accounted for by the number of customers the bigger store attracts.

Consequently, operators competing against very large stores should invest most in measures to increase attraction and conversion.

To illustrate, traffic density is a function of off-line and on-line traffic. Off-line are highway vehicles whereas on-line is the potential demand inherent in the 70 percent of consumers that begin shopping through research on the Internet.

As for the former, there is not much that can be done easily to influence commuters or shoppers of occasion or convenience besides projecting an attractive image.

Figure 1

As for on-line traffic, it takes more than a pretty website to have a chance at influencing people. Today, prerequisites to attract folks are social media, more text less talk, customer app, and mobile payment.

Conversion is mostly a function of effectiveness of marketing.

Figure 2

To illustrate, the research suggests car wash patronage tends to be distributed as shown in Figure 2 on page 18.

Here, typical implies about one half of customers visit an average of once per month whereas only a very small portion will visit once a week. About 40 percent are divided evenly between those that may only visit several times a year and those that may visit more than once a month.

Consequently, programs that are designed to make the best use of consumers’ time such as subscription memberships need targeted marketing. Here, experience shows the most likely subscription buyers are Millennial and Gen-X cohorts.

In the final analysis, measures to increase attraction and conversion of small stores are largely fundamental beginning with curb appeal. According to the research, up to 70 percent of first-time sales are based on the curb appeal of the storefront. Aesthetics can be affected by sprucing up signage, landscaping, parking lot, and lighting.

Small store owners should focus on loyalty programs.

Brand identity such as logo, design, color scheme, and other visual elements can help drive sales and loyalty.

Measures should also aim to reduce buying resistance such as making it as easy as possible for customers to pay as well as return and offering them a guarantee.

Instead of trying to compete against a cost strategy, owners of small stores should focus on frequency discounts such as loyalty programs. Here, people who wash their cars a lot are most likely to sign up for a monthly membership whereas a store value card might make sense for those who do not.

Bob Roman is a car wash consultant. You can reach Bob via e-mail at or by visiting