Members, members, members. The modern car wash is all about members.

            For better or worse, the recurring revenue model has revolutionized car washing. As consumers become more willing to subscribe to services — the average American is a member of more than five different subscription services — car washes are increasingly offering unlimited wash clubs to capture their piece of the pie.

            It’s a trend that’s hard to ignore. Almost every tunnel wash offers some form of membership plan, and the reasons behind this widespread adoption are clear.

            They provide guaranteed monthly revenue, unaffected by external factors like weather, which is a boon for operators. These programs have not only led to significant increases in business value but also empowered operators, regardless of their size, to establish robust brands. For operators with multiple sites, the network effect comes into play, as club members can visit any wash in the chain, enhancing customer value. In this scenario one plus one equals much more than two.

            Of course, none of this is news. Successful washes have been offering membership packages for years. What is different is the near-universal acceptance and the modern operator’s increased dependence on members.

            It is now commonplace for an express wash to receive 50 or 60 percent of its traffic from members, and sometimes more. The subject of this month’s Profile in Success (page 50), Rocket Wash, credits nearly 65 percent of traffic to its membership program. And this is from a small, family-owned four-chain wash in Southeastern Wisconsin. The numbers are often bigger for larger chains.

            While unlimited memberships are well-established in the industry, operators looking to maximize their offerings still have a thirst for knowledge. I just returned from The Car Wash Show in Nashville, where numerous educational sessions provided tips and tricks on maximizing a wash’s membership. In addition, the expo show floor was packed with vendors promising solutions to maximize and streamline membership efforts.

            What is the next frontier for memberships? While unlimited plans are synonymous with tunnel washes, self-serve and in-bay operators are starting to enter the fray.

            Unlimited plans will not work for every self-serve or in-bay, and there are plenty of factors to consider. Can the site handle the increased volume? What to charge for the service? Any limits to place on the site’s use? And many, many others.

            But if the self-serve and in-bay segments are going to stay competitive in today’s quickly evolving marketplace, they must figure out how to combat membership-wielding competition.

            Find a way to either beat them or join them. Ignoring them is not an option.