When is it time to change the services you offer to your customers? What services do you add or do away with? How do your services compare to those of your competitors? Is it time to renovate your existing location? Is it time to expand and build a new location? Is it time to go fishing, or is it time for a change? So many questions.

The car wash business is like any other service business when it comes to evaluating the services you offer and where you stand in the marketplace. You adjust your services and fine-tune your business based on a number of market factors such as the economy, customer perception, and competition.

An in-depth look at your operations and a comprehensive market analysis of your competition is key to helping you make decisions to keep your business viable. A competitive analysis allows you to assess your and your competitor’s strengths and weaknesses in your trade area. It also helps you implement effective strategies to improve your competitive advantage. Here are a few steps to help you conduct a competitive analysis and decide if it is time for a change.


Analyze your services, facilities, and operations. Use SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) analysis charts to help answer the following:
• Why do customers use your car wash?
• What services do they use the most?
• What services or features do you offer that your competition does not?
• What makes your service offering unique?
• What is the least purchased service that you offer? Why?
• Are all of your features and services profitable?
• Is your business growing or stagnating?
• How is your employee morale?
• Are your facilities and equipment modern? Or are they growing old?
• How is your social media presence?
• Is your website modern and up to date?
• Is your marketing plan effective?


Ask the following questions about your customers:
• Who are they?
• Why do they choose your car wash over the competition?
• What services do they like or dislike? Why?
• Are they demographically diverse?
• What are their buying trends? People’s lives are constantly changing. You need to be aware of any change in the buying
patterns of your customers and plan new product offerings or services accordingly.
• Ask for ideas of services they would purchase if you offered them.


• How many people live in your trade area?
• How is the local economy?
• What type of vehicles do your customers drive? Old? New? High end?
• Are there any unique vehicles in your market that you can create a niche service for?
• Are there any seasonal occurrences, which you can create new services for?

Example: I recently visited an area where approximately 60 percent of the vehicles on the road were large pick-ups and SUVs with lift kits. The vehicles were too tall to fit in the majority of the car washes in town.


• How many competitors do you have?
• Who are they?
• What services do they offer that you do not? Why?
• What does the competition do better than you?
• How is your competition pricing their wash services?
• How do you compare on price?
• Who are your top three competitors?
• Are your competitors profitable?
• How long have they been in business?
• Are they expanding? Scaling down?
• How is their employee morale?
• How active are they on social media?
• Is their website managed by a professional or are they maintaining it themselves?

In order to develop effective competitive strategies, you need to make a realistic assessment of your competitors’ strengths and weaknesses as viewed by the market. Complete a SWOT (strength, weakness, opportunities, threats) analysis of each of your competitors. What do you do better than them? Focus on areas where you can improve and provide added value to your customers. Added value allows you to promote features and unique aspects to your customers and price your services more profitably.


After you have completed the analysis of your services, customers, market, and competition, carefully read the details of each analysis and formulate a plan to implement changes. When formulating the plan, consider the following:
• What areas stand out in the analysis?
• What changes are necessary to better serve your customers?
• How do you differentiate yourself from the competition?


Shakeups or Buyouts

As you analyze your competitive information look for management changes or changes in ownership. This is an indication that new policies and marketing strategies are on the horizon and changes are on the way.

New Operators

Your competitive analysis should include any new car washes that are being built in your trade area. They haven’t captured any market share, but new companies always bring new ideas and innovations to the marketplace and can quickly become major players. Never underestimate anyone.

Future Competition

In your competitive analysis you need to make a few predictions about what your competition is going to look like in the future. Who are they and where are they coming from? If you are introducing new services that your competitors currently don’t offer, how long will it be before the competition catches on? Forecasting future competition will help you better prepare for the long-term health of your business.


Once you have finished gathering and analyzing all of the information it should be fairly clear if you are the market leader, or one of several followers. At this point you also should be able to do the following:
• Identify and discuss key areas of competitive advantage and disadvantage.
• Summarize the major problems and opportunities facing your car wash, which may require action.
• Integrate your analysis of the competition with demographic analysis of your market to develop and implement a marketing strategy that will strengthen your market position.
• Develop strategies for building on your strengths and minimizing your vulnerability where you have weakness.
• Develop strategies to minimize the value of your competitors’ strengths and capitalize on their weaknesses.
• Communicate the competitor information to each of your employees who need to know.
• Establish procedures to help keep your competitor profiles current.
• Carefully craft a plan and execute it.


I suggest scheduling a competitive analysis at least once a year. I recommend completing it around the time you prepare your budget and your marketing plans. This allows you to plan, pay for, and implement any changes necessary. Consider hiring a high school or college student for the summer to complete the task. Remember, your competitive research and analysis is never finished. This should be an ongoing, rather than a one-time process. Your competition can change quickly. Many other factors, such as the economy or new operators, can change the competitive landscape as well. It’s only when you’re clearly understanding your competition that you can evaluate your standing in the market.


Once you have developed your plan, you need to execute it. Make the necessary changes. Train your staff. Educate your customers on your new enhanced product offerings.

Making changes to your car wash may seem like an overwhelming task. The process is easier if you do your homework, complete a competitive analysis, develop a plan, and execute it. I recommend completing a competitive analysis at least once a year to see what adjustments are necessary due to change in the marketplace, customer demand, or competitive offerings.

Good luck, and wash on!

Bobby Willis has been in the car wash business for over 20 years. He owns and operates Cool Wave Car Washes in Virginia. He can be reached at bwillis@coolwavecarwash.com.