How often do we hear the cliche “Change is hard?” Well, it is. But frequently, when we take an objective look at what’s going on, we make change harder than it needs to be. A lot harder.

Change can be scary, annoying, expensive, or risky. It depends on what’s driving it. But more than anything else, change is inconvenient. New competition, road construction, unfavorable weather, financial strain, or even employee turnover are frequently unplanned changes that can cost you time and money.

But there are changes that you can take advantage of. Changes that, no matter how inconvenient they seem, are worth the effort and investment. Trends that you should buy into because they will efficiently feed your business.

While it’s true that nobody knows your business like you do, industry research can help you make well-informed decisions. Below are some trends uncovered from the examination of propriety car wash data from 2023 to aid your decision-making.

Trend 1

Contactless payments are a fast way to get new customers.

Today, “contactless” refers to tap-to-pay payments, mobile app payments, Google Pay, Apple Pay, Samsung Pay, etc. If you don’t already have contactless payments at your wash, your business is a less convenient option when compared to the competition.

How are operators doing with tap? Operators that have moved to tap-to-pay have witnessed a 168 percent increase in tap in 2023.

Tap-to-pay is easy to integrate, and customer adoption is instant. Customers don’t need directions on how to use it or to know that it’s available. In fact, it’s so intuitive and accepted in today’s retail environment that it’s almost expected.

The big financial institutions that drive retail payment systems are getting out of swipe (and quickly). Mastercard has publicly said that they will no longer produce magstripe cards after 2025 — that means next year!

Over 75 percent of face-to-face transactions are contactless in countries like Australia and Canada. The US is behind in adopting contactless payments. Our migration started much later and has been much slower, but consumers are pushing for it.

Consumers gravitate to the fastest and easiest technology and avoid slower, harder technologies. Swipe is faster than cash, chip is faster than swipe, tap is faster than chip, and a mobile app is faster than tap.

As a small business owner, you have the advantage over large chains and retailers in adapting to new technology faster. Tap-to-pay systems can be ordered and installed in as little as two weeks.

Trend 2

Mobile apps help build loyalty.

Right now, mobile apps are one of the most efficient ways to build loyalty at a car wash. We have seen app growth of more than 700 new mobile app customers after only 10 months at a single location. The owner built a following of loyal brand advocates who visit often and “share their love” for the wash through referrals. Communicating through a customer’s mobile device builds business faster with little or no ongoing cost.

The biggest target market for car wash mobile apps is Millennials. Millennials are no longer little kids in their teens — they are in their late 20s through early 40s — and are entering their prime spending years. Their mobile devices are always at the heart of everything they do. It’s where they build habits, discover brands they love, and openly share their likes and dislikes. Having a mobile app helps you reach them exactly where they are and gives them the speed and convenience they demand.

How mobile apps can help drive car wash business:
•          Brand building: The more value customers are offered through an app with referral programs, bad weather rewash programs, free wash incentives, etc., the more they wash.
•          Create connections: This comes back to speed again. The faster an operator can engage consumers, and the easier it is for them to purchase, the more connected they feel.
•          Improve engagement and customer interaction: Engagement in an app means you are communicating through your customer’s device – which is where you want to be. Once you have a presence via an app, you can more easily improve customer loyalty and boost profits.

Trend 3

Point-of-sale signage is cost-effective advertising.

Operators need signage. There’s a need to educate consumers on “what to do” and “what not to do.” You must tell your customers how to wash their cars: no bucket washing, no dumping, etc. Frequently, that’s where the conversation ends.

But think about your entire site as a billboard where you can have a much bigger conversation with your customers. A good sign is your 24/7 salesperson — without any ongoing hourly cost. Many independent wash operations have limited or no attendants on-site, so there is no opportunity to upsell personally. Your site has plenty of space to add simple, engaging, and fun signage.

The operator who gained 700 customers in 10 months did so thanks to a signage program added to his operation after establishing his mobile app program. He needed another way to build traffic and loyalty — signage was the answer.

Another car wash operator launched a mobile app, attracting 10-20 new customers per month. After he put up a promotional sign package he had a 78 percent increase in new app users in just six months. That growth resulted in more than 500 new customers. Signage can make a huge difference — it is low-cost, efficient, and effective.

Trend 4

Referrals help operators get new customers for free. 

            It’s not news that referrals are a great marketing asset. Just look at some of the basic facts:
•          49 percent of U.S. shoppers discover brands through family and friends
•          A single happy customer can yield nine referrals
•          Customers referred by others have a 37 percent higher retention rate
•          People are four times more likely to buy when referred by a friend
•          Referral marketing generates three to five times higher conversion rates than any other channel.

Data indicates that one-third of all referrals become members at a wash. That means for every 100 customers who sent out an invite, 33 people come to the wash and use it. And one-third of those customers, up to 10 percent of all referrals, come back repeatedly. They’re washing at least five times and typically buying premium washes.

Customers are a wash’s best asset when it comes to advertising. Rewarding them for their loyalty is the easiest way to get new customers. Out of a program that takes little or no investment, there are huge returns if done right and made easy. 

Trend 5

Rewash programs deliver more than 90 percent profit.

Have you ever gotten a rain check for a sporting event or concert? Maybe for an out-of-stock in-store item? Rewash programs use that idea to create a low-cost but highly profitable program for car wash operators.

Rewash programs are generally sold for a few dollars more than the standard wash price. Operators choose how long they want to set their rewash period for (1-5 days) and if there is any precipitation in that time, those who bought a rewash can return and get a rinse for free. Sounds pretty great for the consumer. 

For the operator wondering how it helps them build their profits, our data shows that redemption rates average less than 6 percent. Most rewashes are never redeemed, so you make money from simply offering the program. Even though some customers claim rewashes, the revenue generated by the program more than offsets the rewash costs.

When delivered right and consumers are given the options, these programs can offer amazing cash flow and profitability.

Final Thoughts

You can swim against the current or take advantage of it. Trends are identified to help businesses take advantage of them. A trend is your friend. Leveraging trends lowers your cost of “convincing” a prospect to change the direction they may be taking. When you are on-trend, you are walking side by side with consumers, headed in the same direction they are going.

That’s smart, efficient, and effective.

Amy Olson is a consumer marketing expert with WashCard Systems,