As the car wash industry continues to converge on express exterior washing, it is moving rapidly toward an industrialized model.

Industrialization is when a process or profession matures from art form to a widespread, repeatable function with predictable results and accelerated by technology to achieve higher levels of productivity.

It is said these results must be trustworthy and execution must be fast. Customer satisfaction need not be addressed directly because reliability and speed results in lower costs and higher satisfaction.

Arguably, this sounds more and more like where the car wash industry is heading.

Industrialization involves replacing manual labor with mechanized production and craftsmen are replaced by assembly lines.

Mechanized production, assembly line (conveyance), automation, and statistical quality control allow products/services to be made/delivered faster and more consistently at a lower cost.

As shown in the table below, we can see the results of industrialization in the car wash industry. For example, as the business model has become more mechanized, productivity and profitability has increased as labor expense and prices have decreased.

These results are due to the combination of hard, soft, and hybrid technologies. Hard technologies include tangible components that can be purchased and assembled into systems.

To paraphrase one academic, the automatic car wash and hot-wax coating has replaced the uneven quality and dignity-destroying work of individuals washing and waxing by hand.

Another example, is the point-of-sale process that automates greeting and service initiation functions.

Soft technology involves the human aspect of things such as supermarkets, car washes, and other businesses that enable people to serve themselves quickly and efficiently (e.g., self-check out, free vacuums).

Hybrid technologies combine hard equipment with carefully planned systems to bring efficiency, order, and speed to the service process. For example, flex-service systems feature high volume, limited service (express detail), specialization (production cells, belt conveyor), and special-purpose tools which combine to produce fast results (i.e., in 20 minutes).

Every successful industrialization movement relies on innovation that can be quickly adapted to changing conditions. Consider some of the moving parts in the system that accelerates and optimizes the performance of a subscription program. Here, vehicle recognition has evolved from key pad to RFID, to LPR, and most likely to wireless in the future.

One casualty from industrialization of retail service is the personal touch. For example, experts opine that frontline employees are crucial in providing a great customer experience and forming a feedback loop. However, the trend in the car wash industry has been to provide less service and fewer employees per location.

Here, the Internet of Things (IoT) and digital transformation will allow car wash operators to provide a better environment and more personalized experience. For example, IoT technology can help increase conversion rates, reduce waiting times, target discounts to attract more customers, track success of promotions, and improve safety and security.

In the final analysis, it appears industrialization of the car wash industry is inevitable. Pundits expect the following trends will contribute to this movement:
•Incorporation of smart device/embedded intelligence
• Predictive maintenance systems
• Selling direct to both business and consumers
• Digital transformation (i.e., cloud computing)
• Increasing reliance on technology instead of employees

Bob Roman is president of RJR Enterprises — Consulting Services ( You can reach Bob via e-mail at