This is what the excitement is about: the gathering at The Car Wash Show of car washers from across the country to explore new ideas, examine innovative equipment and services, learn from the experts, and share with peers. Indubitably, the star of the show is the express exterior model. Since its inception, this car wash format has cornered the conveyorized market to the virtual exclusion of everything else, due in large part to its minimal labor requirement.

It was, however, the melding of this format with the subscription-service concept — also known as the unlimited wash club — that really got the ball rolling. The combination of low labor, low inventory, recurring income a la health clubs, and easy duplication proved too enticing to resist, causing moneyed investors to flock to the industry in droves. Now we have various brands vying for larger slices of the pie by snapping up existing chains, desirable one-off units, or, in the absence of both, the most promising sites for ground-up development. “It’s a gold rush,” is how Scott Caplan, CEO of EverWash characterized the phenomenon in an interview with the Philadelphia Business Journal.

The preeminence of the express exterior model along with its aptness as a consolidation target, is also reflected in the car-wash-specific segments of The Car Wash Show educational programming, i.e., those presentations identified as “Pitch 60” (see page 84 in this issue for program details).

Considering where the current action is in the industry, this is as it should be.

While self-service operations are represented in every timeslot, albeit only once, it is interesting to note that these presentations are, in every instance, left to the Western Carwash Association, a regional partner in the event, to put on.

Self-service operators should not feel put out because the express exterior is understandably hogging the spotlight.

Their segment of the industry is quietly not only surviving, but thriving. In his article, “The State of the Self-Serve,” Gary Wirges writes that self-serve is “experiencing an unprecedented resurgence of growth,” and further points out that the “lower investment threshold makes a self-serve facility an excellent launching point for entering into the car wash business.”

This observation amplifies the one made by Robert Roman’s article in the December 2020 issue titled “Mom and Pop.” He explains how breaking into the car wash business can be accomplished in small steps despite the seeming impediment of the multi-million-dollar conveyorized development. For example, the first rung might be a mobile car wash; one step up might be a hand wash, which could be accommodated in a former gas station; a traditional wand-bay self-service car wash would take you a step further, while the addition of an in-bay automatic would complete the self-service picture.

Self-service wash operators who are looking to expand their car wash interests give support to Wirges’s assertion regarding growth: The latest Auto Laundry News Self-Service Survey (see page 51 in this issue) finds that, for the third year running, such operators are twice as likely to build new self-service washes as they are to buy existing locations. They will, in effect, be adding capacity in their chosen markets, which shows confidence in demand.