The information in this article was obtained from Auto Laundry News self-service annual surveys.

            Historically, the percentage of operators with multiple sites has remained fairly consistent with about 60 percent owning one site and 20 percent owning two sites. Another constant has been the percentage of respondents operating an in-bay automatic on their coin-operated location (more than 50 percent).

            Eighty-two percent of self-service facilities are open 24 hours a day. Most business (76 percent) occurs between the hours of 10:00 am and 7:00 pm. The slowest day of the week is Tuesday when only 9 percent of business occurs. As with other types of car washes, the busiest day of the week is Saturday (25 percent).

            Since 2013, the percentage of respondents located in suburban areas and middle market income level has steadily increased from 34 percent to more than 50 percent.

            This year income dipped slightly as 32 percent of respondents indicated less income as compared to the previous year. Thirty-four percent reported greater income which is down from 40 percent the previous year.

            Shown in Figure 1 is the percentage of owners who planned to build or buy a car wash in the next 12 months. Combined average for the period is 10 percent.

Unlike a conveyor or in-bay, self-service generates revenue from selling time on the machine (spray-bay, vacuum).

            Historically, respondents who operate a combined automatic/self-service facility generate most of their income from the in-bay. This year respondents indicated that in-bay automatic accounted for 58 percent of their total income.

            As shown in Table 1, not all self-service operators have taken the opportunity to add on available extra pay services that are known to boost average sales.

            As shown in Table 2, coins remain widely accepted at self-service facilities and mobile payment is beginning to become more commonplace. Conversely, token acceptance has dropped from 49 percent in 2016 to 25 percent in 2022.

            In terms of expenses, respondents indicate overall cost of goods of 38 percent of total monthly revenue and operating expenses of 26 percent of revenues.

            Free-standing, in-bay operating expenses are 34 percent of revenue the greatest expense for self-service operators is utilities at 25 percent of revenue and labor at 10 percent.

            Nineteen percent of operators have a full-time attendant up from 7 percent in 2013.

            According to Grand View Research, the self-service car wash segment is expected to grow at a CAGR of around 5.8 percent from 2023 to 2030.

            Moreover, despite growth of express exterior conveyors, in-bay automatic is still the most common type of car wash in the U.S.

            Consequently, self-service operators have the opportunity to leverage this advantage to:
•          Offer more versatile in-bay machines that can apply the latest product innovations such as ceramic and graphene.
•          Offer integrated payment solutions such as cashless payment to attract the Millennials.
•          Create an attractive e-commerce capable website. Only 41 percent of self-service operators have a website.

            Self-serve might not be as sexy as the all-mighty express exterior, but it is the industry’s workhorse and continues to be a concept to contend with.

Bob Roman is a car wash consultant and can be reached at