As the car wash industry continues to converge on exterior express, a new generation of car-care professionals has entered the scene. This includes companies like CitySleekers, Simple Car Wash, and Eco Green Auto Clean that operate successful waterless car wash and detail businesses.
To begin, let’s examine startup Wype Inc. (www.wype.com) that is nearing its beta launch in Santa Monica, CA.
Figure 1 – Wype Inc.
According to its website, Wype is the act of applying the Wype car wash solution for the purpose of cleansing a vehicle anywhere, performed by a certified Wype detailer, and ordered through the Wype mobile app.
According to co-founder and president Jordan Farmar, Wype is a passionate team of car-loving people who are all about technology, clean cars, conservation, and charity — and they love it.
Wype plans to offer an exterior wash (15 minutes), full-service wash (30 minutes), hand wax (60 minutes), and several upgrades ranging in price from $22 to $65. Arguably, the Wype business model and its team are not the typical detail shop or mobile car wash start-up.
To the north, in Silicon Valley, is Eco Green Auto Clean.
Figure 2 – Eco Green Auto Clean
Eco Green Auto Clean Inc. is a manufacturer of waterless car wash and detail products with distribution centers in Amsterdam, the Netherlands and San Francisco, CA. The company also operates a location-based waterless car wash and detail shop and a mobile unit in Redwood City, CA.
Eco Green offers exterior and full-service washes for between $25 and $40, hand wax at $65, clay bar treatments are $125, and $170 and up for reconditioning services.
According to CEO Anton Van Happen, Eco Green’s customers include the likes of Google, Uber, Porsche, Enterprise Rent-a-Car, among others.
Figure 3 – Simple Car Wash
Located in the Northeast, Simple Car Wash (www.simplewaterless.com) is a mobile waterless car wash business based out of State College, PA. Taylor Mitcham started simple while she was attending engineering graduate school at Penn State University. Taylor now has five employees.
Simple offers exterior and interior-only washes for $20 to $30 and full-service for $40 to $60. There is also a fleet program for companies with five or more vehicles.
Figure 4 – Citysleekers
In my market we find Citysleekers (www.thecitysleekers.com), a mobile waterless car wash business owned and operated by Nick Price and Lance Brackett, who travel to their customers on bicycles.
For prices starting at $25, Citysleekers will go to wherever the customer is and give their car a mean, green, waterless clean.
Clearly, there is a stark difference between these upstarts and the typical detail start-up that operates out of the trunk of a car and eventually resorts to wholesale at half price to survive.
Price, Van Happen, and others are mostly in their early 20s to mid 30s and are bright, tech savvy, and entrepreneurial. For example, Taylor Mitcham created a smartphone app and barcode reader system and then adapted it for auto-tag and GPS to become more integrated with her customers.
Figure 5 – Freestanding Shop
Just like the big boys, waterless businesses have certified cashless payment and responsive websites that are compatible with smartphones and tablets and help simplify management while reducing operational costs.
Not only have these businesses proven sustainable, most were developed with little or no commercial car wash resources. Conversely, traditional detail systems have largely been stuck in the past, failing to leverage modern technologies to improve productivity and efficiency.
Evidence is shown in the benchmarks (Figure 5). Here, car counts for freestanding detail shops have trended downward as average per-car revenue has trended up. Benchmarks for mobile detailers are similar.
Most detailers are notoriously slow. The average time required to complete a standard detail package is between four and five hours. Moreover, only about 25 percent of freestanding detail shops and mobile operators offer express detailing services.
By comparison, waterless car wash is designed to produce two cars per man-hour. This is due to the nature of the waterless product and achieved by working in teams.
Waterless car wash is a high-lubricity, pre-mixed solution. When sprayed on, the solution encapsulates dirt particles and lifts them off the surface, which can be safely wiped away with a wet/moist microfiber towel without risk of scratching.
Gentle buffing with a second, dry microfiber towel leaves behind a clean, glossy finish that works like a wax. This leads us to another aspect of waterless car wash and detail: cost of ownership and operation.
Table 1 – Expense ratio
As shown in Table 1, waterless car wash and detail operators have lower expenses as a percentage of sales revenue compared to traditional systems. Savings come from lower cost of goods, lower utility expenses, and more efficient standard operating procedures.
Moreover, waterless car wash does not require containment mats or wastewater disposal (i.e., grease trap), high-pressure washer, water storage tank, or support equipment needed to perform wet washing.
For example, the average investment for a two-person mobile waterless car wash capable of producing 15 to 20 cars a day, including the lease for a “green” vehicle, is less than $10,000.
The average investment for a location-based waterless car wash and detail shop (1,200 square feet) on leased property capable of producing 60 or more cars a day is around $120,000.
Arguably, affordability is one factor that attracts and portends to create a pool of mom and pop investors just like traditional car washes once did.
There is also the environmental aspect. Waterless uses about one cup of fresh water per car wash, whereas about 40 gallons are required for a commercial car wash with a reclaim system. Most of the $1.3 billion car wash chemical business is not certified as “clean or green” chemicals.
Waterless car wash products are formulated with natural, environmentally friendly, biodegradable, water-based ingredients. Consequently, waterless car wash and detail has a very small carbon footprint as compared to commercial car wash.
Another reason for the success of the waterless car washes mentioned was the owner’s focus on first creating a sustainable car wash business rather than focusing on the technology.