We publish annual surveys of the various segments of the car wash industry on an annual basis. In July, it’s the Exterior Conveyor format’s turn (starting on page 27 in this issue). Participants are drawn, in main, from two sub-segments: exterior-only — a format known in the Northeast for decades — and express exterior, a more recent addition to the commercial car wash offerings. A third category, exterior washes with offline full-service, completes the survey pool

            Though initially clearly distinct, subsegments one and two have been morphing ever closer over time, with exterior-only sites adopting some services once unique to the express format. For the purposes of the survey, all respondents self-identify as belonging to one category or the other. Some inconsistency is therefore inevitable.

            So how do you differentiate between exterior-only and express-exterior?
Far be it for me to dictate nomenclature for the industry, but this is my understanding of the terms. Exterior-only: cashier/greeter, manual prep, conveyor wash, manual touch-up drying at exit, self-serve pay-vacuums available. Express-exterior: auto pay station/greeter, no manual prep, conveyor wash, no manual drying, free sell-serve vacuums and mat cleaners, complimentary towels.

            The confusion starts when operators start adding services not strictly compatible with their format. For example, an exterior-only site might add an auto pay station, which take is closer to an express-exterior. An express-exterior operation might add manual touch-up drying, which moves it closer to exterior-only. Such a move would, of course, be contrary to the goals of the express-exterior: eliminate as much labor as possible.

            To give this concoction another stir, contemplate the exterior-only with offline full service: after the conveyor wash, the car is given an interior cleaning elsewhere on the site — an after-care center, perhaps? Sounds pretty much like a flex-serve, especially if there are also coin-op bays on site.

            Even the venerable in-bay automatic has seen its standard operation being adjusted, expanded, and enhanced. Enter the IBA Express: Beyond the gantry, which does its usual passes over the stationary car, several application arches are added to provide extra services. The car passes through these arches, slowly, under its own power, and finally exits under a freestanding dryer.

            These little inconsistencies should not be a surprise, nor should it be cause for concern. It is a healthy indicator that the industry is dynamic, that it is constantly innovating and reinventing itself to meet and exceed the expectations of its customers.