Car Washes and Payments: Two Industries Evolving Together

The advent of the automobile naturally led to the desire for people to want to wash them, either at home by hand or by paying someone else. And there you have the birth of the car wash industry, still thriving and growing today. It started very modestly in Detroit in 1914 where two men opened the first official car wash business, terming it the “Automated Laundry.” Catchy marketing for sure, but this operation was anything but automated. The business model went something like this: cars are pushed by an attendant manually through a tunnel in assembly-line fashion where the first worker soaped up the automobile, the next one rinsed it off and a third one dried the car. Original? Yes. Scalable? Hardly…after a few customers, the “pusher” was pretty much ready to call it a day.

The first truly automated car wash system opened in Hollywood, California in 1940 utilizing a winch system that moved cars along a conveyor system while workers manually washed and dried the cars. This led to the first “hands-free” automated car wash in Seattle in 1951. Through the 1960’s mechanized car washing systems continued to evolve and the industry grew significantly. Today, car washes are comprised of sophisticated machinery capable of cleaning the entire car at once including the undercarriage, tires and wheels. Using less electricity and ecological cleaning agents, today’s car wash businesses are all about efficiency and effectiveness. Making customers happy is a common key goal, and that applies to how customers pay.

For many decades, that payment option was limited to cash. Today there are still thousands of car wash businesses who rely solely on cash as the only way to pay. Yet, as cash is playing less of a role in everyday commerce, the same can be said for the car wash industry’s growing adaptation of cashless payment options. The most common transition to alternative payments involves accepting credit cards. Considering credit card customers spend an average of over 30% more than cash customers, this move alone can increase a car wash’s revenue significantly.

Accepting credit cards is a great start, but hardly the end of the list of payment options tech-savvy car wash businesses can offer their customers. The explosive growth of mobile payments, including near-field technology and other proximity payments, can greatly impact car wash businesses and lure new customers. Mobile wallets, scan/QR codes and mobile coupons can work together to provide a car wash business the advantage of not only offering a convenient way to pay, but introduce options like mobile coupons, recurring payments and the marketing benefits these solutions can provide.

According to the International Carwash Association®, more than 2 billion cars are washed each year in North America, resulting in retail sales of approximately $15 Billion. Thanks to the payment options that exist for today’s car wash businesses, that revenue no longer needs to consist of 60 billion quarters harvested from metal boxes at the car wash location. Get ready car washes – the move to a cashless society is headed your way – and quickly.