The Equilibrium Point team just returned from the International Car Wash conference, held May 13-15 in Nashville. Several of our customers and partners have asked for our thoughts and observations coming out of this fun and engaging event, so without further ado:
First, it should be clear that the folks at ICA know how to put on an amazing event. The education and partner solution sessions provided a wide variety of relevant, actionable information for car wash owners, operators, and investors. Attendance was very strong (a new record, we bet), with break-out sessions and the exhibit floor packed all three days. The Music Center venue was conveniently located, easy to navigate, and had all the right amenities. And Nashville…what a city!
Attendance at the show is a strong indicator of our second observation – just how healthy and vibrant the car wash and broader automotive service industry currently is. The breadth of equipment, technology, and services on the exhibit floor was almost mind boggling – everything from integrated car wash platforms to chemical and soap distribution systems, water treatment and reclamation, customer loyalty program software, and mobile apps. Topics central to EQP’s mission – the use of IoT sensors, machine learning, and mobile apps for remote monitoring – were part of many conversations and even made it onto the “Future of the Car Wash Industry” story board at the entrance to the exhibit hall.
A healthy market attracts interest in expansion and investment. It seems like everyone we spoke to was either entering the industry for the first time or adding washes to their existing business via acquisition or greenfield construction. The transition from single to multi-site ownership has been underway for some time (see this excellent article from PC&D Magazine). But if the ICA show is any indicator, the trend is accelerating.
This is of particular interest for EQP, as we deploy technology that improves the operational and financial performance of car washes of all types and sizes. Single-site owners were among our first customers and continue to be strong adopters of our IoT-enabled sensors and remote monitoring software. Their reasons for working with us are simple: in a single-site operation, factors like uptime, wash quality, and cost control are critical to the owner’s sole source of income. And for a sole proprietor, manually keeping track of every piece of equipment, chemical drum, and service 24/7 is error prone and stressful (and expensive, if employee time is being used). In speaking with several multi-site operators at the ICA show, it’s clear that these challenges are only amplified with the addition of more car washes.
We spoke to the operations director for one regional chain of 11 washes, who expressed that it’s “physically impossible” for him and his operations staff to keep track of everything needed to ensure that each site is up and providing a quality wash experience for their customers. Given the geographic separation between sites, manually checking everything from chemical supplies and temperature control, to vending and water quality is simply not feasible, let alone cost effective (last winter, cold temperatures led to frozen pipes that resulted in over $12,000 in damage at one site alone). The difficulty in finding and retaining qualified staff only adds to the challenge.
Fortunately, automated solutions are available. Wireless, internet-enabled sensors can provide centralized monitoring and alerting of key car wash systems and supplies, from any mobile device. Other benefits beyond improved reliability, cost control, and overall piece of mind can also be realized. As an example, EQP customers can benchmark across sites for chemical usage and cost per car by wash type. And putting mobile apps and operational data in the hands of employees has proven to be an effective tool for recruitment, engagement, and retention.