Elevating the C-store Car Wash

Retailers are adding more wash options and digital subscriptions to boost business.
Family Express car wash

NATIONAL REPORT Convenience stores have had car washes for years, but innovation in equipment and marketing has been limited. That is now changing, with some c-stores adding more wash options and digital subscriptions.

Add-ons include higher-end waxes, tire shiners, and undercarriage sprays. These can move prices from around $6 for a basic wash to a $26 package at the extreme high end. 

App-based monthly subscriptions drive repeat traffic and can link to other business segments.

“Car wash is a nice revenue stream,” said Ken Underhill, director of marketing at St. Louis-based car wash supplier D&S Car Wash, which offers a modeling tool that lets c-store operators “plug in” numbers to make revenue and profit projections following investment costs.

Underhill acknowledges, however, that car wash doesn’t seem to have a high profile compared to the in-store aspect of convenience retailing. “It’s kind of an add-on, and most equipment has been fairly utilitarian. Historically, c-stores haven’t marketed it. I’m not sure why,” he said. 

Miami, Fla.-based Sunshine Gasoline Distributors is one chain bucking the trend. It has invested in better equipment, including rollover and tunnel car washes, and added perks to many of its 100 South Florida car washes, including ceiling LEDs that “create visual stimulation,” Eddy Alvarez, senior operations manager, told Convenience Store News. “It’s a bit of a Miami light show.”

Sunshine also launched app-based monthly subscriptions at 45 of its locations.

“You don’t leave your car. You open the app, request a code, punch it in, and the wash activates,” said Alvarez, noting that Sunshine promotes its car wash offerings via screens at the gas pumps, car wash QR codes, local radio, and in-store associates.

These changes have made Sunshine a destination. Alvarez said the retailer plans to expand the subscription program, continue upgrading its washes, and will add standalone car washes.

Valparaiso, Ind.-based Family Express Corp. launched app-based car wash subscriptions roughly two years ago. Subscriptions are sold at all of the chain’s stores and redeemable at all of its car washes. Car wash same-store sales have increased 30 percent in the last two years.

“They’re doing phenomenally well,” said Family Express President and CEO Gus Olympidis, noting that the subscriptions are “constantly promoted” via social media and alongside its other business segments. The retailer continues adding car washes to more locations.

“The innovation in car washes is how you engage consumers with payments, loyalty and subscriptions to provide value,” Olympidis explained. “It’s bundling car washes with the overall store experience.”

Last year, the retailer began testing new technology that lets customers order fresh, made-to-order food from its Cravin's menu at the gas pump or car wash. To ensure the safety of customers' personal information, it installed Fiserv's TransArmor data protection system, which safeguards their personal data when they swipe credit cards at the pump or car wash.

The goal is to make it easier to buy Cravin's food, which is available at approximately a third of Family Express’ 75 stores, while on the go. By placing orders while they're pumping gas or getting their vehicle washed, customers don't have to wait in line again to place a food order inside the store.