The car wash category has seen significant visit growth in recent years, outperforming the pre-pandemic era. Visits accelerated in 2021 as consumers pulled out of COVID restrictions with stimulus dollars in hand, eager to head out on the highways. And in 2022, back-to-the-office trends and pent-up demand for going out caused car wash traffic to reach new heights. We dove into the visit metrics in the car wash category to take a closer look at the trends driving strong foot traffic and assess where the space is headed in 2023.
You Can Wash My Car
Analysis of monthly visits to the car wash space compared to a January 2019 baseline shows that visits surged in 2021 and again in 2022 as drivers left the pandemic and its restrictions in their rearview mirrors. Besides the excitement of once again hitting the open road that drove car wash visits, supply chain woes caused new car prices to skyrocket in 2022, so keeping an older car clean was a great way to spruce up one’s ride when trading up wasn’t an option.
Location analytics also reveals that the car wash sector generally sees seasonal peaks in March, since many drivers get their cars cleaned after the winter when the rain and snow subside. Visits are more or less sustained during the warmer months as drivers keep their cars sparkling in the sun-filled days. By November consumers generally take a break from car washes as the frequent rains help keep cars clean throughout the winter. If the current trend continues, March 2023 is poised to be a massive month for car wash chains.
Wash, Rinse, Repeat
In 2022, visits to car wash chains outshined previous years despite rising gas prices curtailing visits to a number of other retail categories. One factor that may have kept visits in high gear is the consumer perception that car washes are a relatively affordable luxury during turbulent economic times, similar to makeup and c-store snacks.
Between December 2021 and December 2022, the median household income (HHI) of visitors to the leading car wash chains was below the national benchmark. This may mean that lower-income consumers – those that would likely be harder hit by inflation – consider a clean car to be a budget-friendly splurge, despite a widespread curbing of discretionary spending.
Many car wash brands have a subscription model which, for a flat rate, gives visitors access to unlimited car washes during the month. This is likely a particularly attractive offer that has the power to drive visits when budgets are tight since it encourages repeat visits by those looking to get the most bang for their buck.
Where to Wash
A location on roadways with heavy vehicle traffic separates the best car washes from the pack. The most visited car washes occupy highly traveled routes that make a quick wash a convenient stop for the maximum number of drivers.
Analysis of vehicle traffic volume surrounding one of the most visited car washes in the country – BlueWave Express Car Wash in Harlingen, TX – reveals the particularly high volume of cars that drive by the locations on a daily basis. In 2021, the venue saw, on average, tens if not hundreds of thousands of cars pass by adjacent streets and highways every day. It’s clear that location is the key to maximizing the number of car wash visitors.
Recent macroeconomic headwinds haven’t caused drivers to pump the brakes on car wash visits. In fact, visits to car wash chains in 2022 surpassed previous years. As supply chain challenges subside and more electric vehicles enter the market in 2023, the demand for keeping new rides looking their best will likely continue to drive car wash visits.
For updates and more data-driven foot traffic insights, visit Placer.ai.