Note: the following blog post is adapted from Ryan Essenburg’s presentation at the Car Wash Show 2017 in Las Vegas, NV titled “Fundamentals of Express Carwash Success: Why Belts, Brands, and Buildings Will Dominate in 2017”. If you would prefer to watch or listen to the presentation, you can do so using the video embedded below..



.The car wash community, both in the United States and worldwide, is in a period of transition and ripe for the same level of disruption that has revitalized and transformed countless other industries in recent years. In the same way Uber and Lyft leveraged mobile technology to cut costs and connect riders, or ‘casual fast’ restaurants like Chipotle found a way to deliver a better meal experience faster, our industry is ready for innovations that will take the car wash experience, streamline, and perfect it with the right technology and a newly professional approach.

Where we are Today?

What does the average American car wash look like today? On the whole, it is an aging, small, independent owned facility, probably an inbay automatic or rollover system, or possibly an outbuilding connected to a gas station or some other business. It is single story, fairly unimpressive, poorly lit, and could stand for a fresh coat of paint and power washing.

And for huge portions of the United States, there may only be one or two of these facilities serving tens or hundreds of thousands of individuals in nearby communities. These blue water markets exist by the thousand and harbor real demand for car washes able to jettison the bare-minimum, mom-and-pop approach that has long defined the car wash business. If new washes open, professionalized with powerful, performance-focused equipment and an ROI, expansion-driven business model, they will find untold (and untapped) potential.

What Will Make this Leap Possible?

The technology and strategies that are going to drive this change will come from a holistic approach to performance-oriented car washing. Factors will include:

→ New Retail Operations and Investment Capitol

→ Presentable and Highly Efficient Equipment

→ Digital Branding Strategies / Franchising

→ Lean Operations Supported with Facility Systems

→ Mobile App and Customer Club Integration.

Investment Capitol

In the past, many individuals seeking to launch car washes did so with a subsistence mindset. They sought to open a single, moderately successful wash or set of washes using the bare minimum of capital required to do so. Concerns such as customer experience, maximizing wash capacity, or wow-factor came a distant second.

However, car wash growth now and in the near future will be built on a very different mindset and will follow the concept of profit amplification. Entrepreneurs entering the market understand that investing the capitol required to secure the right location with the right technology in the right package is more than worthwhile—it is paramount. An ROI focused approach will yield a higher caliber of membership-worthy washes able to turn out substantially higher wash counts and better margins.


We are already in the midst of a car wash industrial revolution today, in which the technology and systems that have served the industry are being re-imagined and improved in order to provide 1) an improved customer experience and 2) better processing speed and capacity.

This shift is perhaps best exemplified by the shift to Dual Belt Conveyors. From our own experiences, in the last few years at Tommy Car Wash Systems we’ve seen an explosion in belt conveyor orders. Today we are now selling five of our Tommy Transporters for every one of the older, slower, and less customer-friendly chain and roller conveyor. This technology drastically improves the speed at which client washes can process vehicles and serves as either a foundational choice for a high-performance wash system, or a much-needed (and easy) upgrade to an older existing wash.

Similar revolutions are expected across points of sale, controller systems, wash arches, club infrastructure, and wash hardware.


Brand saturation is a core principle of modern retail, and one with considerable potential impact on new car wash development. Consider that, nationally, after six years more than 90% of newly developed franchises remain in business.  The same is true for less than 50% of independent startups. Even local car wash chains can use this powerful effect by pursuing a critical density of stores in their local community. By launching similarly branded stores that deliver the same experience, all in drivable distance of one another, the young brand generates more familiarity, a larger footprint and pooled customer base, and improved economy of scale.

The digital aspect of this modern, experience-centric branding also opens the door to exciting new possibilities. For instance, collaborative club roaming schemes such as those now appearing in European markets

Facility Operations

For too long prospective car wash owners and entrepreneurs have viewed the car wash building and car wash equipment as separate and interchangeable, rather than a single unified whole. But from the perspective of both the customer and operations personnel, the entire car wash property (including the building and all equipment within) is a single machine with the function of taking dirty vehicles in one end and releasing clean vehicles at the other. And even the smallest details of this machine will have an impact on it's efficiency and ease of use—for good or ill.

For this reason it is newly important that car wash facility and equipment designs be prepared by developers with specialized experience and expertise in performance-centric car wash operations, rather than out-of-industry architects.  From proper floor slopes to staff routes, lines of sight, queue spacing, stop button locations, conduits and much, much more a favorable and well-designed building will contribute to the car wash’s day-to-day operational success, allowing a smaller team to handle large vehicle loads with minimal effort and less incident risk.

In the same way, window placement, lighting, and attention-garnering architecture allow the equipment and building as a whole to function as a recognizable landmark and as an effective marketing tool. The importance of this wow-factor and using the building/equipment as marketing cannot be discounted.

App and Club Integration

The forces acting on the car wash industry today have been a long-time in coming, and many of the most exciting innovations on the horizon are long overdue. While car wash membership and unlimited clubs have been a staple for some time, fully integrating these programs with mobile and other high technology (such as licence plate readers) is a more recent move with the potential to streamline and even digitize the wash experience.

With new options freeing local washes from expensive point of sale commitments in favor of cheaper and more flexible modern car wash POS solutions, new wash club systems will also reduce the level of labor required to administer the club program from the cashier window as many customers will become self-sufficient, adjusting their plans from their cell phones or online accounts as needed. This system will ultimately give modern customers fast, connected, on-demand service they have come to demand.

Franchise Opportunities and Development Assistance Available Now

The only way to ride a wave without wiping out is to catch it early, and that means moving now. At Tommy Car Wash Systems we seek to push these boundaries in our quest for never-ending improvement and innovation.

If you are interested in the latest in high-performance car wash design and investment-minded development you should contact our team by visiting our contact information page. You may also be interested in the rapidly-growing Tommy’s Express Car Wash Franchise, where franchise partners receive close operational and marketing support as well as extensive training prior to and following a facility launch. Visit the car wash franchise information page to learn more. 

Tommy Car Wash Systems.