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7 Car Wash & Detailing Industry Trends to Watch in 2024

After spending time analyzing the auto detailing industry over the past few years, today I want to outline a few things I’ve noticed that may impact the industry in 2024 and for years to come.

While many consumers in the 80s and 90s had very few car wash options, the nanotechnology advances in addition to advances in mobile apps and the on-demand economy have made it easier than ever for consumers to get their vehicle washed and/or detailed. 

According to Google Trends, the topic of  ‘Auto Detailing’ is twice as popular (relative to other terms being Googled) as it was in 2008. 2008 was a bad economic time, but the industry has certainly rebounded and doesn’t look to be going anywhere.

The good news is auto detailing is still growing at around 3-4 percent per year (depending on the source).

Here are a few things to pay attention to if you’re considering entering this space or growing your business.

1. Mobile detailing services are an expectation

It is getting more difficult for small business owners to attract younger consumers without technology, considering how many larger companies (with on-demand mobile app-based businesses) have exploded on the scene recently.

I do think this presents a challenge and an opportunity if you are a small business owner with a couple of employees; while consumers are willing to pay for services, they are looking for convenience. 

Anyone can book a car wash or detail using an app, and within a couple of hours have someone at their house or work. Traditional marketing with flyers is no longer as effective in many markets as opposed to running online ads and local SEO.

2. One-on-one relationships and quality of work still matter: the barbershop example

personal relationships detailing

While the industry is changing, building one-on-one relationships will still be important in 2024 for high-end detailing services. When a Ferrari owner hands over his keys to you (for example) a level of trust must be established..something that many larger companies I feel are struggling to do in auto detailing.

You can book a technician in 10 minutes, but detailers with advanced skills are hard to come by. Sometimes you don’t know what you’re getting.

A simple comparison: The professional barber

To draw a comparison, think about the fact that you no longer have to book an appointment at many walk-up men’s salons..stay with me for a minute. My dad had his go-to barber many like other men in the 1970s, and personal relationships and techniques were good reasons to stay loyal. You knew what you were getting.

Like the barber example, some vehicle owners are willing to wait for a consistent and high-quality experience from a seasoned professional. 

Fast forward to today, and I suspect more men get a haircut by someone they’ve never met than ever before, due to convenience.

On the flip side, high-end barbershops and luxury salons are making a comeback. It’s all about the demographic you target.

Consistency and trust still matter to consumers

The good news if you are a detailer who truly is a master at your craft, is that many commercial mobile-app-based auto detailing companies don’t allow special requests to be made if customers find a detailer they like and trust.

You get what you get depending on who’s working. This opens the door for smaller auto detailers to establish personal relationships, get to know their clients, and offer to perform these services repeatedly.

Big companies often focus on growing their footprint, washing more vehicles per day, and really can’t compete with solo entrepreneurs who focus on the higher end of the market (and less on scale).

After all, customers with luxury vehicles are willing to pay a little more if they know their vehicle is being handled with care by someone not on the clock.

3. Businesses will compete on convenience 

auto detailing convenience app

Auto detailing is an industry that has lagged behind others on the technology front. However, over the past few years, apps and online scheduling have become the norm for the most successful auto detailing companies.

If you haven’t set up a basic booking system, it’s worth investing in because there are a lot of software products that make it easier for beginners.

4. Continued innovation in scheduling and payment 

Scheduling has become one of those challenges that in recent years has seen the effects and benefits of modern technology. This has only been accelerated by the pandemic.

Although it’s not been too recent, software is being used by larger companies to route detailers to different locations based on demand, and proximity, and utilizes AI and GPS technology. Many detailers send out automated text messages or alerts to smartphones, and allow customers to pay online.

For many small detailers, taking the first step to modernize scheduling is key. You can either use Outlook or Gmail calendars or eliminate the back-and-forth of scheduling by allowing customers to choose their time slots.

Payment methods in the coming decade

While many detailers accept credit cards, Venmo, Apple Pay, and others, consumers are moving away from cash.

Expect mobile payments will play more of a role in the next 5-10 years, especially as detailers target younger consumers. Either provide cashless payment options…or lose out on a large chunk of business.

5. Eco-friendly automotive products are on the rise

Ecosmart Waterless Wash and Wax

Like it or not, consumers have become increasingly environmentally conscious over the past several years. I expect this to translate into more eco-friendly detailing products and a larger market of consumers that demand more biodegradable soaps over traditional cleaners.

With this trend, you’ve seen more waterless products hit the scene, many of which are also biodegradable.

Many higher-end Class A office spaces are also beginning to require auto detailers to use water containment mats and be aware of any town or city water runoff regulations, particularly around storm drains that feed freshwater sources.

While it’s perfectly okay to use the brands you love, having some eco-friendly products on hand at all times isn’t a bad idea. According to studies, around 35% of consumers are willing to pay more for eco-friendly services

Check out these 15 eco-friendly products and ideas if you are looking to offer some eco-friendly products or services shortly.

6. Detailers are offering more specialized services

Car wash clubs, memberships, and recurring revenue are already beginning to transform those dingy, late 1990s car washes across America. Every day, I see a new car wash..or auto spa pop up with all its shiny new features.

More detailers are now offering everything from headlight restoration services to oil changes, much more than your typical car wash and detailing package.

Since many people have a limited amount of time during their lunch break, and don’t feel like dealing with cash or cards, a nice auto spa with RFID scanners for members makes for a convenient, in-and-out experience. As long as there is an account balance, the gate should open!

And it sure beats a dark, filthy car wash tunnel with a broken credit card reader attached to a gas station.

7. Tunnel washes will advance or die

car wash pos software

On that note, tunnel wash tech continues to get better and even more entertaining. While many washes are old and outdated, expect more of these older tunnels or conveyer washes to be rebuilt, torn down, or outfitted with modern technology like sensors-controlled gates for members, or even light shows within the tunnel.

Touchless or even soft-touch car washes will likely continue to pop up over North America, which is why offering personal, humanized detailing services will be so important. It’s just hard to compete for the business of a consumer that isn’t willing to pay more than 20 to 30 bucks per month for more than a tunnel wash.

On the other hand, the size of the market is increasing worldwide, especially in EMEA, so I expect plenty of franchising opportunities to exist. 

Conclusion

To recap, I am optimistic about the auto detailing market.

As tools and products used in the industry improve, business owners must change to remain competitive or even survive. While the industry likely won’t change overnight, change is coming and it’s important to stay prepared.

To stay prepared for any changes coming, networking is a great idea! Check out our list of the best car wash and detailing trade shows to consider attending this year. Best of luck!

Baxter Overman is the founder of Carwash Country and has been been cleaning up dirty vehicles for nearly 20 years. Since 2017, he's helped thousands of beginners see better results by learning the fundamentals of washing and detailing. He's on a mission to make the car wash process more fun...and way easier.

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