Luxury car washes, explained

Owners are offering everything from food and drinks to hookah to lure customers.

Source: (Photo by Arne Dedert/picture alliance via Getty Images)

The car wash industry has come a long way since its humble beginnings.

Commercial car washes became a thing in the US in 1914 — 6 years after Ford’s Model T hit the streets. The 1st car washes relied on humans manually pushing the car through the wash. That changed in 1946, when the 1st semiautomatic car wash opened in Detroit.

Per The Wall Street Journal, car washes are entering a new era defined by what customers can do while waiting for their car.

Luxury car washes…

… offer customers a wide range of amenities beyond waxing and sealing. Some examples include:

  • Auto Spa Bistro in Atlanta, which provides food, drinks, and a hookah lounge
  • Clean Ride Auto Spa in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, which has fresh-brewed coffee, breakfast sandwiches, and pastries
  • Prestige Car Wash & Gas in Boston, which offers self-serve dog washing areas

Then there’s the crown jewel — a car wash in Zurich with a 2nd-floor dance club.

So why are car washes getting so fancy?

A few reasons:

  • The cost to open a car wash has increased due to new technology and rising real estate prices, leading many owners to take funding from private equity companies.
  • Private equity-backed businesses are gravitating toward a subscription model, meaning independent owners need to find a way to differentiate.

While one expert believes the “mixed model” can be successful, it has its risks. Building out extra amenities isn’t cheap, and there’s a good chance many customers won’t take advantage.

For more: Check out Auto Spa Bistro’s menu, with car-themed items like The Beamer omelet, the Mini Cooper Brunch, and the Bugatti Burger.

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