Unprecedented. Unforeseen. Challenging. The adjectives used to describe the COVID-19 crisis all start to run together after awhile. But as a business owner or car wash professional, it doesn’t tell you much about how COVID-19 is really affecting our industry.
That’s where International Carwash Association’s Industry Pulse Surveys™ come in. Since the beginning of April, we’ve polled operators and suppliers monthly about the conditions they’re facing in their businesses—and what they’re predicting for the future.
Supplier Pulse Surveys
In April 2020, we asked suppliers to describe the condition of their sales pipeline. 60% reported the pipeline was degrading, while 27% said it was staying the same. Only 13% reported improvements in the pipeline. When we returned to suppliers in May 2020, the news was bright: Only 38% reported a degrading pipeline, while 33% reported it staying the same and 29% reported improvements. It’s promising to see that pattern begin to shift within just 30 days.
We also asked suppliers in April and May to describe how they perceived their customers’ businesses. In April, 85% reported weakening business conditions, with just 1% reporting strengthening. In May, suppliers reported what might be described as a “slowing slide” of retail wash operations. While 59% of suppliers still reported seeing weakening conditions among their customers, 21% reported the businesses were holding steady, while 20% said conditions were actually beginning to improve.
To take the temperature of supplier conditions, we asked suppliers in April and May to project their segment’s growth rate for the rest of the year. All supplier segments actually projected growth in both months, which is a very encouraging sign on its own. Projections on the exact rate and quality of that growth vary from month to month as conditions change: distributors projected more growth for 2020 in May than they did in April, while components and chemical manufacturers moderated their projections somewhat in 30 days.
Operator Pulse Surveys
In April 2020, we asked operators to weigh in on how they were increasing safety at their sites. The majority of operators said they were increasing cleaning protocols (67%) and reducing on-site staff (54%). Other tactics—reducing operating hours, closing self-service vacuums, and discontinuing interior cleaning—were fairly common, with percentages ranging from 25 to 29%. In April, 28% of operators reported that they had closed the business temporarily.
Other tactics and changes appeared in the comments of our survey—operators reported that they stopped taking cash, closed every other vacuum or bay, removed public brush buckets, and added substantial signage around social distancing and hand cleaning. For a collected list of safety-enhancing procedures collected from operators, check out the CAR WASH News article from April 28. (And for more resources on managing through COVID-19, visit carwash.org/sharing.)
Operators’ reports about their business in April matched supplier descriptions—85% reported weakening conditions, 12% reported no change, and only 3% described strengthening. The slide seems to have slowed significantly into May; while it’s never good news when 47% of operators report weakening conditions, it’s good to see 35% of washes reporting strengthening conditions.
Similarly, the speed of has slowed from April to May, with 40% of operators now reporting “medium” change rather than the 41% that reported “fast” change in May.
Finally, we also asked operators to project their business conditions in six months. They shared a similar optimism with suppliers, with 47% projecting positive conditions in April while 49% projected positive conditions in May. Those projecting negative conditions dropped from 30% in April to 20% in May, while the number of operators projecting neutral or similar conditions increased. This perhaps indicates an awareness that the recovery from this crisis will take time, but it’s encouraging to see a continued optimism on the part of operators in the longer term.
It’s our hope that operators and suppliers, armed with data, feel less alone as they face these “unprecedented challenges” in their businesses. For full results of these pulse surveys, visit carwash.org/industry-pulse for complete survey reports.
These surveys take under five minutes to complete, so be sure to respond to the next one as we take the pulse of the industry again in June.