July 8, 2004 - Talkin' 'bout the Car Wash
Back in the wonder years of the Internet, people were giving things away for free to build market share, increasing their hits, their eyeballs, and the stickiness of their web site. The common wisdom of the day was that the web was a giant land grab, like the California Gold Rush. It wasn’t important to make money, it was only important to gain customers and name recognition. If you were able to establish yourself as the place to go to buy dog food on the Internet in 1999, then in 2009, when everyone was buying dog food on the Internet, you would be the top seller of dog food in the world.
The Internet, as you remember, was the new paradigm. And, the old metrics used to determine the intrinsic value of a company (like revenue and profit) in the old brick and mortar world, were no longer applicable. Page views, clicks, and unique users were the new metrics.
So, free was the name of the game. There was free email, free news, free real-time stock quotes, free airline reservations, free dial-up access, free sports statistics, free games, free software, etc.
As everyone knows, Internet companies needed to follow the same rules as everyone else. They eventually had to put their money were their metrics were. And, it turned out that people would buy a lot more stuff when it was free. Sure there still is a lot of free stuff available today. The difference is that it’s not being offered by public companies with billion dollar market caps.
But as we were all looking at the Internet as it descended from free and fruitful to spams and scams, there was another business that was able to leap the payment threshold successfully - car washes.
Way back in the late 90’s you could get a free car wash with a fill-up of $8 or more (6 or 7 gallons back then). Then, as the stocks of eToys and wine.com were crashing on Wall Street because they couldn’t charge enough to justify their existence, the gas stations started charging for the right to drive through their bubbles and brushes. But, in this instance, people paid without a complaint.
Today, Turnpike Shell charges $8.00 for a wash. Buying gas gets you a $1 discount. Of course, this is a machine wash, and you have to vacuum the car yourself. Educated Car Wash will send your car through a machine with a vacuum and a cloth dry for $10.95. Santa Barbara Car Wash, Old Fashioned Car Wash, and Prestige Car Wash will do the same thing with a hand wash for $12.95 each. Fairview Car Wash does the same thing for $13.95, but they give you a discount on gas and use a 100-foot tunnel machine. Places that don’t call themselves car washes charge a little more - Exquisite Auto Body & Detail ($16), Woody's Detail ($20), and Diamond Finish Auto Body ($20).
Of course, all of these places have add-on like cleaning the tires, waxing, buffing, etc., but detailing is the big-ticket item. The prices vary from $40 to $160 and can take as long as two hours.
Throwing out gas stations (because they don’t vacuum), the average price for a standard wash was calculated to be $14.97. PoloLady and Plobenberg tied for victory with guesses of $14.95. Plobenberg’s name was drawn from the hat as the winner of a 2004 Santa Barbara Axxess Card. You can bet there are a bunch of coupons for car washes in there.
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