"Pardon the appearance of our lawns." (Flickr)

“Pardon the appearance of our lawns.” (Flickr)

The California drought is now taking an epic toll on the state’s water supplies. On the first of this month, Gov. Jerry Brown enacted California’s first-ever mandatory reduction on water use that has sent shivers down the state’s car wash industry.

“Today we are standing on dry grass where there should be five feet of snow. This historic drought demands unprecedented action,” Brown said in a statement. “Therefore, I’m issuing an executive order mandating substantial water reductions across our state. As Californians, we must pull together and save water in every way possible.”

The directive could lead to fear among consumers that washing a car is a violation of civic duty. But, of course, that’s not true. No one cuts back on their patronage of restaurants, even though research shows restaurants use as much or more water than car wash businesses use. Combating misconceptions is one of the most difficult tasks amid any emergency, including this one.

If you’re a car wash business in the California, this guide will help you navigate the next many months or years. As Brown’s office said, there’s “no end to the drought in sight.”

  • Be familiar with the governor’s executive order, which aims to reduce water usage by 25 percent. Although the order does not directly target car wash businesses, it does affect them because it encourages local bodies to make changes to the price of water. It calls the changes “conservation pricing.” Rates will obviously vary by locale, but expect decreased fees on the low end of usage and increases at the high end.
  • Look into ways to cut back your water usage. This maybe goes without saying, but it’s important to do your part as a member of the community. No for-profit business ever intentionally wastes anything. But this may be the perfect opportunity to make new investments in water-saving technology. That’s what one Sacramento car wash did last year, spending $60,000 on upgrades that will reduce water usage by 45 percent, according to the Bee.
  • If you’re already meeting certain water-saving criteria, you can join the International Carwash Association’s WaterSavers recognition program. The ICA provides marketing support for participating members, which is just one more way to get the word out about the water efficiency of moder car wash technology.
  • Put a marketing strategy in place. When California first declared a drought emergency in January last year, we published five marketing tips for car wash businesses. These are just a start. We would suggest setting aside some time as soon as possible to draft a complete marketing strategy to negate the ill-effects of the executive order. Your most effective communication channel is through email. After that, it’s direct mail and social media. Establish a clear message that clears up misconceptions, explains what your company is doing to save water and invites your customers to see for themselves.

One good thing about the car wash industry is that you don’t have to operate in a bubble. If you’re looking for inspiration, we’ve gone through our archives and pulled out the best stories we could find of car wash businesses that have taken on droughts head-on:

  • We don’t recommend doing this (because it doesn’t actually save water), but faced with drought in Oklahoma, one car wash owner simply dug his own well.
  • A California car wash turned a nasty drought into a positive news story.
  • As bad as the water shortage is in California, it’s worse in other parts of the world. This Philadelphia car wash is donating drinking water in Africa and India with every wash.
  • An entrepreneur in Jamaica is showing that waterless car washes may be an effective way to diversify the business in the face of drought.

We’ll continue to add to this guide with news and more tips as they come to us. We encourage you to share your experiences in the comments section, on Twitter or by emailing us at carwashblog@gmail.com.