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Business Operations

Auto cashiers save the day

October 11, 2010
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From the first moment a consumer was charged for a carwash, the key has always been to save time and increase automation. Throughout technological advancements, the most critical factor at the carwash is to keep labor at a minimum.

Natural progression has led to automate the greeter process with auto sentry type point-of-purchase terminals. Terminals on the market today offer operators a greater flexibility than ever before.

The carwash consumer has become very familiar using these types of terminals. From airport check-in to home improvement and grocery store check-out, unattended terminals are commonplace and all types of people are choosing to use them, often in preference to a human cashier.

Point-of-purchase terminals let the user keep the card under their own control while feeling safe with the process. It also helps having the correct credit card clearing system in place for fast processing of the transaction.

Some of the processes on the market today retain the card information at the site which is no longer an approved way of handling the information. It is important to locate a credit card provider that is host-based. This means when credit cards are processed via the internet, the information is on the provider’s secured computer system, not on the owner’s. Taking this approach would make it nearly impossible for anyone to obtain your customer’s credit card numbers and misuse them.

The sales process
As customers approach the wash, appropriate signage is critical. Having signage that guides the customer to the pay point helps ease the their fears. Highly visible menus get the customer’s attention to your service offerings. To avoid confusion, all signs should be clean, neat and concise.

Terminals on the market today have customized service screens that match the look and feel of the menu signs, providing that extra comfort zone customers seek. An introduction video can be played to inform new customers to your wash’s service offerings.

A terminal that allows extra service selections after the wash has been selected will help increase the revenue per car. Playing a video clip of the benefits of a spray wax or tire shine will give the customers added incentive to upgrade their purchase. Every customer is on the lot for a wash, but how can you best up-sell the services? Providing the proper information to the customer on the benefits of your extra services can make the difference between breaking even or making substantial profits.

Operators using these types of terminals have indicated through many testimonials that the automated terminal can out sell greeters with a consistent message every visit.

The investment
Some operators question the considerable investment to purchase and install a gated system. Some simple math can put their fears to rest. The cost of a single greeter/cashier position is typically a minimum cost of $35,000 per year. Most washes producing a healthy volume will spend two to three times that amount by staffing multiple positions at the same time.

I believe it is reasonable to assume that the average wash will spend at least $50,000 in labor that can be replaced by these terminals. It doesn’t take long to achieve a total return on investment, and at the same time, help eliminate the management headaches that come with employees. As one operator stated, “Every morning the terminals wake-up and start working. I can’t tell you how often my employees sleep-in.”

For the express exterior, the average cost of an employee with labor can run over $10 per hour. You can lease a system and have an almost immediate payback if you can replace just one employee.

Adding gated automated payment terminals to the flex-serve business model gives the operator the ability to concentrate the labor resources where they are needed most. Once your customers are encouraged to select a service, pay at the terminals and ride through the wash, labor can focus on cleaning the car’s interior at the exit. This will help your site provide faster speed of service and a greater level of customer satisfaction.

The future
With the ever increasing demands on labor as well as increasing cost, like the recent minimum wage increase, operators will be looking to make substantial changes in the near future. Automation has been a consistent part of our past and will be even more a part of our future.


Brian Bath is the V.P. of Sales at Innovative Control Systems, Inc. and has been in the carwash industry since 1985. He can be reached at: bathb@washnet.com.

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