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Learning about loyalty programs

How to select, implement, sell and monitor unlimited wash offerings in any carwash.

November 30, 2012
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At trade shows, people often say, “Tell me about your loyalty system.” At that point, I ask, “Do you want the short or the long story?” Talking about a loyalty system can take you down many paths depending on the type of carwash you have, the number of locations, where it is located and how much time you want to put into marketing and building your loyalty program.

The truth is loyalty systems are only successful when a commitment is made from the top down, a plan is created and that plan is carried out. Look at the type of hardware and software you have in your wash and find out what options you have with your current equipment. Next you will need to decide what type of programs you would like to offer. Do you want to start with a monthly unlimited wash program, prepaid accounts, invoiced accounts for government or fleet business, fundraising programs, paper punch card or electronic unit based card programs?

Slow down

A good place to start is with the equipment and carwashes you have. If you have one type of carwash, such as a tunnel, the unlimited program is a great place to start. 

If you have automatic bays, self-service bays and multiple locations, you may want to let your customers know they can wash all of their vehicles at your locations, then use a combination of programs to handle different types of customers. Unlimited programs for their cars that fit into your automatics or tunnels and a card for their truck, boat and toys for your self-service bays and vacuums.

How can I successfully sell unlimited passes?

The monthly unlimited wash program typically uses a license plate number, loyalty card or RFID tag to keep track of your members in a database. In this program, you use your loyalty system to deduct a monthly amount like $34.99 from a person’s credit card. If the customer has more than one car, give him the option to add a second for $15.00 or $10.00 a month knowing this car most likely will be washed less than the first. One of the main benefits of this program is the monthly income that is garnered regardless of the weather. In fact, the worse the carwash weather is in a month, the higher your average per car income is for your unlimited wash program.

Talking with customers and other carwash owners about their numbers, we have found that the first car will average around four washes a month, the second less than two and a third car less than once a month. Yes, there is a honeymoon period for the first 60 days when the new customers want to take full advantage of your great offer. Yes, you will have some customers that will continue to wash 10 times every month. Rest assured that the honeymoon will end and the person who washes 10 times a month will tell everyone they know what a great deal they get at your wash and, in the end, be your best advertising.

Unlimited programs are best sold by a consistent human interaction. For example, print on the back of your team members’ shirts, “Ask about our unlimited carwash.” Develop a script and process for your employees to follow so they give your customers consistent details on the program. Explain that their card account will have an automatic deduction every month on the set date. You need to have a clear process if they would like to discontinue the program, normally 30-day written notification. You will need someone to monitor the automatic payments and contact customers with expired credit cards. This employee should explain that your wash does not want the customer’s service to be interrupted and ask for the updated expiration date or a new card number.

If you have self-service carwashes or paid vacuums in addition to your tunnel or automatic, you can send out a “Wash Bucks” card, giving your unlimited customers $10 or $20 a month of “use it or lose it” money. This gives a high level of perceived value and is another step to make sure they do all of their washing at your locations. The redemptions on these programs are surprisingly low.

Please remember, you need to monitor your results using the tools you have to make sure your program is having the desired results: More money coming into your wash.

Do your fleet customers know if their cars are being washed?

Many times for fleet managers it is not about the cost of the carwash, but more about the accountability of the program. Can the fleet manager see that their cars are actually being washed by their employees? How many companies in your area give out cash or use tokens, notes or punch cards? In the end, the fleet manager has no idea if the cars are getting washed or if the girlfriend of their employee now has a clean car thanks to the program.

If you have attendants activating your wash, you can use a license plate or loyalty card for your unlimited program and/or fleet program. If you have entry stations with no attendant, RFID readers offer the ultimate accountability because you have a record for the fleet manager that the vehicle with the tag on the windshield was washed. Fleets can be set up differently depending on the system you have purchased, and this needs to be carefully considered when you are purchasing your loyalty system. Questions need to be asked, such as:

  • How are the fleets billed using the system?
  • What options do you have in setting up accounts and cards to customize a program for an end user?
  • Will the system grow with your business if you add locations?

These systems are not free, and it can be extremely costly to change direction. With a system that does what you ask of it, you will find much of the heavy lifting needed to manage your fleet program is automated. But again, you will need to have someone managing this program.

Tired of competing against local fundraiser washes?

Are groups holding carwash events across the street in a parking lot? Then, it is time you added a fundraising program to invite these groups into your wash. Have a group come in for two to four hours on a Saturday or Sunday. Give the group part of the profits for every car washed during this time. This will give your carwash great exposure to the community.

It is better for the environment because chemicals are not being flushed down storm sewers and less water is used to get cars clean. The group washing does not have the liability of damaging cars, and you get potential customers to try your wash. Some loyalty programs go a step further by giving a percentage to the group for any amount of future washing done by those customers for as long as they continue to use their loyalty card or RFID based account.

How can I learn about loyalty programs?

One of the best ways to get ideas on how loyalty programs are set up is to ask other carwash owners and manufacturers. Carwash conventions allow you to meet with both, and road shows allow you to see the programs in action. You will get many opinions on what works and how great each manufacturer’s program works.

I will pass on some of the best advice that was given to me about raising kids. Listen to what all the people recommend. Filter out what you believe to be the best advice, and then use what works for you.

Decide on your plan and get the tools to implement your program. Test it with your best customers. Let them know this test is a limited time offer giving you an out if the program does not work to your benefit.  Give them an incentive for being your guinea pigs. Ask for their patience and feedback as you fine tune your program. Then, after a month or so of testing and training your staff, have a grand opening with an advertising push as you go live with new customers.

These programs are designed to make you money, so you need to continue to assess and measure your results. Make corrections to your program so that not only your customers perceive they are receiving a good value, but you benefit from the program as well.

I want to wish you all the best in implementing your loyalty program. I look forward to meeting you at a trade show near you.


Craig Kjorlien is a sales representative at WashCard Systems Inc. WashCard Systems is a customer loyalty and credit card specialist for carwashes and coin Laundromats. Learn more at

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