Professional Carwashing & Detailing

32 tips

October 11, 2010
I’ve been in the carwash business for almost 20 years now and I’m still learning something new every day. From an article in one of the trade magazines to a passing comment by a customer, it all adds up to “experience” in this thing we call the carwashing industry.

I’m sure all of you have been through the same thing, meandering through the day doing the daily chores when all of a sudden a great idea smacks you along side the head like a sack full of quarters.

I remember the day when a customer asked me how much we pay the seagulls to leave droppings on his car. That little question led to our most successful radio campaign ever. (See PC&D June 2006 for a more detailed version of the story.)

I can take credit for very few of the following ideas. I’m sure somebody out there in carwashing-land came up with them before me, even though I might not have read about it.

Some of these ideas will work for an automatic wash, but most relate to the self-serve carwash.

Advertising tips
1. Advertise satisfaction and guarantee it. The customer will feel better about coming to your wash.
2. In your advertising, never sell cheap — sell quality. You don’t really want the customer that only buys cheap. Go after the quality buyer; they’ll spend more, be happier and come back for more.
3. Never use negative advertising. Instead sell the quality of your wash.
4. If you use multiple mediums for advertising, tie them together with a common theme.
5. In radio advertising, build a visual image in the listener’s mind. It always helps to have a little humor in the ad.
6. Advertising budgets should be between five and ten percent of gross revenues. This is not my advice and I don’t follow it, but that’s what the big boys say.
7. They also say not to place all your ads in one medium. Again, this is not my experience, but it’s worth passing along.

Vending tips
8. If possible, have the vending machine next to the change machine or in line with the foot traffic so you’ll get the “impulse” sales.
9. Choose the vending items that sell and don’t be afraid to give up on the ones that don’t.
10. The most popular vending items are air fresheners, foaming tire cleaners, Armor All spray, Armor All sponge packets and window wipes.
11. Make sure the vending machine is functioning properly. If it isn’t, be sure to make the customer happy. If a customer loses money once, they will be reluctant to use the machine again.

Sales tips
12. Offer discounts for fleet volume, seniors, birthdays, holidays — anything that will reward the customer and keep them coming back.
13. If possible, offer discounts in dollars-off rather than a percent-off. This way the customer knows the savings right away without having to do the math.
14. Offer specials for Christmas, Thanksgiving, St. Patrick’s Day — any and all holidays. Once customers see something on special, they start wanting the special, even if they hadn’t thought of it before.
15. When you offer specials, offer three different prices, most people will take the middle of the road. If you offer only two, then they’ll take the cheapest one.
16. Give the kids something to remember the carwash. The parents will remember the gesture and both will want to come back. (We give out lollypops.)

Credit card tips
17. Accept all major credit cards. It’ll cost you a few percentage points off the top, but it’ll also get you the customers that don’t carry cash.

Security tips
18. Have lighting, and lots of it, for nighttime security, safety and “presence” advertising. When people drive by at night and see a well-lit facility, they’ll remember it and come back even if they don’t wash at that time.
19. Closed circuit cameras are one of the best (along with lighting) crime prevention tools a carwash can have. Advertise and announce it all over the wash: on the doors, change machines, vending and coin boxes.
20. When we built the new six-bay bay beside the old six-bay bay we poured a 3” concrete slab on the roof over the equipment room in order to make it more difficult for someone to break in.
21. We installed rebar across the air conditioner opening so it will take more than just hand tools to break in.
22. The dead bolts that we installed on the office and equipment room doors require a key to unlock it from the inside. If someone gets in any other way but the door, they have to go out the same they came in. Why make it easy for them to just walk out the door?
23. We have motion detectors in both the office and equipment room tied to the security alarm.
24. The security alarm is armed at night with individual attendant codes. It monitors all the doors and has motion detectors in each room. On alarm, it will trigger an outside horn (loud enough to scare the heck out of you even if you expect it). It will also dial three phone numbers, one of whom is the local police station with a recorded message.

General tips
25. Put your name and telephone number on the door. This shows you are proud of the facility and you personally guarantee the wash.
26. Train the employees to interact with the customers while they are doing their job. Conversation with them is good, but a simple “thank you” will also work.
27. It is easier, cheaper and better to keep an existing customer than get a new one. Remember the motto: The customer is always right.
28. If customers don’t need a product or service, tell them they don’t need it. Your honesty will build trust, loyalty and repeat business.
29. One unhappy customer will tell an average of 20 people about his/her unhappy experience, while a satisfied customer tells only three.
30. Create and distribute an instruction sheet to inform your customers about the best and cheapest way to wash their car.
31. Keep all areas of the carwash clean and attractive. Customers appreciate pulling into a clean bay and many will just keep right on driving past a dirty one.
32. Always listen to your customers’ suggestions. They may not be right or practical for your wash, but it’ll only take one to make the listening worth while.

I hope that each of you can find at least one “great” idea in the list above that you have never heard of before. If each of you could email me your “great” idea that is not in the list, I’ll compile them into a later article.

Dennis Ryan has been in the carwash business since 1988 and the construction business for 40 years. At one time he owned and operated five self-service carwashes. Currently he owns and operates American Pride Carwash in Evansville, a suburb of Casper, WY. He can be contacted at