Professional Carwashing & Detailing

Display your way into more profits

October 11, 2010
You’ve just gotten your customer out of their comfort zone; their personal space, their vehicle. Now what do you do with them? Full-serve carwash operators should provide a clean, comfortable lobby where employees are able to complete a sales transaction, including impulse items that have been strategically selected and displayed. This is a great opportunity to make your customers feel welcome and at the same time, provide the opportunity for them to purchase additional items.

Make it clean and comfortable
Let’s talk first about clean and comfortable for a moment. There was a time when visiting a full-service carwash meant stopping at the cashier station to pay your bill and then you were left to walk down a long narrow (and usually poorly lit) corridor where the only thing to watch was your car going through the tunnel.

People still enjoy watching the wash process and that has not been taken out of the equation, but the long dark hallway is a thing of the past. Now we are able to provide clean, open space filled with light and things to buy. With the open space design cashiers can easily watch over the entire building interior and customers have easy access to the cashier should they wish to purchase additional items. Make it easy for the customer and he or she is more likely to buy.

Another way to make a profit
Speaking of the open lobby concept, I would point out that while I am a big fan of items for purchase, some of your floor space can be put to non-sales activity.

One of my favorite innovations came from the manager of our busiest Shammy Shine, a full-serve facility that is part of a chain of 12 carwashes in Western New Jersey and Eastern Pennsylvania. Being a parent himself he understood that children have true spending influence, and he thought of a way to make the carwash appeal to the kids. He created a children’s lending library. A few two-shelf bookcases stocked with age appropriate books, a small table and a couple of kid chairs are all it took. If little Jack or Jill gets interested in a book they are welcome to take it with them, we only ask that they return the book when they are done so it may be read by others.

What does that mean to us? Well, besides what we hope is a warm, fuzzy relationship with the parent, we’ve connected with the child (who will someday be a driver) and if all goes as planned, the parent will soon be buying another wash when they return the book. At worst, we’ve given a kid a book, not such a bad thing … and if it works as hoped, we’ve built immediate and future business. After all, we’ve been around for more than 30 years, so some of today’s customers first visited a Shammy Shine Car Wash as children.

Knowing what to sell
What do you put in the lobby? Choose wisely and strategically. You’re already selling car cleaning as your primary service so you may wish to do as we have done and not sell car-cleaning products. We want to be the ones to apply the polish and wipe the dash so we don’t sell those types of products to our customers.

We do find the following items to be popular, just remember to offer quality products:
  • Air fresheners: rearview mirror hangers, aerosols, scented blocks, etc.

  • Water, juice, soft-drinks, sports beverages, etc. It seems as if everyone is thirsty. Just make sure you carry top-shelf products.

  • Brand name snack items. If you’re going to sell them an Oreo, make it an Oreo and not some product that looks like an Oreo. If it costs you a little more, charge a little more. Remember that you are projecting an image even in your choice of impulse products and you want everything about your customer’s experience to be first class.

  • Floor mats. It is amazing how many people will buy new floor mats, especially since we do such a great job cleaning the old ones. But they do.

  • Small LED flashlights have been flying off our shelves. I don’t know why, but at $6 each, I don’t much care either.

  • Greeting cards. We stock several different kinds, including handmade cards that are very popular. We also sell inspirational booklets and a recipe book for college students. We have customers that will buy several cards at a time just to keep them on hand.

  • Ice cream novelties, muffins, bagels, coffee, tea and any other snack products you can think of are fair game.
Keep a product’s shelf life in mind
Keep in mind the shelf-life of the product you stock and how quickly you can expect to turn the inventory. Profits can be quickly erased due to loss and spoilage. Find vendors that will restock frequently, we find weekly to be best, so you need not tie-up money in inventory and do not need to use precious space for storage. Display your products in a professional manner and keep displays neat and clean. Hey, you’re selling food for gosh sakes.

Our chain relies heavily on a computerized system to track both wash transactions and lobby sales. We find it simplifies the sales process as every item is bar coded and scanned at the cash register. The same computer system also controls the wash tunnel equipment and provides our management team with real-time reports to help them control costs. Using a computer system has proven successful for us and I would recommend to anyone that they should use the same, or a similar system.

The bottom line is that lobby sales can have a very positive impact on your bottom line.


Michael Moorehead has decades of experience in professional motorsports marketing and business advocacy. He is the director of business development for Shammy Shine Car Washes, a chain of carwashes, quick lubes and service stations which has for more than 30 years served the Delaware Valley of western New Jersey and the Lehigh Valley of eastern Pennsylvania.