Professional Carwashing & Detailing

Making sense of automatic pay stations

October 11, 2010
The landscape of the retail world is changing all around us. Automated pay stations are having a profound impact on many industries, including ours. Everything from airport check-ins to grocery checkouts are now automated; enhancing the customer experience through reduced wait times and non-evasive sales processes.

Cost and convenience are the primary factors driving businesses in this direction, but there are other benefits that come with their use. Automated pay stations give customers a sense of control that makes them feel comfortable and secure with their purchase.

In traditional full service and exterior carwashes, a good salesperson is critical to the success or failure of the business. Salespeople can obviously be very effective, but finding, training and retaining good people is a constant battle. Training programs, commission plans and other incentive arrangements are costly and require constant monitoring.

Pay stations can simplify your sales process and make it repeatable, but it is not as simple as just listing the services you offer. A sales process needs to be created that effectively communicates to your customers.

Where the salesperson fits in
The method of up-selling services to customers is where the salesperson and terminal drastically differ. A skilled salesperson can quickly determine the customer’s needs, educate them on the products offered and recommend services. An auto cashier must rely on menu layout and design, so these aspects need to be well thought out. A properly designed touch screen solution, combined with a well considered product mix, make this possible and repeatable.

Menu layout starts with designing your product. In many cases, “less is more” and a menu needs to be developed that can easily be understood. The progression of services on a menu board should be arranged with a clear indicator of the advantages of each. An effective menu board design is to arrange services in a matrix form with a logical arrangement of price and value. Customers need to understand the differences between your services or they will not perceive a need for the higher priced items.


When you incorporate pay stations into your express exterior it does not mean that you are eliminating labor, but you are removing labor as a driving force in your business. Although some sites do run without staff (primarily touchless washes), most express operators still have a person that helps guide cars onto the conveyor and answer customer questions.

Regardless of your plan for labor, the pay stations free up the need for salespeople and cashiers. This allows you to reduce and redeploy labor in other areas. Besides a reduction in labor cost, auto cashiers can extend your hours of operation and offer a better customer experience.

Additional features
Although the touch screen system is nothing new, it should be a prerequisite in choosing a terminal. Virtually all systems that customers are accustomed to in retail are touch screen based. The popularity of touch screens is not by accident. It allows software providers to be creative in their screen layout and gives operators the ability to dramatically customize their screens, making it easy for customer to navigate through the sales process.

Vehicle identification is another feature that many operators are looking for. Through radio frequency identification (RFID), express washes are selling monthly club programs that generate reoccurring monthly revenue and operate just like toll road tags. This technology can also be used to administer fleet accounts and special pricing groups.

Pay station providers will continue to develop features that enhance the customer experience and provide additional benefits to the wash. There are many new advances in bill dispensing, payment options and promotions that enhance the functionality of the terminals.

Preventative maintenance
As with any mechanical device, pay stations do require a certain amount of preventative maintenance. Key employees should be trained in cleaning and servicing the pay stations on a routine schedule just as they do tunnel equipment.

When choosing a pay station, look for systems that have built-in diagnostics that display the current status of maintenance items and give step-by-step solutions through the internet if problems occur. This will greatly reduce the learning curve for servicing the pay stations.

Take a bite out of crime
Crime is nothing new to the carwash industry. When incorporating pay stations you need to be prepared to take the necessary steps to deter criminal acts from occurring. The nature of the express exterior is to extend the hours of operation and along with that comes the potential to get into dangerous situations. Depending on your area, it may be worth it to have an armored car service collect and replenish money in the terminals.

Regardless of the situation, it is a good practice not to be predictable in your money collection and do so as discreetly as possible. Terminals should be equipped with removable cassettes that keep money hidden from any onlookers in the lot when they are removed.

Other prevention methods include simple things like:
  • Adequate lighting;
  • Prominent camera systems;
  • Security sensors; and
  • Anti-vandal shields that can be easily closed at night.
Incorporating automatic pay stations into your business can greatly increase your tunnel throughput and enhance the customer experience at your wash while reducing labor costs. The attractiveness of the short payback period makes the decision easy.

Through the vast array of features and promotions, pay stations can enhance the image of your wash and encourage repeat customers. Most manufacturers will look at the layout of your location at no charge and help you determine how adding pay stations to your site would be beneficial.


Kevin Ahnert is vice president with Innovative Control Systems, Wind Gap, PA, a supplier of wash management software for the carwash industry. He can be reached at Ahnertk@washnet.com or at (610) 881-8000.