Professional Carwashing & Detailing

More ways to pay, more ways to profit

October 11, 2010

American businesses have had the option to accept other forms of payment beyond cash money for years, yet some carwash operators remain reluctant to adapt.

If you are not the wash owner that is accepting multiple forms of payment from your customers, it is very likely that your competition is thrilled you’re turning down potential business and sending it their way.

Credit card credibility
There are a total of 1.2 billion credit and retail cards in North America, and according to credit analysts, the average household has more than five.

John Simchuk of Sprague Avenue Carwash, located just outside of Seattle, said, “It is to the point where everybody is adding credit card acceptance [to their wash].

“You really can’t afford not to [add credit card acceptance] when you have customers that want to use your wash after hours and are unable to get change from an attendant…nearly 25 to 30 percent of my business is with cards through my automatic.”

Carwash owners have reported that non-cash sales represent anywhere from 25 to 60 percent of their overall profits and have shown dramatic increases in their average dollar-per-ticket at their wash.

Bob Draves of Jordan Cleaning Center in East Jordan, MI, said that by adding a card system his average wash value jumped by over $1.00 and total wash counts by 15 percent with his in-bay automatics.

Self-service operators report similar increases in profit after adding cashless payment card systems to their wash.

Consider your options
A common complaint amongst carwash owners is that credit card companies and banks take a bite out of their profits with each transaction. The simple fact is that merchant processing fees have become an associated expense of doing business in America today.

However, some costs such as ‘charge back’ fees, can be avoided by carefully selecting your card processor.

1. Batching
Choose a processor that does not ‘batch’ credit card transactions. Batching is the accumulation of captured credit card transactions in the merchant's terminal or point of sale (POS) awaiting settlement.

By utilizing a system that clears each credit card transaction at the time of purchase, businesses are able to cut their losses by rejecting credit cards that are declined.

2. High-speed Internet
Just about every manufacturer now offers a credit card acceptance package that can be added to their machine for an additional cost.

However, most manufacturers only offer dial-up processing which requires a dedicated business phone line.

Try to find a processor that uses a high-speed Internet connection to process credit cards in as few as 3 seconds.

3. Mix and match
There are a handful of different product lines that hold no loyalty to a specific manufacturer.

Carwash owners can take advantage of these systems and mix and match their equipment throughout their wash or at multiple locations.

Systems such as these will allow you to offer a unified credit card and loyalty card solution for all wash services.

Loyalty cards and fleet accounts
Credit card acceptance goes a long way toward capturing one-time customers and out-of-town visitors during the busy wash season, but there are several other ways to rope credit card consumers in.

Offering loyalty cards and benefits through your card processor can keep your automatics running during the slow periods of the wash season.

Consider adding a card dispensing machine that vends pre-paid loyalty cards. Advertise a 10-20 percent cost savings by pre-paying with cash or credit card.

Depending on the card system you are using, you may be able to get customers to visit the self-service bay and vacuums more frequently.

Local businesses are also a solid foundation to build upon. By offering post-pay fleet account cards to the city sheriff’s department and landscaping, telecommunications, and car rental companies, you can quickly raise the bar for your business and its profits.

Advertising your new system
According to carwash owner Jim Simchuk, “You can’t just put in a credit card system and walk away… you have to stay on top of it.”

With proper signage and marketing, loyalty and fleet cards can quickly outstrip the credit card profits.

You must actively promote your card system and properly advertise the acceptance of credit cards at your wash to alert new potential customers.

Sign consultant Perry Powell writes on his Web site, “Signs can be easily overlooked and even undervalued. “Owners tend to be myopic in their view of their businesses, forgetting that consumers do not know what they know about their businesses as passing uniformed potential customers,” Perry writes.

In essence, proper advertising and a well-rounded loyalty marketing system, combined with credit card acceptance, is the winning combination to higher profits for your carwash operation.


Ryan Carlson is the project manager of WashCard Systems, a company providing credit and debit-card technology to the carwash industry. For more information Ryan can be reached at ryan@washcard.com.