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Writing in favor

January 26, 2007
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Writing in favor
Michael McKernan

There are lots of ways to make money. Working hard is only one of them. Working smart is another. Marketing a carwash is working smart.

In this article, I will examine how accepting credit cards will increase volume, give you an edge over competition and, most importantly, improve the bottom line.

Selections at your wash

The first topic to discuss is wash selection. Three to four selections in the automatics is normal. Most washes have pre-soak, foam brush, tire cleaner, soap, rinse, wax and spot-free.

Add triple foam, bug remover, a hand-held dryer or total body protectant, and you have more modern functions for your customers to spend money.

Now, let's examine how many functions your customers have to pay for these wonderful upgrades. Is it the long boring walk to the changer that may or may not work? That car is in your bay not being used?

The customer is fumbling with a bunch of crumply one dollar bills. They waste time trying to straighten them up in anticipation that your validator will take the bill. They then eagerly await the quarters to come out.

Next, they count those same quarters as they walk back to the bay, making sure the correct change was given.

How many customers in line just left because of bad paper bills or bent quarters jamming up coin mechanisms? Inserting one card is faster than dollar bills in the automatics or numerous quarters in the hand bays.

I'm selecting the fast, convenient and customer-accepted method: credit and debit cards.

Paper or plastic?

I first heard that in the grocery business over 20 years ago working for my parents. What do you get at large retail stores or your local grocer? Are you ever asked anymore? Of course not, it's always plastic.

Offering credit card acceptance put a better bottom line in the retailers pockets or they never would have changed.

How does this reflect in the carwash business? Convenience. There are three ways to pay for car washes using plastic:credit cards, debit cards, and gift cards. We all know what gift cards are. Remember gift certificates? Those paper things? They are out of date, like a wash not accepting plastic. Debit and gift cards are overlooked when asking the question about taking Credit Cards. I honestly don't know what ratio of Credit vs. Debit is. I do know that many consumers don't carry cash.

Cash or credit volume?

"Will accepting credit cards increase my volume"? I could retire if I had a nickel every time I have been asked that question. The answer is yes: more top washes in the automatic are paid by credit cards and average time increases with credit cards.

Common sense tells you a customer is not going to pluck in 40 quarters without thinking about what they are doing. I hate to think about the idea of what kind of volume I would have without credit/debit cards. I can tell you of my experience.

I installed my CC system when hearing of a new 6/2 going in five miles from me. Another new 7/2 going in one and one-half miles from me. An express tunnel going in next door. A car dealership is between us. It's been the worst carwashing weather in my area in two years and feel like I have held my own.

The top two washes, priced at $9 and $7 are my top two credit card sales in the automatics. The average time in bay is approaching 12 minutes. I asked customers what they like about the system. Convenience is the number one answer.

I will continue to make the customer experience at at my wash convenient. At times, it is hard enough to get them in. Why would anyone want to make it hard for them to pay?


What a dreaded word! How much are my fees? How much will it cost?

Operators need to realize that "fees" are a cost of doing business. My Lawn and Landscaping fees run more than my CC fees. Chemical fees run more than my CC fees. Should I do away with those necessary business expenses? I don't think so. Owners see that fee coming out every month and some don't see the big picture. I would rather see a fee coming out then lower sales. I currently pay 10 cents a transaction + 1.99 percent. No charge back fees.

A cash customer is done washing when a beeper or timer sounds off. A credit card customer is done when they want to be done, making sure that their car is as clean as they want it to be leaving your facility.

When was the last time an excited customer thanked you for taking quarters? I'm constantly being thanked by customers for taking credit cards.

Michael McKernan started washing cars professionally in 1991 and hasn't looked back since. Mike can be reached at