In the battle to earn carwash business, getting a dirty vehicle on-site is just the first step of the process. Once a potential customer arrives, he or she must be attended, informed and made comfortable. The best sites guide visitors through the lot and wash facility quickly with minimal confusion. Utilizing employees for customer interaction can be expensive and fallible, so many of the best wash sites now depend on different types of signage to communicate instructions, wash offerings, pricing and more.

Two of the most important duties that signage can serve on a carwash site are promoting wash services and sharing safety messaging. First, savvy owners regularly utilize every tool available to drive profitability for their businesses. Signs are significantly important when it comes to pushing profitable add-on services. Further, signage can be a hard worker when it comes to informing customers on the particulars of pricing and popular wash packages.

Related: How to evaluate the purpose of carwash signage

Next, creating and maintaining a safe site is one of the base responsibilities an owner must meet to successfully operate a modern carwash. Signs are an integral safety tool that every operator should install, and proper signage works hand-in-hand with safety protocols to prevent incidents on hectic wash sites. Following this best practice is imminently important when it comes to ensuring both employee and customer safety. As many operators have learned, high-dollar injury and damage liabilities can stall an otherwise profitable carwash business.

Signs for safety

Bobby Jones, art director for TSS Inc., explains that signage is paramount for carwash site safety today. Signs displaying disclaimers, instructional information and warning messages all help reduce liability and exposure for wash operators. Also, having this type of effective signage shows visitors that the business values customer safety.

Next, signs are an important component for a business to effectively communicate different factors that a wash will not be held responsible for. This can include damage disclaimers and other information. “Displaying this upfront can save yourself a lot of unnecessary arguments with frustrated customers down the road,” Jones says.

Related: Seven ways to increase safety at your new carwash

The importance of signage in maintaining site safety is a subject addressed by EMC Insurance in their Accident Prevention and Management Kit.1 The company’s carwash safety checklist includes the following questions about a site’s signage:

  • Are all warning signs clear and legible?
  • Are there clearly visible signs or decals that warn customers to stay inside the vehicle during the washing operation?
  • Are clearance elevations clearly marked?
  • Are there disclaimer signs posted in clear view at the carwash entrance?
  • Does the disclaimer sign state that any damage sustained during the carwash operation should be reported to the manager immediately?
  • Does the disclaimer inform customers that the business is not responsible for damage to certain equipment (e.g., bug shields, raised power antennas, modified or nonstandard items, loose parts or cracked windows) on the vehicle?

Directing traffic flow

Signs can also help safely direct a wash’s vehicle traffic flow. Nobody on a wash site likes bottlenecks, especially on a busy day, Jones notes. In this example, it is easy to see how thousands of dollars of revenue could go down the drain if a wash site lacked the proper signage to safely instruct drivers and increase throughput.

Signage should be placed in a manner that reduces confusion on-site and helps facilitate an understanding of where the customer is at all times in relation to the wash, vacuum and detail areas, Jones recommends.

When a customer drives on-site, proper signage should clearly identify the areas of the wash and designate the various wash lanes. Many operators now offer loyalty or cash only lanes, and these lanes need to be properly identified to ensure a smooth traffic flow.

Other important duties

Today, effective signage has become synonymous with a successful carwash, according to Jones. To drive this success, owners should ask themselves three things as it pertains to a site’s signage: Does it excite, inform and engage customers?

  • Excite: Do the signs excite wash customers with LED animations and color?
  • Inform: Does the signage communicate clearly to the customer?
  • Engage: Does the signage keep the customer engaged with the carwash’s brand?

If the answer to all three of these questions is a resounding yes, then an operator has successfully used signage to create an experience.

“This experience is what will help you drive traffic and secure reoccurring customers for the future,” Jones says. “Recent trends have shown that people are more likely to frequent a carwash where they expect an LED light-show experience.”

Jones states that a quick glance at Yelp.com can illustrate this point beautifully. Frequently, an operator will see customers posting pictures on the popular business review website. These pictures often include the colorful lights and signs that create the unique and notable wash experience.

As these examples show, carwash signage can be used in a multitude of ways, and in addition to increasing site safety and generating excitement, another relevant duty is showing value. Experience has revealed that if customers are shown proper signage that displays the value of adding a body protectant, they are much more likely to upgrade to that package. Jones notes that signage has the potential to single-handedly increase a wash’s ticket average by illustrating value in the top package.

“When left to their own volition, customers will often choose the lower packages,” Jones says. “However, when the value of the top package is effectively marketed, it will be an easier transition. This all comes via a low-cost investment for the owner, and [he or she] will see a return on investment in as little as two months when marketed properly.”

Updating for marketing

Updating a site’s signage is imminently important in today’s market. Jones notes that the industry is changing, and now customers anticipate a unique experience when they frequent a wash. If a wash is still operating with wood signs or bland vinyl signs, the business is missing out on the opportunity to engage customers and make them come back again and again. “At least once a year, site owners should do a marketing audit at their wash to assess if their marketing is currently effective,” Jones advises.

Sign companies will work with operators to identify how they can achieve marketing objectives utilizing various forms of signage, according to Jones. Once an initial plan is drafted, the company will work with the wash to ensure brand consistencies throughout the entire sign package. It is integral to a carwash’s brand to keep a uniform approach to all signs at a location.

Finally, Jones suggests that carwash operators work with quality manufacturers. Unfortunately, not all sign companies understand the harsh environment of the carwash, and some can overlook crucial aspects that contribute to signage longevity. While the sign housing should be built to last, the graphics of the sign should be changed regularly to keep the customers engaged.

“One noticeable difference between stagnant sales and thriving sales is in how often wash owners update their marketing,” Jones concludes. “Look to other industries and see how often they change marketing. Starbucks and McDonald’s have a solid marketing schedule that they follow to stay dynamic and seize certain seasonal opportunities.”


Michael Rose is a freelance contributor.