For years, the saying “cash is king” has been a touchstone for many businesses. Yet, in customer-facing retail sites, it seems the opposite has become true — cash purchases have actually become less popular. Long gone are the basic cash boxes and old manual registers depended on for decades. Now, retail operations of all shapes and sizes call on automated systems to accept and process numerous types of payments while also tying various business functions together.

In today’s credit card-friendly world, software and business system dependability have become a necessity. This is true for many phases of operation, including processing on-site payments, tracking accounting numbers and monitoring wash facilities. Conveniently and securely accepting customer payments while keeping an eye on every facet of operation should be goal number one for all wash operators.

Updated point-of-sale (POS) systems help ensure any carwash can provide smooth and efficient operation, whether the site is full service, express or self-serve. Information security and smart resource management can be guaranteed with modern software and systems.

This article discusses the equipment and features that are assisting smart carwash operators in every industry segment in their quest to make more money.

Enabling payment options

Modern POS systems handle many different types of payment options for the consumer, according to Todd Davy, vice president of sales and business development with DRB Systems. In addition to traditional cash and credit card options, today’s POS systems enable acceptance of mobile payments, such as Apple Pay, and traditional “house account” or fleet payments. Here, businesses or municipalities are able to receive washes on credit and pay a total at the end of the month.

Other considerations are gift card and wash club payments. Davy states that automated gift card sales and payments are now enabled on-site for customers. Additionally, unlimited wash plan members can pay monthly for “all you can wash” programs via recurring credit card payments.

“Some POS systems allow consumers to upgrade their wash on a particular visit and charge that upgrade to the credit card on file,” Davy reveals. “Consumers have a multitude of options to pay for a wash, and the best POS systems make it easy for the carwash consumer.”

Jason Sears, communications manager with Innovative Control Systems (ICS), explains that today’s POS systems need to be extremely intuitive to provide an exceptional customer experience. Further, the systems must be extremely flexible to account for the wide range of available payment types. This includes long-standing payment options, such as cash, coin and credit card as well as newer payment technologies that call on barcode acceptance, beacon-enabled mobile phone transactions and even license plate recognition (LPR).

Integrating systems

Ideally, a POS system should integrate seamlessly with all other systems on-site — e.g., fuel pumps, tunnel controllers, entrance and exit management signs, etc. — to automate the overall wash process, Sears notes. This allows an operator to work “on” his or her carwash business, and not “in” the carwash operation. The system can then provide comprehensive financial and performance reportage that will enable the owner to make smart business decisions.

While POS systems enable a business to accept payment via different types of pay stations, PC terminal cash registers and portable tablet-based terminals, POS systems are not just for tracking wash payments, Davy states. Robust POS systems can assist an operator with various business functions, including marketing, customer data collection, labor management and site management. Another great feature is providing carwash owners convenient access to key performance indicators (KPIs), even when they are not physically on-site.

The carwash POS system first integrates with the tunnel controller or in-bay automatic controller, Davy points out. The system verifies that the wash the customer paid for is the wash that is applied to the vehicle. For carwash locations that are set up to interface with a gas station, customers can purchase a wash either at the gas pumps or in the convenience store. A numeric wash code is then provided to redeem the wash. Carwash POS systems can also integrate with quick lubes or other profit centers, such as detail and aftercare services.

Davy notes that POS systems have numerous features that can help operators monitor and improve many facets of their wash operation: “POS systems can provide control over marketing, data management and other integrations to help you better manage your carwash business.”

Popular features

What are the POS features that have proven integral with busy carwash operators? The most popular features on today’s POS systems generally deal with handling recurring revenue plans, such as monthly unlimited wash plans, according to Davy. Also, the flexible and automated pay stations tied to POS systems are extremely popular in the modern wash environment for a number of reasons. First, the pay stations help carwash operators standardize the sales message that is being delivered to each and every carwash customer.

Related: Building a better loyalty program

The terminals also make it quick and easy for users to select and buy a carwash. Finally, identification methods enabled by POS systems help a facility “recognize” unlimited wash members or non-members. Vehicle recognition technologies driven by RFID scanning or LPR help a wash market to both types of customers and help maximize revenues from wash sales.

“Improvements in vehicle and customer recognition, along with advances in payment technologies, will continue to change our industry over the next few years,” Davy says. “Connected cars, autonomous vehicles and more recognition technologies are on the horizon, and POS companies have to be prepared for changes in the industry. It’s a very exciting time for POS providers as technology gets better and more affordable every day.”

Sears also points out that established wash club programs continue to lead the way in feature popularity when it comes to POS systems. This is due to the wash clubs’ ability to:

  • Create a deeper relationship with customers
  • Box out any nearby competition
  • Positively impact a business’ bottom line regardless of the weather.

Payment security is another factor that has proven to be integral for business success. Sears explains that EMV credit card processing is an important POS feature that provides value to all stakeholders. EMV secures cardholder data via strong encryption algorithms while offering customers convenience in the form of contactless “tap-n-pay” functionality. Also, EMV serves as an important component of any wash’s overall PCI compliance strategy to protect the business from costly chargebacks and expensive fines.

POS best practices

One POS best practice Davy recommends is the basic idea of seriously investing in a POS system. The system is the spinal cord for the carwash; everything that happens at the wash revolves around and runs through the POS system. In addition, the best operators keep their hardware and software up-to-date, their internet connections protected and secure, and the systems PCI-compliant.

Another suggestion is aimed at operators considering major marketing initiatives or price changes at a carwash. Davy states that owners should plan for those initiatives in advance and test them in the system before implementing the changes. If a business is planning to run a Mother’s Day promotion, for example, an owner should think about the specifics in March so he or she can plan and test the offerings before the holiday. “That way, when you turn it on in early May, it works flawlessly,” Davy says.

Related: Give the gift of carwashing

One POS best practice Sears provides for carwash owners, particularly for those who are new to the industry, is to entrust their POS business to experienced providers. By selecting a business partner with proven experience — preferably real-world experience gained from owning and operating carwashes — carwash owners will avoid costly mistakes while maximizing profitability.

“Selecting the optimal POS system is critical to the success of your carwash organization, and working with a well-established POS system provider that has experience owning and operating a carwash is vital, as there is no substitute for real-world experience,” Sears continues.

Working with partners

Expounding on the suggested best practices, Sears notes that it is important for operators to leverage the ancillary services that POS partners stand ready to provide. These services encompass many things, including:

  • Secure and cost-effective credit card processing solutions that protect customer data and reduce card processing fees
  • Effective “e-learning” training tools that will educate team members without the travel expense that is associated with off-site training programs
  • Creative marketing services, such as the development of an e-commerce-enabled website that helps maximize revenue.

Davy states that many manufacturers will spend time asking operators a lot of questions prior to the selection and installation of a POS system. Every carwash is different, and every POS system should be carefully selected to make sure it meets the needs of the carwash owner and the customer. To this end, lot size, customer base, type of wash and marketing considerations are all extremely important in making sure that a business has the right combination of terminals and systems. Most importantly, an operator will want to select the system that maximizes uptime and throughput at the location. This guarantees a wash will be able to handle the busiest days and serve every customer.

Typically, the installation process includes working with the manufacturer or distributor to make sure the system is fully configured prior to installation, Davy concludes. Operators should spend time planning the upgrade so that they can set up as many of the item, promotion, coupon and labor settings as possible prior to installation. Finally, test out the configuration before the install so that the actual implementation can go as smoothly as possible.


Thomas Hawkins is a freelance contributor.