A great thing about the carwash business is the quest to find that perfect mix of location, equipment, services, and marketing that will maximize sales, build customer loyalty, and deliver profits to the operator who ‘gets it right’. That quest breeds some spirited and healthy debate about almost every choice an operator can make — Do I go friction or touchless or both? Should I add the new vacuums in front or out back? Would that tire shine service get more use in the bays or out on the lot? Every decision has its pros and cons, and you get to choose what will work best for your business.

One interesting debate with strong opinions on both sides is whether to use ‘count up’ or ‘count down’ with credit card systems for self serve bays. With count up, the swipe of a credit card kicks off a minimum charge and the charges accumulate until the customer pushes “Stop” or until a maximum charge amount (often $10) is hit. With count down, each swipe of the card equates to a fixed charge amount, such as $5 for a first swipe and $1 for each additional swipe.

In the great debate between count up and count down, a valid point in favor of count down is simply that it is consistent with how coins and tokens have always worked — insert the tokens and a set amount of time begins to count down on the clock. If you run out of time, just add more tokens.

And yet your customers are already very familiar with the count up concept in their every day life. When they fill up their gas tank with a credit card, they watch the meter rolling up the gallons and the dollars spent. They can stop the transaction at any point or let it max out when the tank is full. It’s a good bet that same customer can get comfortable with count up in your carwash bay as well.

Another very legitimate concern voiced by count down operators is that you will overcharge the occasional customer who forgets to hit the “Stop” button, and they may well be upset when the maximum charge shows up on their credit card bill.

On the other hand, don’t you actually short change most customers just a little bit with count down? You overcharge when time is left on the meter or you stop service too soon when time runs out on them. With count up, you put your customer in control. They wash as long as they want — no more and no less. And since they are not feeling rushed to beat the clock, they might be more likely to take the time to try out more functions on the dial and to do a through cleaning job. This can lead to happy customers.

To a large degree it comes down to educating your customers on how their credit card will be charged. It’s the same for any new service you might add. Take in–bay driers for example, a new service that most self serve customers are totally unfamiliar with at first. You wouldn’t just hang a hand–held dryer on the wall in each bay and walk away, right? You would display easy–to–read instructions, and maybe add a nice visual showing a customer drying a car. And you’d demonstrate the service to several of your customers to get them comfortable with the process. In short, you would use all the normal tactics to stimulate sales of a new service. Educating your customers on the count up function is no different. You should have clear signage in the bays about the rates they’ll be paying and about the need to hit “Stop” to end the transaction.

One of the best arguments in favor of count up is really just this: self serve customers are people who truly want to ‘do it their way’. And count up is just one more way to let them!

Laurie Sherman is Co-owner of Blendco Systems, LLC. Blendco manufactures a full line of detergents and waxes for the professional carwash industry. You can contact Blendco at: