How important is the signage at a carwash? According to many experts, signs are very important to a business and its bottom line. As noted on Signs.com, effective signage can attract half of a startup business’ new customers, and changing a sign directly improves sales revenue for a business. Experienced carwash operators know that discounts and coupons can lead customers to a carwash, but once on-site, upselling and business loyalty begin with modern menus and signage, as well as a memorable, positive experience.

Bobby Jones, art director at TSS Inc., reinforces signage’s importance in today’s competitive market. “Signage can be a true differentiator in a crowded carwash market, but more importantly, it can be a real needle-mover when it comes to your ticket average. Signage offers a quick return on investment and will accelerate profit generation faster than most other options available. It can also add a tremendous amount of excitement and create a destination effect with customers.”

We recently connected with several carwashing professionals to learn how effective signage and menus can entice customers to spend more; what the best practices in placement, information, lighting, etc., are; and what education and safety strategies exist.

Can they see your sign now?

Over a third of the traffic that passes your site each day wouldn’t even know your carwash is operational without effective signage. Consumers have become almost trained to look for and get information from a business’ signage. Therefore, your attention, care and marketing prowess are all warranted when formulating and implementing your strategic signage and menu plans.

Your carwash’s signage helps to create your business’ identity. As such, it is critical to consider how that signage is being viewed from customers at many different angles. Street signs, say the experts, should emphasize the core competency of your business.

“The characteristic of a great carwash sign is something that is eye-catching — something customers and potential customers don’t see every day,” explains Professional Carwashing & Detailing advisory board member and Vice President of Training and Education for SONNY’S The CarWash Factory Robert Andre. “Colors and printing quality really matter. You want to keep the wording simple and make sure the focal point is on the words CAR WASH. The most important aspect of a street sign is to let the customers know what you are — don’t get caught up on promoting your brand from the road. It’s also good to advertise any free services you may offer, such as vacuums.”

While there are general on-site carwash signage best practices to follow, each individual carwash site’s needs will determine such important decisions as placement, features, color, etc. According to Moo Moo Express Car Wash’s Founder and Managing Partner John Roush, a clean, reasonably placed on-site signage package that’s strategically positioned throughout the wash is what operators should strive for. Often, he adds, carwash operators clutter their signage, and it can have the opposite effect.

“Too many signs, too many directions, too much marketing, too many barrels with advertising covers and wraps … customers don’t want to see that,” asserts Roush, adding that effective signage will also include branding information and features. “It’s an opportunity to tie in a specific color related to your carwash, for instance. You’ll want to use the same colors, font and theme throughout the wash with your signage. There should be no clashing.”

Menu matters

When it comes to carwash menus, it is an opportunity to inform with a goal of upselling. Creating an enticing menu is both a science and an art. And, as more customers are using new technology, it has created an opportunity for operators in this area of the business.

Menu messaging should be concise, and operators would be wise to load up on strong visual content. “This can be achieved by incorporating ‘app’ style designs on your menu. A visual representation like the ones on a smartphone will signal which items are in each package,” educates Jones, noting the effectiveness in fast food restaurants of featuring a photo of a juicy hamburger to complement the text. “Text alone wouldn’t push the sale. The same is true for the carwash industry; show customers a shiny tire and a sparkling car with the top of the line services applied, and they will be more inclined to make the purchase.”

Similar to street and on-site signage, menus should be focused as opposed to cluttered. Too many packages and prices featuring too many services and choices will confuse and frustrate many customers as well as limit your business’ upsell potential.

“You want what you’re trying to sell the most to stand out visually,” reminds Roush. “If the goal is to sell your top package with the most services, which is a good goal to have, you will want to convey value so the customer thinks, ‘Wow, look at all the stuff I’m getting for a few dollars more.’”

According to the experts we interviewed for this article, there are specific ways to draw customers’ attention to top packages. For instance, die-cut signs, menus, banners, etc., can effectively catch a customer’s eye. Another big attention-grabber is digital signage.

Digital at your service

All of the experts we interviewed for this article mentioned the profound impact that digital signage and marketing are having on the industry and a carwash business’ abilities to inform and upsell customers.

According to Jason Sears, communications manager with Innovative Control Systems (ICS), the combination of interactive digital signage and the interactive touchscreens featured on point-of-sale (POS) systems is a very effective one-two punch for upselling at a critical customer touchpoint.

“This powerful marketing tandem does not require costly labor to promote your upgrades and gives you the ability to create a consistent, non-threatening upsell message that improves the take rates of the highly profitable add-ons that are the lifeblood of your organization. Today’s interactive digital signage provides your customers with a true multimedia experience using a combination of engaging still images, animations and videos designed to educate, entertain and promote your carwash services,” communicates Sears, also noting that the use of interactive digital menus is another effective way to brand your wash and differentiate its services.

Jones concurs regarding the digital impact on today’s carwash menus, calling it a “powerful trend in menu design.” He adds that operators can expect much higher conversion rates on top chemical extra services when customers see complementary videos that entice them to buy. “With a digital sign,” he adds, “you can also change menu styles to match seasons, local events and early/late day pricing — all with the click of a button.”

Andre also gives his stamp of approval on digital signage and menus as a top innovation to consider for your wash this year, naming it “the thing to look at in 2018.”

Enjoying the experience

Whether it is a customer’s first time on your lot or 1,000th, a memorable experience will likely determine whether or not he or she returns. Carwash equipment, systems, chemicals and supplies have all improved in recent years, and most well-operated sites are now turning out clean, dry and shiny results with ease. Therefore, creating an experience that makes your carwash a destination location is key to capturing market share.

“The most effective upselling strategy while the customer is on-site is the selling of the experience,” explains Andre. “The experience is everything the customer sees and hears while they are at the site. Customers today want more than just a clean car; if your marketing is fun and creative and you have the experience in the tunnel, the customer will want to purchase this experience every time they come to your carwash.”

Creating a positive, memorable customer experience also includes easing any concerns that may arise from the carwash process.

“Entering a carwash tunnel can be a concern for some customers, so the loading area is a great place to deploy interactive signage to address those concerns,” says Sears. “Using entrance management signage in the loading area offers your customers reassurance by assisting them onto the conveyor using animated videos, offering helpful instructions to prepare them for the wash process (car in neutral, foot off brake, etc.), confirming that they are receiving the service that they purchased and giving your customers a positive impression in general during this critical stage of the wash process.”

Another customer pain point when visiting a carwash is noise. Especially at carwashes with older equipment, customers and employees can literally be forced to shout at each other. In addition to leaving with a sore throat, employees and customers will have sour attitudes about this experience.

Instead, advises Roush, make sure your employees utilize hand signals and your informational signage is filled with positivity — not just a plethora of cannots and nos. “You don’t go to a nice restaurant and see a bunch of things you can’t do, so why should carwashes be any different?” he queries. “You can convey your messages and guidelines in a more positive way. Something that operators miss all the time as far as on-site marketing is ‘please’ and ‘thank you.’”

So, instead of “DON’T BRAKE, DON’T STEER … SEVERE DAMAGE WILL OCCUR,” operators can soften these messages with such text as, “Because we value you and your car, please avoid braking and steering. Thank you for your attention and business.”

LED lights, sounds, videos, icons and infographics are just some of the newer features moving signage and menus forward. While planning your signage and menu strategies in 2018, consider working with a signage consultant. Also, Andre suggests looking at signage and menus from the customer’s perspective and not as the owner or operator, which will help shift your focus from price to value.