There is little doubt that the increase of automation has been a powerful force in the carwash industry. In fact, the impact of automation on today’s professional carwashing market can be seen at various points of the wash process, regardless of a carwash’s format or location. For instance, express tunnel and bay operations that previously relied on employees now handle busy days with just a fraction of the labor that was needed only decades before.

From upgraded equipment in tunnels and bays to automated business monitoring systems, many of the responsibilities involved with carwashing have been simplified and streamlined via modern technology.

The evolution of point-of-sale (POS) systems is one of the market’s most effective examples of increased efficiency. Informed operators understand how modern, integrated POS systems position their locations for success. Today’s systems can assist owners with everything from efficient tunnel operation to human resources tasks.

As a result, businesses that upgrade and learn more about POS systems can develop operational advantages that will improve multiple facets of a carwash operation.

This article will discuss ways to get ahead with advanced automation systems, specifically POS systems, and how this equipment can help advance your level of customer service as well as satisfaction.

Popular POS system features

At a base level, modern POS systems coordinate with a tunnel controller and make sure that the wash a customer purchases is the one that he or she receives, according to Todd Davy, director of sales for DRB Systems. In addition, POS technology can integrate with a carwash’s accounting software, making the business end of operations run smoother.

Beyond the basics, the most popular POS features deal with the management and marketing of unlimited monthly carwash programs, Davy states. Radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology helps ensure that the unlimited wash plan stays with the vehicle, and advancements in reporting help track wash visits by members of a wash.

Davy explains, “For example, reporting helps you determine where the bulk of your plan members are washing their cars. You can also determine which of your plans are the most successful and which ones need a little marketing push.”

Dean Lecky, vice president of sales for Micrologic Associates, points to popular monthly wash program features as well as real-time data reportage. The ability to offer a monthly wash program is generally one of the first questions carwash owners ask when it comes to the functionality of new POS systems.

The next question is how employees and owners can conveniently receive information, including real-time data on smartphones.

Jason Sears, communications manager with Innovative Control Systems (ICS), notes that another popular POS feature involves payment options. Customer payment options are always evolving due to new technologies in the retail world. Currently, mobile payment tools are particularly hot topics, as they give operators a way to differentiate their sites using the cutting-edge technology and convenience that customers demand.

Automation done right for customer and owner benefits

POS systems have long automated wash equipment and tunnels. Lecky states that the systems communicate to a tunnel controller. This controller then turns on the appropriate piece of equipment based on the wash package purchased.

Outside the tunnel, other types of POS automation are becoming more and more important. Now, modern  systems offer customers the option to manage their carwash accounts as well as buy services via mobile applications.

Sears notes that automation is a key element across many areas in today’s society. Automation can now be found in such places as self-driving cars, self-checkout lanes at retail locations, at-home grocery delivery and more. If it’s fast and easy, customers are excited to use it.

In carwashing, POS systems automate the carwash purchase by providing the consumer with a repeatable, enjoyable experience, Sears continues. The system also educates customers on carwash services via payment terminals. Here, user-friendly videos can be used, and the sales process allows customers to quickly purchase the wash services they prefer on their own terms, without being pressured by an attendant.

Davy reveals that consumers have embraced various self-pay terminals, starting initially with pay-at-the-pump gas stations. Grocery stores and retail chains soon followed, and the carwash industry is a great extension of automated, self-sufficient consumerism. “Consumers want to get through the wash as quickly as possible without interruption, and a self-pay station gives them the ability to do that,” says Davy.

But operators should remember that POS systems cover more than customer sales and report generation. These systems can now help an owner market a carwash through a website or email and text programs, Davy notes.

Further, good POS systems will work directly with marketing portals to help a carwash owner generate advertising campaigns and materials. POS systems can also help an owner hire new employees, train current employees and schedule employees.

Best POS practices

Often, the companies that manufacture carwash equipment and technology share common best practices for carwash owners. Before selecting a new POS system, Lecky always recommends an operator do his or her homework. “Talk to other carwash owners who are using the equipment. Understand if the company is just trying to sell you a system or if they want to help you maximize the revenue potential of your site,” he explains.

Davy suggests working closely with system manufacturers. Operators should work with their POS providers and learn how to get the most out of their systems. When training opportunities are provided, owners must take advantage of advanced learning techniques. An owner never knows when he or she will find a feature that can really benefit a business each day.

Other best practices Davy suggests include:

  • Stay vigilant with system security and PCI Compliance
  • Maintain and update POS hardware and software just like other wash equipment (nozzles, conveyors, etc.)
  • Create a defined and thorough maintenance schedule that includes software backups, regular hardware updates as well as security checks.

“The point-of-sale system is the spinal cord of your successful carwash business — take care of it, and it will take care of you,” Davy says.

Marketing via menus

On-site marketing via POS systems often involves many facets, but one of the most important is a strong carwash menu. Lecky notes that when a POS system is used with payment kiosks, it is important to have the screens on the kiosks match carwash menu signs. This makes it easy for customers to recognize and select the wash package that they want to purchase.

Davy agrees that a clear, concise menu is important to help customers understand what they are buying. A good menu will always be bright, well-lit and easy to understand. In addition, another feature that should be on a carwash menu is the standard wash pricing and the unlimited monthly wash pricing.

These listings drive business towards monthly recurring revenue programs enabled by POS systems that will help a carwash grow.

For c-store owners, POS systems can market carwash sales via gas pump controllers as well. This option even allows carwashes to be sold at the gas pumps. This cooperation between the systems provides the c-store wash operator with an additional point of purchase, Davy reports.

Working with manufacturers

Due to the highly technical nature of POS systems, it is important for operators to take the time to work with their manufacturers. Lecky states that every carwash operation is unique, and it can require years of experience in the car care industry for a company to understand the many variables involved, including: optimal site layout, projected wash volume, demographics and the competitive landscape. Working with a company that has extensive experience in many areas, including manufacturing, distribution and as an operator, is important.

“It is extremely important to meet with carwash owners to understand their needs and offer a solution that will help with all aspects of their business,” Lecky explains. “Some operators will say, ‘I need this type of system because ABC Carwash is doing that,’ when it may not be the best solution for their needs.”

For a typical carwash, POS system manufacturers will review the site type and the site layout diagram to help determine where the various terminals need to be placed, according to Davy. As every carwash is a little different, it is important for the manufacturer to be flexible enough to handle the many different options needed at carwashes around the country.

When it comes to an upgrade, there is a lot of work that takes place prior to installing a POS system. Davy notes that configuration work is done ahead of time with consultation meetings between the manufacturer and the site owner. When the system is ready to install, it is completely configured and ready to wash cars from day one. After installation, the wash owner and staff are then trained on how to use the system so that the site can wash vehicles quickly and efficiently.

Lecky estimates that it is a one-week process to set up the system for configuration, testing and training. Even so, a carwash would not be down for this entire process. The wash would only be down for the time it takes to change out the tunnel controller. 

“The sky is the limit when it comes to future innovation in point-of-sale,” Davy concludes. “Today’s consumer is becoming more and more tech savvy, and we have to keep up with our customer base.”


Michael Rose is a freelance contributor.