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The sensory carwash experience

Set the stage for the experience of a lifetime.


Meagan Kusek is the senior editor of Professional Carwashing & Detailing.

Today’s leading professional carwashes are a lot like movies, in that both offer customers a sensory experience. When filmography began, movies may have been silent insofar as the character’s voices could not be heard, but even silent movies used orchestral tracks timed with the action to heighten the experience. Black and white movies, without the benefit of color, relied on dramatic lighting effects to convey a range of emotions and tension. These processes have evolved over the years, but the same practices are still in effect for movies today.

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In the case of carwashes, as far as sound is concerned, it’s better to take advantage of the noise-cancelling improvements in equipment today to create a better, more peaceful experience, but there are still many other sensory features to employ in order to effectively lure customers and gain their loyalty.

Just as special equipment is behind the sensory experiences found in movies, so too are the chemicals and equipment driving the sensory experience at the carwash. “Good or bad, every trip through a carwash is a sensory experience. The question is, does that experience appeal to customers or turn them off?” asks Adam Kelsey, director of sales for Belanger Inc.


A chemical attraction

In an express carwash, your customers remain inside the vehicle for the entire ride, and during that time, what’s going to entertain them? Here, operators can take advantage of the colors and smells of carwash soaps and waxes, as well as the patterns they make on windows.

“Super foamers and super wax applicators have taken the industry by storm in recent years,” proclaims Anthony Shifflett, director of key accounts for CSI – Lustra Car Care Products. “These high-volume foam applicators are often used in conjunction with LED lights to provide the ultimate experiences for carwashes.”


These applicators aren’t just reserved for waxes and polishes, however; they can be used at the beginning of a wash to aid in cleaning as well.

“I like to apply these heavily so that the customer can see and smell the added value of this product being applied. The key to being successful with these programs is to ensure the chemistry is being applied at optimum levels as recommended by your chemical manufacturer,” Shifflett adds.

Related: Carwash chemicals 101

In addition, these applicators don’t just add to the customer experience. According to Shifflett, a 50¢ to $1 application cost can result in $3 to $5 additional revenue in your top package, giving your profit margin a boost.


However, Shifflett notes that such high-volume arches can be difficult to rinse, so operators ought to use a fast-crashing soap, wax or polish and/or add an additional rinsing to the wash package to prevent leaving a soapy or waxy residue on the customer’s car.

Light it up

As mentioned earlier, colored LEDs are another way to improve the customer experience. Humans, like insects, are drawn to light. A well-lit tunnel or bay is far more inviting than a dark, claustrophobic one. But, installing general, bright lighting is only the first step. “The human eye is wired to see three things: lights, color and motion,” Kelsey educates. “So, if you want to get a customer’s attention and keep it, colored, moving lights are a great way to do it.”


While there are certainly conventional lighted arches and signs you can add to the wash, Kelsey notes that customers know these are “afterthoughts” layered on top of the equipment. Nowadays, operators have the option of also purchasing equipment that incorporates colored LED lighting right into the wash wheels with illuminated, color-changing and spinning hubs.

“Customers intuitively understand the precision engineering involved with LED-lighted wash wheels, which is why they’re so captivated by them,” Kelsey explains. “The customers’ sense of wonderment helps actively market the carwash in real time — pulling customers off the street and into the wash bay, then tremendously enhancing the experience once they enter.”


Kelsey recommends keeping lighted wheels left on and cycling their colors all the time, even when the wash is closed, as this actively markets the site before, during and after hours and will also make it easier for customers to find the wash again.

Finally, lighted wheels also allow for package service confirmation, reassuring customers that they get what they paid for. In essence, Kelsey explains, the lights can be programmed to follow a car through the wash in a color corresponding to the wash package, and they will light up each component used as the car passes through.


“The ‘light show’ is unmatched and impressively ‘amps up’ the fun factor of the wash,” Kelsey quips.

By simply adding great-scented soaps and waxes and incorporating light effects at the carwash, you can start to build a memorable experience for customers to take after they exit the wash. Similar to other retail establishments, leading carwashes today understand that customers still value a great product and service. However, in a crowded, competitive environment, carwashes must stand out and appeal to customers’ senses in order to bid for their discretionary dollars.   

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