Auto Laundry News - April 2013

Top Package — Fill it With Value

By Anthony Analetto

After all the years of being so focused on eliminating manual prep labor from the car wash I’m struggling to embrace the latest trend. Not because it doesn’t work, but because, well, I’ve spent decades of my life trying to educate against what’s fast growing in popularity, albeit in a different way than ever before. I suppose it had to happen.

Express-exterior operators, already approaching $20 top packages based solely on premium on-line pay wax services are hungry for the next growth opportunity. Not willing to invest in the labor and complexity of a flex-serve, but eager to increase their average ticket, they’re beginning to offer hand prepping as a paid a-la-carte extra service. The numbers are impressive. Without doubt, customers perceive greater value when a human being interacts with their vehicle. Before you run out and start prepping cars, however, there are some subtle aspects to understand, and some not so obvious pitfalls to avoid. Let’s take a look.


More often than not I’m seeing the extra hand-prep service being offered as a “bug-prep” for $3 to $4 a-la-carte and included in the top packages. Keep in mind that the goal here isn’t to get bug remover applied to the front of the car. Plenty of on-line activated equipment exists to do exactly that. Equally, the goal isn’t to hit the front of the car with high-pressure blasters — again equipment is readily available to perform the task more effectively and consistently. The objective is to provide a value-added service and personal attention to customers willing to pay for the experience. It’s powerful.

Seeing attendants scrubbing the front of their car with a hogs-hair brush dipped in foamy bug remover makes a strong statement. Associating it with bugs however presents a potential pitfall. Few customers appreciate that as an insect decomposes it produces enzymes that can etch the paint. Fewer still understand that removing bugs will often require clay, polish, or other professional detailing procedures that will then require wax or paint sealant. Customers with severe bug problems, unless educated, will be absolutely dissatisfied with the result of a “bug-prep” service. So what’s the solution? I don’t have an answer. Personally, I’m still a fan of offering self-prep areas with bug remover and brushes where customers can treat their own car before entering the tunnel.

While considering offering the service at one of my washes I played with some alternate names. Unfortunately “hand-prep” doesn’t carry nearly the same impact as “bug-prep,” especially when accompanied by a little icon of a bug with a red line through it on the menu. If you have any ideas please send me an e-mail or grab me at the next tradeshow.


It’s human nature. Nobody likes to think somebody else got something they think they should have gotten. The first rule of offering a paid hand-prep service is to make it crystal clear that it’s a special service that has been paid for. Most locations are using a confirmation sign that lights up to tell a customer that they paid for the extra service. When lit, this sign also alerts attendants to prep the front of the car. Provided your menu board is very clear, this should be sufficient.

Problems arise in some markets, however, where customers are accustomed to full-serve washes that prepped all cars as needed. Those customers, if they don’t notice the signage, will assume they should have received hand-prep as well and feel cheated. You can turn this to your advantage. Simply add a second, brightly lit confirmation sign positioned in front of the next car entering the tunnel. Change the wording to indicate that “The Car in Front of You Purchased” and list all extra services purchased. Any confusion will be eliminated, and that next customer in line will be more likely to buy your premium services on their next visit.


Don’t fool yourself. No matter how you look at it, offering a paid hand-prep service will add labor and management complexity. The hallmark of the express-exterior model always has, and always will be, about delivering an absolutely consistent service in a consistent amount of time. Operators offering a paid hand-prep service report that there is a relatively small increase in labor. On slower days, the existing guide-on attendant is performing the hand-prep service. On busier days, they’re adding additional attendants at the front of the tunnel to perform the application from both sides of the vehicle.

Although easily justified by the increased revenue, it’s a dramatically different level of responsibility for an attendant to safely guide customers onto a conveyor versus being responsible for the quality of the wash. Plan to train staff extensively. Don’t assume common sense. Attendants must understand and practice how to process each car consistently without slowing production. Equally, they must be trained to never, under any circumstance, perform the service on a car that has not paid for it. You’d be amazed at how easy it is for attendants to get into a rhythm where they start looking for bugs and prepping everything they see. At a traditional full-service wash this is a good thing.

Here, however, it will undermine the value of your hand-prep offering. On a side note, if your climate experiences seasonal bugs, it is still a good idea to include an automatic bug removal applicator to ensure consistency.


Without careful training and management, adding manual labor to the wash process is a potential recipe for disaster. Customers, in their car, have just been instructed to take their foot off the brake and put the car in neutral. Attendants, racing to speed through those safety instructions in order to begin prepping the front of the car, are less likely to notice a customer’s confusion. Although outfitted with long-handled brushes, the temptation for attendants to step in front of the car to work faster will be strong. You must ensure that the attendant you put in this role is physically capable of prepping the car, and if single staffed, from one side. Whatever you do, do not allow attendants to cross the front of the vehicle with a customer behind the wheel.

Traditionally manual prep work was done with foaming applicator guns sometimes followed by a high-pressure gun. This approach, although allowing attendants to remain away from the vehicle, lacks the perceived value of a foamed brush gently scrubbing. There’s a lot of evidence coming in that offering a paid hand-prep service with a foamed brush covering the front of the vehicle and even the windshield is a powerful way to increase your average ticket. If you’re not prepared, however, to make the necessary investment in labor, management, and training to do it safely, it is money that’s best left on the table.

Good luck and good washing.

Washing cars for over 30 years, Anthony Analetto serves as a president of SONNY’S The CarWash Factory, creator of the Original Xtreme-Xpress Mini-Tunnel, and the largest manufacturer of conveyorized car wash equipment, parts, and supplies in the world. He can be reached at or at (800) 327-8723 ext. 104.

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