Auto Laundry News - November 2012

Look Ma – No Hands! — Navigating the $18 Exterior Wash Package

By Anthony Analetto

Who would have thought? After nearly a decade of debates regarding the $3 base wash with free vacuums, there’s a new discussion heating up — what do you need to do to get an $18 on-line exterior wash with no labor or interior service? I’m not talking about a one-shot sale, but a superior product and value with an automated process that inspires customer loyalty and repeat purchases. Operators embracing the model are seeing average tickets rise by anywhere from $1 to $4. But what does it take? As with most things, the devil is in the details. Creating an experience that instills confidence in the service demands some equipment, chemistry, and a whole lot of marketing. Let’s take a look at what is working best around the country.


Admittedly, both customers and car wash operators like me are skeptical of the magic benefit of pouring more foamed chemistry over the car. It reminds me of the classic PT Barnum sign in his museum that said “This Way to the Egress.” Egress, a fancy word for exit, led patrons to a door that locked behind them. Today’s consumer is savvier, and attempting to trick them is suicidal. Modern museums make sure that the last thing visitors see is the gift shop, with an option to purchase an annual pass. Today’s successful car wash operators must make sure that their extra services deliver a visible benefit that cultivates a repeat purchase. Whether it’s a total body protectant application that makes the rain bead, or a new on-line pay-wax service that delivers a visibly better shine, you’ve got to put your money where your mouth is. Chemistry alone isn’t enough. Clever marketing isn’t enough. Operators seeing the greatest customer satisfaction, and retention, are combining the latest chemistry with a unique experience in the tunnel. Different equipment is activated only for top package customers. Additional applications occur with distinct scents. Additional lights flash. Additional rinses pour over the car. Additional online drying is present. Combined with additional marketing before, during, and after the wash, the results are astounding.

Turning on additional friction equipment isn’t only about delivering a distinct experience. Whether it’s rubbing an apple against your shirt, or buffing out a car, friction enhances shine. What’s new is that with some of today’s chemistry, it is possible to buff foamed protectants inside the tunnel with equipment to achieve a dramatically better shine. Talk to your chemical supplier. Talk to your equipment manufacturer. Your goal is to shift application within the tunnel to include friction buffing of your chosen foamed protectant with equipment that only activates in the top package. If you then make sure you have sufficient rinse capacity to remove the increased amount of foam, you’re going to have highly satisfied customers, willing to purchase the service again and again.


Conventional wisdom has always been to leverage the national branding of your chemical supplier. There’s a lot of merit to this model. Brand recognition is powerful. Customers trust the quality of the brand-name pay-wax being applied to their car, but it’s certainly not exclusive to any one car wash location. More recently, car wash owners are looking to create a competitive advantage in their market. They are creating exclusive brands for the high-end pay-wax in their top wash package. Slogans such as “Our exclusive multi-step service delivering a phenomenal shine,” are popping up all over the country. Custom, or semi-custom, graphics are being used on signs, flyers, pay stations, postcards, and employee uniforms to promote the service. Retail businesses offering an exclusive product and service certainly aren’t new — in fact, it’s practically the norm. Only Starbucks has the Frappuccino®. Only McDonald’s has the Big Mac®. Only Sears offers the DieHard® battery. Only Jiffy Lube offers the Signature Service® Oil Change. And more recently, only your car wash offers the proprietary process and wax service brand you create. It’s an exciting time to be part of the car wash industry.


Before looking to invest in any of the new on-line, pay-wax systems, it’s important to analyze the numbers. For simplicity, pretend you’re operating an express exterior that washes 6,000 cars per month with $3, $6, $9, and $12 wash packages. To make things easier, assume there’s an equal 25 percent distribution, or 1,500 cars washed on each package. Those numbers ($3x1,500 = $4,500) + ($6x1,500 = $9,000) + ($9x1,500 = $13,500) + ($12x1,500 = $18,000) would equal a total monthly revenue of $45,000, or, in other words, $7.50 averaged per car. Now imagine you add a new top package that delivers a phenomenal show with a noticeable shine available in a fifth wash package at $18. What’s got everyone excited is that, provided the extra service delivers value, it is safe to estimate that 50 percent of your current top package customers will move to the new offering — consistently. Instead of $18,000 in monthly revenue from your $12 wash, you now have ($12x750 = $9,000) + ($18x750 = $13,500) = $22,500. You’ve added $4,500 to the bottom line on the same 6,000 cars resulting in $49,500 net monthly revenue and an $8.25 average per car. If the new pay-wax costs you an additional $1.25 per car for the 750 cars in this example, you will spend $937.50 leaving an extra $3,562.50 in your pocket each month, or $42,750 in the first year alone. Run these numbers for your own wash and, depending on your volume and wash distribution, chances are you’re about to get pretty excited about the opportunity.


When considering the investment to launch a high-end, pay-wax service at your wash, think beyond the equipment, detergent, and waxes. Before spending a dime, create a detailed plan to promote the service before it’s even available. Start online. Update your website to promote the service as “coming soon,” and invite customers to register their e-mail for a one-time discount to try the service once available. Promote the service on your social network pages. Create a post-card that can be mailed if you have or are willing to rent a mailing list, or insert the cards in car windows at surrounding parking lots. Explore offering a voucher on one of the online coupon networks, as well as using traditional media. Basically, plan to actively and aggressively market the service. Offering an introductory promotion to “Buy two $18 washes for $24” makes it an easy decision for your loyal $12 customers to buy the upgrade at zero risk, while increasing your revenue. In a nutshell, the more motion, scent, foam, signage, training, and branding you do, the more credible the service is for the customer. Most important, however, is that when they exit the vehicle and inspect their car, they are absolutely blown away with the result. If you can truly wow customers, you’ll not only increase your ticket average as word spreads, but build volume as well.

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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