Auto Laundry News - September 2013

Cars and Germs — Disinfect for Profit

By Jeff Coplin

The car wash menu.

Spread the word — for all customers to see.

It’s baseball season, and we are proud to operate a full-service car wash in the backyard of the world champion San Francisco Giants. Everyday the sports section includes the box scores and anyone can view the batting averages of the hitters and the ERA of the pitchers. Knowledge is king. As the manager, do you want a hitter batting .367 to lead off your line-up or are you going to start with the guy batting .111?

The same kind of disparity exists in the full-service car wash industry. Car washes operating in the same community have differences in performance levels of as much as $15 per car. Do the math. On 100,000 cars washed, one operator may do $3.5 million in business while the other operator generates only $2.2 million. Do you want to improve your game?


At the last International Carwash Association convention, Magic Johnson was the keynote speaker. Magic talked about his business venture with Sony, building new movie theaters in urban America. Prior to the grand opening, Magic expressed the opinion to Sony executives that “they had underestimated the demand for hot dogs.” In the ‘hood, date night was not about dinner and a movie. He believed it would be about “movie and a hot dog.” Executives told Magic that there were enough hot dogs to last a month. On day one, Magic sold a month’s worth of hot dogs.

Magic’s next venture was to team up with Starbucks and build 150 Starbucks stores in urban America. Magic identified that his customers did not know what scones were, and suggested tweaking the offerings to include donuts, sweet-potato pie, etc. The end result was that sales at Magic’s Starbucks outperformed all other Starbucks. Magic advised all of us in the car wash business to focus on what our customer wants and needs to achieve a more perfect menu of services.


You need to understand what your customer wants and needs. Dissect what the factors are driving a customer to use your facility. In some cases, the primary need may be an exterior cleaning. In other cases, the primary need may be interior. Picture a “family car” that has hosted multiple drive-thru meals and is now littered with wrappings and leftovers. For the customer who recognizes that the car is now a germ factory, is your car wash prepared to deliver an interior germ-buster service? If your answer is no, would you be motivated if you knew that last year the size of this market for just three car washes reached $750,000.


We started our quest for facts by using the keywords “germs in cars” on Google. We discovered that universities in the United States and Great Britain tested more than 1,000 cars for interior germs. Television shows on the subject were presented on ABC, NBC, Dr. Oz, etc. All scientists agree that there is a need to regularly clean and disinfect the interior of the car. Studies concluded that car steering wheels and gear shifters had an average of nine times more germs than a public toilet. Dr. Oz identified floor mats as most problematic as they were found to contain e-coli.

Vents were often contaminated with fungus. Cup holders, center consoles, dashboards, and between seats were found in many cases to have unacceptable levels of unhealthy germs. Child safety seats were often unhealthy, and Dr. Oz recommended regular laundering along with disinfecting the plastic shell. As a car wash professional, educate yourself on this matter by reading the articles and watching the YouTube videos to discover the true need regarding the health of car interiors. Recognizing the need, what can you as a professional car wash contribute to help your customer meet this need?


Imagine your customer expressing “I’m here because my car’s interior is so dirty, I simply could not stand it any longer.” Instead of ignoring these customers’ wants and needs, we’ve added a new service called “Targeted Interior Germbuster.” This service appeals to customers who want that extra attention to the interior and are willing to pay extra to get it done in the added five to 10 minutes.

We wet-wipe clean and apply a disinfectant targeting the dash, steering wheel, steering column, vents, gear shifter, door panels, cup holders, center console, and child-safety-seat shells. In addition, we spray the disinfectant on the floor mats and trunk mat. We use a disinfectant that is safe to apply to leather, vinyl, and plastic. Your credibility is enhanced when your disinfectant can claim to be the choice of hospitals, ambulances, and first responders for it has the capability to kill MSRA, HIV, and 99 percent of germs, viruses, and other unhealthy contaminants found in cars. Products are available in spray-bottle format, as wet wipes, or in aerosol cans. The Targeted Interior Germbuster service has been a hit with our customers since it was first introduced two months ago.


Proper staffing at the greeter position should be one greeter for every 80 customers to promote a true dialogue with the customer. Sadly, most car wash operators under staff the position. The foolishness of opting to “save” a $10 hourly wage by not staffing the extra greeter may ultimately cost you as much as $10 per car in lost revenue. On a 50-car hour, do you really want to miss out on $500 in revenue to save $10 in wages?

Compensation is what motivates greeters. If you were the greeter, would you work hard to achieve a $50 sale for no
additional reward? Some managers have placed a “cap on commissions” because they don’t want to over-pay their greeters. They are living in a fantasyland if they believe their greeters are achieving 100 percent of their sales potential.


Along with offering the new Targeted Interior Germbuster service as an a la carte option for $30 plus purchase of any car wash, we also created a new premium-priced menu featuring a family of choices at $59.99. View the menu pictured on page 42, and notice that at $59.99 the customer has the option of choosing the new Targeted Interior Germbuster or the new Nanoskin Exterior Spa Treatment. For $69.99 they can get both. By giving the customer a multiple choice at the premium price points, the natural flow of the conversation between customer and greeter reflects whether the customer’s primary goal is to give extra attention to the interior, exterior, or both. We have discovered that the market share for premium-priced services at $59.99 and $69.99 matches the former market share enjoyed by our $34.99 Best Wash. The interesting fact is that in our new menu, the demand for our $34.99 Best Wash has increased.


Inspired by Magic Johnson, we moved forward with innovative new services that our customers are embracing. Here are a few ideas to help you showcase your new services:

  • A picture can be worth a thousand words. Notice that our new menu now includes a photo of germs with the educational statement that cars are germ factories.
  • We place signage in the windows of all cars getting our new service as you see illustrated in the photo on page 44. Imagine a busy Saturday where 50 of the new services are performed and paraded for all 450 customers to view.
  • On each of the nine workstations where cars are finished, we have professionally branded disinfectant bottles to alert the customer that something new is being provided.
  • Design the educational materials that inform the customer of the need for a Targeted Interior Germbuster service, and then describe that service to plant the idea for a future purchase.

Jeff Coplin is co-owner of Matt & Jeff’s Car Wash, winner of the Western Carwash Association’s 2011 Most Innovative Operator Award. Matt and Jeff extend an open invitation to car wash operators to visit their wash in Novato, CA. You can contact Jeff via e-mail at

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