Getting the Most Out of Your Menu

One of the most important elements of a marketing/sales program for a car wash is the menu. Some washes have increased sales and revenue significantly simply by redesigning their menu. The menu is the heart of the sales program in a wash. How it is designed and utilized can make the difference between failure and success in a new location and can have a significant effect on the bottom line of an existing wash.


Constructing a car wash menu has often been compared to how it is done in a fast food location. While there are some similarities, there are also some major differences. Obviously food is purchased on a much more frequent basis than a car wash. While many washes utilize service advisors or cashiers along with their menu much like counter or drive up window people at fast food, there are many more that use the menu to sell by itself at POS locations or drive up kiosks before entering the wash. Finally, most people have experienced the food at their favorite fast food location and already know what they want when they drive in. Many times, customers at a wash are there for the first time or have never tried anything beyond a basic wash. They need much more help in making a buying decision and in many cases the menu has to do this on its own.


Designing a Menu

When it comes to designing a menu input from experienced, knowledgeable suppliers and even other successful operators can be invaluable. With that being said, your personal experience is essential since you have more knowledge of what may have worked and what hasn’t for you in the past. The key is to work with the others that have successful experience with designing a menu while still putting your knowledge to work. Ultimately, the final word must be yours since the future success of your business is on the line


Another key is to make the menu as simple and easy to understand as possible. Most research states that customers make their buying decision in 20 to 25 seconds or less. If it takes more than that for a customer to go through a menu chances are that they will opt simply for the basic wash or a low cost package at best. If you offer ala carte services normally it is not necessary to include them since the vast majority of customers that might be interested in a single service will usually ask about it and an ala carte list tends to make a menu a bit overwhelming. You may want to have a separate menu listing any ala carte services you offer. On your menu a brief description of the service is not necessary if the service is described with the name like tire dressing or clear coat protectant. Once again keep the menu as easy to understand as possible only using service descriptions if they are absolutely necessary to explain what they are.


Unless you want to do more basic washes than all others combined, only a small space on the menu should be dedicated to the basic wash or its price. When a motorist drives in the wash they have already purchased the basic wash. It would be like asking someone coming into a restaurant if they would like something to eat. The fact that they are there means they want a wash and will at least get the basic one offered.


The menu should help the customer make their decision on which wash fits their needs. It is very important to make them aware of the value of a wash but the menu is not the place to do that other than by the number and type services offered in each. The best place to convey that message is walkway or driveway signage. If a customer has already decided on a basic wash before they come in or reach the service advisor or cashier, they will ask for it or how much it costs. In either case, it gives them the opportunity to respond to their inquiry and offer an upgraded package at the same time. Suffice it to say that a well trained service advisor/cashier is worth their weight in gold (literally) at this point.


Constructing the Packages

The first step in designing a menu is package construction. One of the biggest mistakes often made is to include the services you want to sell rather than the ones most likely to be favorites with the customers. In many washes a prime example of this is tire dressing. If there is no automated tire dressing system available, many operators consider it an inconvenience and too time consuming to dress the tires while many customers like the service. On the other hand, extremely labor intensive services like an interior dressing or hand wax should be priced separately or included in an express detail package or flex service rather than in a standard wash package.


The most common structure for a menu is two or three packages not including the basic wash. In general, for higher volume washes, the two package menu should be used. Even adding one more package increases the time it takes for customers to make a choice and may hamper throughput at the wash. For lower volume washes the three package menu allows you to make better use of your facilities and staff as well as enhancing the bottom line by giving customers more packages to choose from. This is especially true for a flex service operation where many use separate exterior and interior menus in their sales process.


Pricing the Packages

Pricing of the packages is determined by two basic measures – the price of a basic wash and the suggested retail price of the services. In general the services added should be included at a 40% to 50% discount from a suggested retail price. In a three package system the price of the package above the basic should normally contain a small increase from the base wash with the addition of an on line service like a sealant or protectant. This allows the customer to get a service beyond the basic without a significant jump in the cost.


In a two package system one may chose to include two on line services depending on what is available in the wash process and including all services in the top package. In a three package system usually adding only one on line service per package upgrade is sufficient until you reach the top package with all services offered with the exception of highly labor intensive services like an interior dressing or detail or hand wax or detail.


In a two package system the highest priced package should be priced at approximately 85% to 100% of the base wash. With three packages work form the top down in pricing the middle two packages between the base and best. In most designs the top package can be anywhere from 100% to 125% of the base. The package above the base should be priced much like is done with two packages with the package above that priced between the top and that package. Your choice of a two or three package approach is critical. You must decide based on your clientele, volume and your “brand” what best suits your wash.


Naming the Packages

Naming a package should not be a difficult task but it is important. What should not be lost in naming the packages each name should indicate the rank of the package. For instance – Good - Better - Best or Silver - Gold - Platinum. While this might seem boring for those with a creative nature remember you are trying to simplify the selection process, not write a bestselling novel. Naming the packages should be easy to accomplish except in the case of a theme wash. Once again, be sure in naming the packages each name should indicate the rank of the package. I once saw a wash with a golf theme that has the packages named Par - Birdie - Eagle - Hole in One. That is fine if all the customers understand the game of golf. In any case, it should be evident which package is considered better than the other by naming them appropriately.


Positioning the packages

Unless the operation is a $3-$5-$7-$9 exterior express car wash or an extremely high volume car with little or no ability to handle off line services, positioning of the packages is critical. Most people read from left to right in the case of a horizontal menu and from top to bottom on a vertical set up. In general their attention is attracted to larger print and different shades of colors before anything smaller or less distinctive appears to draw their attention. Traditionally, packages are set up in order from left to right or top to bottom. If this is done, the most expensive package should be in the largest letters and takes up the most space. It is also a good idea to have either a slightly different shade of color background and/or sized lettering for each package as long as it does not make it look cluttered or confusing. It is best to use different shades of the same color as opposed to many different ones to avoid the “rainbow” effect and cheapen the overall appearance of the menu.


Training the Cashier/Service Advisor

All the good work done in designing a successful menu can be wasted without training those who will use it as a sales tool. With the exception of having a good management team, the most important position at a car wash for raising revenue and profitability is the service advisor or cashier. A good sales staff can often mean the difference between surviving financially and making a profit for many washes especially in today’s car wash environment where high volume car washes are the exception rather than the rule. If a service advisor/cashier is not capable of selling the program to customers, all the marketing and service support will not produce the best bottom line possible.


Before any training begins it is essential you understand the importance of selecting suitable candidates for the position of service advisor/cashier. One of the more critical decisions you will make at your wash is selecting a sales person. It is impossible to always be right so instead of trying to defend a bad hiring decision you must be open and honest with yourself when a sales person is "just not working out". In general, a sales person should exhibit the following qualities either during an interview or while working at the wash before moving into sales.

  • present a neat appearance and show courteous behavior

  • show good listening skills

  • able to express themselves well (not a good talker – a good communicator)

  • capable of learning about all the services, their benefits and features of the packages

These are the basic elements of a good cashier/service writer and there may be several other traits an operator may prefer as well as these. Remember that this person will usually be the first one to greet each customer when they visit the wash. It is very important that this person represents themselves and the wash in a positive manner.


Importance of the Menu in Your Marketing/Sales Program

There are many elements to a successful marketing and sales program. Signage selection, designing and placement; menu design and usage; sales training and management follow up are all essential elements. The key element that makes it all work is your ability to successfully sell your wash packages with a well designed menu. What very well may distinguish you from the rest of your competitors how well your menu presents the services your wash offers. Make sure you take the time and effort to develop a menu that works for you and towards the success of your wash.