Maximizing On Site Marketing and Sales for Your Wash

In its simplest terms, marketing can be defined as creating a demand or reason to purchase one's products or services. Wash marketing is normally done by some form of advertising in the media or other activities like direct mailings. All too many times operators concentrate more on those efforts and overlook what they are doing on site.

There are two essential goals when designing and implementing an on site marketing program for any car wash. The first is to increase the frequency of the motorist coming to the wash. Recent information indicates that almost 80% of those coming to a car wash are motorists that wash their vehicle less than three times annually at a car wash. The second is to educate the motorist on the values and merits of the services offered at the wash and to package them in such a way to encourage the customer to purchase them on their current visit or in the future. While the basic wash price pays the bills in a car wash, the extra service revenues generated by higher sales are the real profit source.

Increasing Frequency

The issue of frequency is really related to the image your wash presents to your customers. The term that best fits this is to "customerize" a wash. This means that the entire wash experience must be one that makes the customer feel that the experience was both worthwhile and pleasant. The most effective element in making the wash experience worthwhile is to consistently produce a clean dry vehicle at the site and perform any additional services in a professional manner. All the quality marketing programs in the world cannot overcome poor wash performance. In effect, the first step to increasing frequency is more an operational issue – consistent cleaning, rather that pure marketing.

The role marketing plays in increasing frequency is to enhance the anticipation of the customer to receive the benefits of the wash they have chosen. Several aspects of a good on site marketing listed here should help you accomplish this. It is very important to create as easy access to the wash as possible using directional signs that are easily understood and allow the simplest access to the wash. A side benefit directly related to volume is that easy access and egress also enhances the ability to increase throughput and reduce waiting time for customers.

Educating the Motorist

Creating awareness and understanding of the products and services offered at the wash are essential to the success of any marketing program. Caution here must be taken not to overload the motorist with too much information in one area creating physical clutter and mental confusion. The overall site goal should be to simplify the customer experience and create a cohesive presentation of services and packages offered thereby increasing traffic and generating additional sales. Judicious use of signage, banners and other marketing tools goes a long way in the education of the motorist. If possible try to use the same format and color combinations on all your signage and literature.

It is important to realize that many of your customers are skeptical of most services offered at a wash and are reluctant to ask questions for fear of looking foolish or be pressured into buying something they do not want or need. The goal of education is to use as many customer friendly techniques as possible to inform customers of the value your services provide.


Driveway signage should be strategically placed to allow the customer to view them before entering the sales area without impeding traffic flow. Some washes may be able to display them on existing posts or pillars while others may wish to use windscreen or fixed freestanding signage posts. A good driveway sign catches the motorist's eye and gives him as much information in as few words as possible. A good picture or graphic is an asset for such signage. It is also desirable to provide some action words with a sense of immediacy or phrase like "Try it Today" or "Today's Special".

Walkway/waiting room signs are important for full/flex service locations. Unlike driveway signage, these signs may utilize more complete descriptions of the service describing not only the service but also its application and even results in greater detail. These signs should also be eye-catching and easy to read. If possible, they should be stationed near where the service can be seen and hung at an angle to help catch the customer's attention. These signs perform two important functions. For customers who have already purchased the products or services they serve to reinforce the purchase and make your customer feel good about it. For others, it gives you a type of “silent” salesperson that makes the customer think about buying the product or service on their next visit.

In recent years the usage of lighted tunnel signs in full/flex serve operations has decreased. These are signs normally used to assure that customers have received what they purchased – not intended for educational purposes. If placed strategically in the tunnel, the exterior customer can see when the service is being performed. If the car is visible from the walkway, the full service customer is given a clue when the service is being done or others may more easily identify when a service is being performed and may be encouraged to purchase it on their next visit.. Remember the customer will be viewing them either while inside a vehicle during the wash process or from the walkway through windows that may be wet or foggy. In either case, the sign should provide basic information that the service or product is being applied in large easy-to-read letters.

Counter Cards/Menus

In the case of a full/flex service wash, informational counter cards or signage may also be used to reinforce or create additional sales. In some respects they are like miniature driveway signage. They need to be eye-catching and to the point to insure that they will not create a backup at the cashier. Countertop menus at the cashier may also be helpful to assist the cashier if questions arise concerning the charges for the wash or services. In general, it is not recommended to include a great deal of marketing at the cashier's area to avoid slowing down the process or creating confusion on the part of the customer.

Designing a Menu

One of the most important pieces for on site marketing/sales of a car wash is the menu. Some washes have increased sales significantly simply by redesigning their menu. The menu is the heart of the sales program in a wash. How it is designed and displayed can have a significant effect on the bottom line of your 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 a tangible item and purchased on a much more frequent basis than a car wash. While many washes utilize service advisors 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 have a good idea 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.

It is important to make the menu as simple and easy to understand as possible. Most research states that customers make their buying decision in 15 to 20 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. The menu should help them make their decision on which wash best meets their needs. It is very important to make the customer aware of the value of a wash but the menu is not the place to do that. The walkway, waiting room or driveway signage should convey that message.

Constructing the packages

The most common structure for a menu is two or three packages not including the basic wash. Spending a lot of space on the basic wash is not the best use of the menu. Remember, they are already there for a wash. Highlighting the basic wash would be like asking someone when they go into a restaurant if they want something to eat. That's what they are already there for. In general, for higher volume washes, the two package menu should be used. Even adding one more package increases the time it takes to sell services and may hamper throughput at the wash. For lower volume washes the three package menu allows the operator to make better use of their facilities and staff as well as enhancing the bottom line by giving customers more packages to choose from.

While naming a package should not be a difficult task but it is very 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.

Training the Cashier/Service Advisor

With the exception of having a good management team, the most important position at a car wash for raising revenue and profitability is the individual selling the washes. A good cashier/service advisor 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 cashier/service advisor is not capable of selling the program to customers, your marketing efforts will not produce the best bottom line possible.

Before any training begins it is essential that you understand the importance of selecting suitable candidates for the position. 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 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 and explaining all the services, their benefits and features

  • understand the benefit of working on an incentive basis

Remember that this person will often time be the first one to greet each customer when they visit your wash. It is very important that this person represents themselves and your wash in a positive manner.

A Final Word

There are many elements to a successful to an on site marketing and sales program. Obviously producing the best wash results is the key to repeat sales and satisfied customers. Educating your customers and promoting your wash offerings through well thought out signage selection, design and placement makes your wash "user friendly" Effective menu design and usage; professional sales training and good wash management are also essential in making your wash marketing efforts both on and off site successful. Putting together an on site marketing program is not an easy task. It requires thoughtful planning and execution. Take a good look at your on site marketing efforts and ask yourself these questions. "Is my wash itself an asset to my overall marketing strategy?" "Does it present the image that I want?" "Does it encourage my customers to use all my services and to return on a frequent basis?" Answering those questions will put you well on your way to a successful on site marketing/sales program.


Ron Holub has been in the car wash industry for almost 30 years working for several national carwash chemical companies, owning a car wash and detail supply company, and serving as a general manager for a national car wash chain. He currently lives in the Atlanta area, is available for consulting and can be reached at [email protected].