Once or twice a month, my wife and I enjoy piecing together a weekend dinner party for our friends and the occasional relative dropping in from up north. Whenever we host, she and I spend a good portion of the morning cooking and prepping our spread for the evening. Our most recent gathering was just this past weekend, and — feeling more adventurous than usual — I decided to try my hand at a classic Tiramisu. Now, I don’t often bake — but when I do, my goal is to surprise and excite my houseguests by presenting something that truly looks (and tastes) great. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Tiramisu, it’s a pudding-like sponge cake that is soaked in coffee and liqueur. As with most Italian desserts, making a Tiramisu is a delicate process that involves using the proper authentic ingredients at specific times: if you soak the ladyfingers too much, they’ll get too soggy and won’t bake; if you don’t chill the custard just right, it won’t set properly, and you’ll have a shallow cake.

A lot goes into making an Italian dessert the right way, just as a lot goes into delivering a premium car wash experience. If you want to convince your customers that your top package is the only way to go, you’ve got to master your presentation, your ingredients, and the service quality. Otherwise, a customer might try your premium waxes and tire shine, but they’ll be unlikely to come back having experienced something they didn’t expect or enjoy. Worse still, they might share their negative experience with others, making your top package work against you. So, how do you ensure that you’ve “baked” all the right ingredients into your premium wash packages? Let’s look.


Chances are you’ve invested some considerable time, effort, and capital towards building a top package or manager’s special that includes pay wax, tire shine, and even paint sealant and/or on-line buffing. All that equipment and chemistry is designed to provide a truly premium, hand-wax-like result. However, without the right marketing, your customers might not even notice that these services are available or appreciate that they’re being applied right in your express car wash tunnel without additional wait time. That’s why it’s so important that you’re employing the right menu strategy, the right brand, and the proper tunnel experience to go along with your premium chemistry application.

The Menu

At a car wash, there are three distinct moments of truth: (1) whether you’ll capture a passerby, (2) which package they’ll choose, and (3) whether they’ll be satisfied with the results. If your customer has already reached the menu, congratulations — you’ve passed the first test! However, you still have work to do: you’ve got to present them with a menu that — in seconds — convinces them to climb up the price scale and decide to select your top package/manager’s special. Many new express car washes are using digital menus with vivid videos to demonstrate the true value of their top car wash package, but, if you’re still running a traditional menu, there are ways that you can design each tier to be more appealing than the one below it. For example, try to visually demonstrate how each component is designed to work together as a process, rather than show independent icons. To the customer, each piece may not mean much, but the whole might just be greater than the sum of its parts.

The Brand

Many car wash operators believe that the brand is all about attracting new customers. There’s some truth to that, but the reality is that your brand can also be leveraged to upsell and retain customers. Now more than ever, strong brands can rise above the rest and foster customer loyalty. Maintainingthat strong brand image means creating a value proposition that connects all the individual components: your waxes, your detergents — the whole process — back to your car wash business so customers can readily see the value associated with your brand.


When it comes down to it, many car wash operators view chemistry as a cost item. It’s true: the right detergents aren’t cheap, and chemistry is a big part of your variable cost per car. However, the right chemistry is also what helps to deliver the best possible result — and therefore, where your customers will see the value in their purchase. If you’re using the wrong detergents — or worse, you’re diluting them improperly — you aren’t going to deliver upon your customers’ expectations, making them less likely to return and less likely to recommend your wash to friends and family.


Equally as important as the ingredients themselves is the overall process of putting it all together. Just like baking the perfect Italian dessert, the process of properly cleaning and shining a vehicle is a linear, step-by-step progression where each step is designed to prepare the vehicle for the next part of the process. Your on-line detailing system must be carefully constructed to include vehicle primers that remove road contaminants and prepare the surface to bond with the waxes and polishing agents that follow. It also must provide for sufficient dwell time for the chemical agents to perform their duties — whether that’s to loosen dirt, cure, or bond to the paint surface.

In my experience, the most effective way to deliver a visibly shiner car is to start with a high-pH presoak that will begin the cleaning process and loosen up any dirt or impurities on the car. Next comes a bath of low-pH detergent that neutralizes the presoak and assists in loosening pollutants. At this point in the wash, the vehicle should be free of any contaminants so the focus turns to shining and protecting it. To do so, I apply a super-low-pH soap that will make the painted surfaces really shine and ready them for a paint sealant to be applied. I then rinse the car, preferably infused with a chemical to help break down any remaining foam. The clean and shiny car now has a paint sealant applied to it that bonds with the paint on the vehicle surface to protect it from UV rays and the buildup of pollutants. For further protection, I will then apply a wax to the painted surfaces, which will help capture and protect the shine of the car for a longer period of time. The final step is a rain repellant that is applied to the glass surfaces for safety and visibility. The end result is a cleaner and visibly shinier car that even feels different because of the wax and rain repellant.


Having all the pieces together, but in the incorrect order, is like tossing all the ingredients for a cake into the oven and expecting some type of positive outcome. Simply put, the result is not likely to be nearly as effective if you don’t carefully consider both the timing and the physical progression down the tunnel. However, if you place all the correct components in the right order, you’ll be well positioned to deliver a superior shine and a customer experience that’ll keep them coming back for more. Oh, and by the way, the Tiramisu came out soupy, which is one of many reasons I usually stick to car wash chemistry.

Good luck and good washing.

Anthony Analetto has over 35 years’ experience in the car wash business and is a partner at SONNY’S The Car Wash Factory. Before coming to SONNY’S, Anthony was the director of operations for a 74-location national car wash chain. Anthony can be reached at (800) 327-8723 x 104 or at AAnaletto@SonnysDirect.com.