When it comes to identifying and deploying exciting and innovative new ways to attract drivers to their sites, it appears that vehicle wash operators have seen the “light.” Namely, they are utilizing the latest in exterior, interior, and arch display lighting, along with sound-reproduction technologies, to create a visually and aurally attractive wash experience. In fact, analysis of vehicle wash through-rate patterns indicates that offering an engaging and memorable wash experience can increase customer loyalty by as much as 20 percent, with loyal customers 86 percent more likely to spend more for a brand they are loyal to.

A well-lit, clean appearance.

While the advances in lighting and sound technology have been an undeniable boon to wash operators as they look to expand their customer base while keeping existing customers engaged, an optimized sight-and-sound experience is just one arrow in a marketing quiver that can go well beyond the five senses.


In addition to optimizing the sight-and-sound experience inside the wash bay, operators would be wise to fully target all five senses in the search for effective ways to increase traffic at their vehicle wash sites:


The first goal is to get that driver to make the conscious decision to actually enter the wash site. In order to do this, the site must be well lit with engaging signage with color and movement that catches the eye, a clean appearance, and nice landscaping. Drivers hate potholes, so make sure that the driveway is well maintained, with no trash on the ground. If the wash consists of a manned tunnel, outfit employees in sharp, clean uniforms, and train them to be attentive and engaging with a controlled sense of urgency without hurrying, which can create nervousness in the driver. The interior of the wash must be inviting and uncluttered, easy to enter with a feeling of openness that can be enhanced through the use of effective overhead and sidewall lighting. In other words, do not store non-essential or unrelated equipment in a murky, dingy wash bay.


It’s a fact of life that the machinery that performs the wash process will emit noise. The trick to ensuring that ambient noise is not off putting to vehicle occupants is to design the wash bay so that the level and shape of the noise will be non-offensive or agitating. Some operators have found success in this realm by piping in popular music, while others use tranquil sounds at a decibel level that still allows the occupants of the vehicle to engage in conversations or conduct phone calls. Additionally, while it’s true that some inherent wash sounds just can’t be overcome, the other senses can be targeted during the wash process so that attention is diverted from the sound of the wash equipment and dryers.

An uncluttered interior.


A bad smell that enters the vehicle cabin during the wash process creates a bad overall experience for the driver through both mental and physical reactions that will linger, which can affect future wash buying decisions. Therefore, it is imperative that wash bays are kept presentable via a regular cleaning schedule, while dirty wash water is routinely reclaimed or disposed of so that it does not sit in the pit and become “funky.” Positive smells can also be created during the wash process through pretreatment of wash water, or by using scented wash chemicals and waxes. Research has shown that different scents will evoke different feelings in vehicle passengers; for example, lemon will evoke cleanliness, while lavender produces a sense of calm.


Vehicles are large investments that must be treated carefully, so drivers must be convinced before they even enter the wash bay that there is little to no risk of damage occurring as their vehicles are touched during the wash process. This requires the wash equipment to be properly and regularly maintained so that it will reliably deliver a gentle and damage-free wash. Operators can be proactive in allaying any fears of damage occurring by posting educational pieces on the damage control capabilities of the wash system on the wash’s website, via social media posts, and through flyers that can be made available at the wash entrance or inside the store.


Umm, what? No, we’re not saying that vehicle occupants will want to physically “taste” the wash process, but that process can tap into a “taste” for a snack, which will help drive business to an attached c-store. Use incentives to get people to stop in for an impulse buy or to refuel. Many operators have found success by offering a free coffee, soft drink or candy bar with a wash, or 10, 15, or 20 cents off per gallon of gasoline with the purchase of a wash.


In addition to the five tangible senses that everyone is familiar with, there are other more nebulous “senses” that can be manipulated as a way to improve vehicle wash traffic: a sense of positivity, value, accomplishment, and community come to mind.

Attractive landscaping.

The most significant of these is the overall positive feeling a good wash experience will leave with the customer, buttressed by the perception that they received good value for their money. These are lasting impressions that will prompt the driver to return in the future, resulting in a growing and loyal customer base. Satisfied customers can also be the wash’s best spokespeople, with positive word of mouth playing a critical role in communicating the benefits of the wash to a wider range of drivers.

These days, with ready access to the Internet and websites expressly dedicated to customer reviews, the post-wash experience can be just as important as the actual wash-bay experience. There will, inevitably, be some bad reviews. In these instances, wash operators should not shy away or ignore them. Use them as educational tools that help give a well-rounded view of the wash and how it is operating. If a preponderance of reviews indicate that something just isn’t working, don’t be afraid to reassess and make changes, or even eliminate it; being stubbornly married to a bad idea can be as bad or worse than having no ideas at all.

And, if time allows, try to respond to every comment or review, with those that had a positive experience having their feelings reinforced, while those with a complaint will be placated and may even be more prone to give the wash a second chance. This will create a sense among drivers that the operators care about them and their feelings, and will work to build on the positive and alleviate the negative.

Finally, creating a sense of community can be a strong bonding agent. Let the town or region in which you operate know that your customers are more than just sources of income. There are many ways to show that you truly care about the communities in which you operate: sponsor local youth sports teams, host a charity vehicle wash day, contribute to local fundraisers, participate in job fairs, etc. People are programmed to support businesses that have the same commitment to local causes that they do. You can also embrace the local business community by joining the Chamber of Commerce or other business-centric organizations. Successful businesses do not operate in a self-contained bubble. Talk to other businesspeople in the area about their successes and failures. Pick their brains for ideas that have worked and those that weren’t quite as successful.

Regular maintenance will ensure a gentle and damage-free wash.


The vehicle wash experience begins before the driver enters the site, and even well before the first shovelful of dirt is turned during construction. But when the equipment is in place and the door is unlocked, it is an engaging, memorable, and, most importantly, positive on-site experience that will keep loyal customers coming back and creating new ones, with studies showing that 63 percent of customers who have a bad experience with a brand will stop buying it.

Therefore, it is vitally important that every avenue be explored in the search for ways to attract customers to the wash. This means not just deploying all of the latest bells and whistles, but appealing to all five basic senses — and then going beyond that to create a wash experience that checks all of the boxes that are pivotal in building a strong, reliable, and ultra-loyal customer base.

Mark Tentis is the vice president of global sales for OPW Vehicle Wash Solutions and can be reached at mark.tentis@opwvws.com. OPW Vehicle Wash Solutions was formed in January 2019 and consists of PDQ Manufacturing, Inc., and Belanger, Inc. PDQ is a preeminent provider of in-bay automatic wash systems and payment terminals, while Belanger is an innovative leader in soft-touch tunnel and in-bay automatic wash systems. A third member of OPW Vehicle Wash Solutions is Innovative Control Systems, a leader in the development of payment terminals, process controls, software management systems and equipment automation for the vehicle wash industry. Together, these companies create a single source for all vehicle wash needs. For more information on OPW Vehicle Wash Solutions, please visit opwvws.com.