To get the most out of your car wash, you need to make chemistry good to the last drop. Does this mean controlling consumption to reduce cost? Maximizing the effect each drop has on the shine you deliver? Ensuring every drop elevates the customer experience to make your car wash different than the rest? These aren’t trick questions. I’ll address how all aspects of your chemical selection and application must be coordinated to maximize a sustained boost to your per-car average.

Things to Know

New online paint-sealant services are hitting the market that promise to deliver truly remarkable shine and protection. Many operators I know are looking to incorporate these new services into express menus promoting $20 and even $25 top packages. Like most things in life, there’s more to it than meets the eye.

So, before you start thinking it’s as easy as installing an applicator with a barrel of juice and jacking up the price of your top package — take a moment to read on.

The job ahead of you is to define your finished product in a way that brings in customers, creates a clear image of your car wash, and ensures you deliver a quality wash that produces repeat business.

Define Your Finished Product Standard

Take a minute to really dissect your menu and the value delivered in your top package. Most menus start with a basic wash. The next package usually adds special attention to the wheels with a tire dressing application. Following that is a wax bundle of some sort that also applies a water repellant to glass. Last is the top package. This is where things get tricky and opportunity really exists.

By the time someone considers the top package, you’ve already sold them on the car wash, the tire dressing, the spot-free rinse, the shiny surface wax, and the water beading off the glass. Now, how do you deliver a top finished product that’s so much better that customers are willing to part with an extra $5 to $10 to get it?

As car wash professionals, you know the extra cleaning agents, sealants, and waxes applied in the top package will deliver a better shine that lasts longer. That said, let’s all admit it, to the customer this upsell talk lacks the same level of instant gratification that a dressed tire or water beading off glass does — but does it have to?

Everyone knows the feel of a professionally hand-detailed car. The paint feels smoother to your hand. There’s a glossy thickness to the coating. Water explodes from the surface. The shine is more brilliant, and the depth of color is enhanced. It’s a service that customers are willing to pay hundreds of dollars for.

The standard you want to emulate in your top package’s paint sealant service is like that of the professional exterior detail. Fortunately, innovations in chemistry are hitting the market at a blazing pace and redefining what is possible in a tunnel car wash.

Realize that, like professional detailing, there are also multiple steps necessary to create this in a tunnel. It’s a more thoughtful process than just applying more chemistry; a layering process is necessary to achieve the full effect. My point here isn’t the process or supplier you choose, but the necessity for you to define your finished-product, top-package standard before promoting it.

Set Monitoring and Quality Standards

You know application dynamics change with temperature, vehicle profile, surface contaminants, and water quality. You also know it’s your job to react to these changing aspects to make sure customers receive a consistently good wash, each and every visit.

You need a process that delivers a quality standard and you need to monitor that it happens every time on every car that buys it.

How do you do this? First, make sure every drop of your chemistry is used precisely. You should measure usage at the beginning and end of the day to ensure every paying customer received what they paid for. It’s critical that your chemical distribution panel, applicators, and pumps are up to the task. Once you’re confident that the mechanics of delivering a consistent finished product are in place, look at your procedures and training.

Create a “culture of clean” at your car wash. Make sure that every member of your team understands what your standard looks like. Inspect the finished products yourself, at least every day, to ensure that your standards are met.

Stay on top of the standards you set with important key performance indicators. Include factors like chemical consumption, wash mix, and average tickets. Take time to talk to your customers. Ask them how they feel about the quality of your product.

Premium coatings are expensive, but you can drive savings without negatively impacting your finished-product standards. Control the cost of the chemistry with inventory controls, good chemical service, and meticulous maintenance of functional equipment.

Create a Memorable Experience

There are five senses at your disposal to reinforce the value of your top package. Of course, use the visual confirmations of LED lights and flashing confirmation signs. Introduce visual motion using foams to coat the surface.

For smell, fragrances are easy and relatively cheap to inject throughout the tunnel. Think about using a unique scent only available with your top package. Get creative! If you add a grape scent to the top package, why not hand out a printed card explaining its benefits with a grape lollipop stapled to it?

For touch, why not install a painted metal section on your vacuum posts? You can have one side treated with your top package and a sign telling customers to feel the difference.

For sound, well, you and I both know the less noise the better. Noise-cancelling improvements in equipment is the upgrade to invest in.

Also, someone told me that I should disclaim that if you hand out lollipops, they should be sealed, but you get the idea.

Spread the Word

Nothing happens until someone sells something. Featuring your new paint-sealant service in your menu and on-site signage is the bare minimum. Selling means providing information to handle customer questions and objections.

Train your staff to be ambassadors capable of explaining the service. Get with your marketing provider to create in-depth materials detailing the benefits in handouts and on your website. Once everything is in place, promote online via social media and explainer videos to drive business.

Make it Count

Everywhere you turn these days there’s an innovation, a new opportunity to upgrade the profit potential of your car wash. Before pulling out your checkbook, make sure you know how it will impact what matters most — a finished product your customers are willing to pay for.

Consider the fully burdened investment of your new service. Small bumps in your average ticket can net large and exciting dollar amounts, but if you’re not committed to the upgrade, you won’t see the results. Determine how you’re going to market the new service and budget for this. Calculate the cost of training your staff to maintain your product standards both in maintenance to the system and customer engagement.

Selling a quality product only works if you can deliver on your promise. You need the right marketing, the right training, the right equipment, and, of course, the right chemistry. Do things right and your chemistry will stay good to the last drop! You’ll also achieve a sustained boost to your per-car average and increased customer satisfaction to boot.

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