We’ve all heard that it is easier to sell more to an existing customer than it is to gain a new customer. Once you have a customer at your car wash, you can use information to upgrade that customer.

For example, your greeter may notice the customer’s vehicle could use some tire shine or an interior cleaning, and would recommend those services. If you use self-pay terminals, you might offer an upgrade to the next package if they buy the basic wash, or you might offer a discounted prepaid top package for their next visit if they buy the top package, or you might offer a barcoded receipt coupon for their next wash if they visit again in a week or two. You have many options from which to choose.


Also, you may want to personalize customers’ visits while they are on site. Do you want to greet them by name, automatically offer them their standard package, or offer a special service because they are such loyal customers? If so, you’ll need to know information about those customers and their buying habits.

That’s great while the customer is on site, but how do you sell to that customer once they have left your car wash? For that, you need to collect data from the customers themselves and you’ll need a plan and methods for gathering that information.

Have customers enter their information on your website or mobile app.To begin collecting customer data, you will want to decide ahead of time how you plan to use it. If you are going to do mailings, you’ll need customer names and addresses. If you plan to do text-messaging ads, you’ll need cell phone numbers. If e-mail marketing is more your style, then you’ll want names and e-mail addresses. In all cases, how you will use the data dictates the types of customer information to collect.


The temptation in collecting customer information is to collect as much as you possibly can. After all, what if you start doing text message marketing, but later decide you want to do e-mail marketing? If you don’t gather that data up front, then you may be missing out on an opportunity in the future.

In the 1990s, there were operators that collected all sorts of customer information and as much as they could. They might collect birthdates, so they could give a free wash as a birthday gift. They collected spouses’ names so they could greet the customer, as in “Hi, Jim and Betty. Welcome back!” Some even collected the number of kids, favorite sports teams, and dog names — although doing that last item may actually make sense today if you have a dog wash. They wanted to personalize the experience and welcome the customer like a friend, and many were very successful at it.

Then, people were more open to sharing information about themselves. In the past few years, there have been highly publicized consumer-data breaches at major retailers, credit companies, and even in government agencies. As such, people are much more cautious about sharing all their information with you. They are more willing to share data with you if you ask for minor customer data points that have a legitimate purpose, and only if that data somehow benefits the customers themselves. Therefore, when you ask for information, keep your information request to a minimum and explain how you will use that data.

If you are trying to choose what data to collect, here is a checklist of the most common information used:
• Name
• Mailing address
• E-mail address
• Cell number
• License plate
• Barcode number
• RFID number
• Vehicle year, make, model

It is important to keep customer information updated.Note that all data begins to age as soon as you collect it; meaning, it gets out of date quickly because customers move, they get new e-mail addresses, switch cell numbers, buy new cars, etc. It is important for you to have a way to keep that information updated. That can be as simple as asking your cashier to periodically verify the information with the customer, or providing a way for the customer to update it themselves on your website or through a mobile app.

Data Privacy Statement

Depending on the state where you do business, a data privacy statement may or may not be required by law. Also, requirements can vary by state. Your best bet is to work with a lawyer to draft a statement, post it on your website, and then refer to it when asking for information. If you want to draft your own, you can find many examples and free templates on the Internet. Also, be sure to ask your lawyer if you are in compliance with your state’s opting-out regulations.

Data Privacy Laws

As already mentioned, some states require you to have a data privacy statement or policy available to your customers. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, all 50 states have laws requiring you to notify your customers of a breach involving their Personally Identifiable Information (PII). What constitutes a consumer data breach, what is defined as PII, and the notification requirements differ by state. For example, in some states, someone stealing a list of names and addresses is enough to trigger a breach notification. For some, taking a list of 2,000 customers is enough to trigger a notification requirement, whereas other states might require it at the 500-customer level. If you suspect a breach, your best course of action is to get involved with a company that specializes in computer security breaches and to contact your lawyer or insurance company. They deal with these situations all the time and can guide you through the process.

Many operators will offer an incentive for customers to give their information.While most data thieves are looking for credit card data and will ignore customer information, it is still prudent to secure your customers’ information. Some of the things you can do are:
• Keep your computer locked up and away from public areas and limit the access your employees have to that computer.
• If your computer is running an older operating system such as Windows XP, replace it. Microsoft is no longer updating those older operating systems.
• Run anti-virus on your computer and keep it updated.
• Do not use the computer for web browsing, except to access a white list of sites. Also, do not use that computer for e-mail because accidentally clicking on an e-mail link could give a criminal access to your system.
• If connected to the Internet, make sure your router has a firewall, that you have changed the default password, and that you keep the firmware updated. If your router is more than five years old, replace it.


Once you have decided what information you are going to collect, the next step is deciding how you are going to identify customers when they visit your site. Your available options can depend on the type of car wash that you have.
• At full-service locations, it is very common to enter the license plate of every vehicle.
• At locations with a manned sales area, you could identify regular customers using a barcode on the vehicle or on a barcoded card.
• At both manned sales areas and self-pay terminals, you can use RFID tags on the vehicle. Often, these tags are barcoded so they can be read with a barcode reader. This is useful if you have a mix of full-service, exterior, and express sites.


Now that you have a way to identify the customer, you need to collect information. If you have a manned greeter, a common method is to hand the customer a customer information card to fill out in the tunnel and to return to a staff member at the end of the tunnel or in your lobby. It is best if your greeter writes the license plate or sticks a copy of the barcode number onto the card. That way, you aren’t relying on the customer to write down that information.

At self-pay stations and other computer terminals, your computer system can see that the customer information is missing and automatically ask for it on the receipt. Again, that information can be given to the cashier or to an attendant at the end of the tunnel. Or, if that information is missing, the computer system can direct the customer to your web page or to your mobile app.

Some full-service operators offer a kiosk in their lobby for customers to enter the information themselves.

Customers can scan their receipt’s barcode or enter their plate number, and then type the information into the kiosk for later importation into your computer system.

If you provide a website or mobile app for your customers, that is a perfect way to have the customer enter the information themselves and to keep that data updated. Because data ages, you could keep the data fresh by verifying their information once a year when they connect. It’s a quick and easy way for the data to be updated, without you having to do anything other than to provide the method.

Many car wash operators will offer an incentive for customers to give their information. For example, you may offer a free wash after they have given their information. Or, if they are a monthly unlimited pass customer, you could offer them a free wash that they could give to a friend, which, in turn, may also bring in a new customer who could become an unlimited member.


Collecting and using customer information can provide a personalized experience for your customers and a profitable and loyal customer base for your business. It takes up-front planning on your part and on-going effort on the part of your staff. The rewards for everyone involved are worth the effort.


Harold Guthrie is the sales operations manager for DRB Systems. He has been in the industry for 24 years and is also known as the DRB Systems Numbers Guy. He can be reached at HWGuthrie@DRBsystems.com.