Now more than ever, in-bay automatics (IBAs) need to step up their marketing and loyalty programs in order to improve customer experience and drive repeat business. The technology has become more affordable, making these solutions widely available to any operator that’s looking to make the switch. While the tunnel car wash market has grown significantly over the last several years for various reasons, the IBA market has not been so fortunate.

With urban markets becoming more saturated with tunnels, tunnel operators and professional investors have been moving into less populated areas, which have typically been the domain of IBAs. For volume/economic reasons, this has put significant pressure on IBA owners to compete or successfully coexist with tunnels, or else risk getting pushed out of the market. IBA operators can take lessons and tools from urban tunnels and apply them to their more rural operations.

Even though tunnel sites offer faster washes, attendants for customer service, and often additional services such as full serve, flex serve, towel drying, and detailing, among others, the IBA market certainly has differentiators that owners can compete on such as:
• 24/7 availability (96 percent of IBAs)
• Touchfree washes (78 percent of IBAs offer this)
• Quality wash potential given the longer dwell time for chemicals


While these differentiators were sufficient in the past, they are no longer sufficient due to increased competition and changing consumer preferences. Given the advances in technology coupled with dropping technology costs, IBAs are now able to make improvements that were previously only affordable for higher-volume tunnel washes. This includes:
• Point-of-sale (POS) systems that offer much more than simple legacy payment terminals.
• Converting their IBAs into mini tunnels.

Yes, converting to a mini tunnel is still a significant investment with its own ROI considerations — somewhere between the cost of an IBA and the cost of a tunnel.

However, modern POS systems with sophisticated technology and customer marketing/loyalty programs have more recently become surprisingly affordable for IBAs. Modern POS systems diverge from the legacy POS systems (also known as entry stations) with functionality that includes:
• Unlimited-Wash Management Programs – which are totally automated to administer and can be priced to ensure you don’t overwhelm your capacity to serve, while annually adding $100k to $200k or more in recurring revenue to existing IBA washes.
• License Plate Recognition – to not only avoid the labor-requiring RFID tags, but also to be used to recognize repeat customers to encourage loyalty program enrollment.
• Loyalty Programs – fully automated to track and reward frequent customers.
• Marketing Programs – fully automated to e-mail or text-message customers with offers based on their usage (or lack of), events, holidays, specials, happy hours, time of day, etc.
• Mobile Apps – to update payment information, manage/redeem loyalty points, purchase washes in advance, or for gifts for others, etc.
• COVID-19 Free – using the LPR or mobile app enables touch-free and even windows-up payment processing at the wash.

With the inherent differentiating benefits of an IBA vs. a tunnel or vs. an IBA with just a legacy entry pay station, coupled with the ongoing customer touching technology mentioned above, owners now have the wherewithal to give customers reasons to continually patronize their IBA.

Think about it:
• When a customer enrolls in the IBA’s unlimited program, they have little reason to go to another wash since they get unlimited washes from you.
• When they have accumulated points towards a free wash, they have less reason to go to another wash.
• When they hear from you periodically with promotions or specials if they haven’t been to the wash in a while or if a holiday is coming up, your wash is top of mind for them.
• When they can manage their account and purchase wash services right from your mobile app (which they got because you gave them a free or discounted wash to download it) or website, they are more likely to use your wash, and you don’t have the administrative burden of managing their account.


In today’s COVID-19 environment the sense of staying safe and avoiding touching public surfaces and areas makes “touchless” “contactless” and “touch-free” transactions more popular than ever and even required in most businesses — and the car wash industry is not falling behind. Manufacturers, hardware/software retailers, and POS and payment-equipment developers have reinvented the way they offer these features to car wash owners, through license plate recognition and RFID tags, facial recognition, purchase through mobile apps or e-commerce websites, and barcode or coupon redemption. COVID-19, unfortunately, is here to stay, which is changing public health practices for the long term, being able to interact with your wash without rolling down their window, will make your IBA the “safe” wash to use.

There have always been POS systems tailored to the IBA market and priced at a fraction of the cost of tunnel POS systems. But they typically have very limited loyalty and revenue management features and are industrial-looking rather than consumer-friendly looking. Technology and competition today have resulted in select POS vendors harnessing this new technology and designs in order to bring tunnel-like car wash payment and loyalty management programs to IBAs at price points similar to or less than the legacy IBA POS systems consumers are most familiar with.

IBAs, of which there are two to three times more than tunnels, have the potential to become a force to reckon with in the industry and create significantly more value to the owner/investor of the IBA than exists today. With the appropriate equipment, setup, marketing, and loyalty programs and tools, today’s IBAs using modern POS solutions are setting themselves up for success. IBA car wash owners need to set the correct configuration and establish a reliable service. Aligning with the right vendor makes all the difference, not only in building a long-term alliance but also to ensure you will offer the best services to your end customers, services that will make them come back and build a sense of loyalty to your wash.

Mark Brandstein is the vice president, business development at Washify Services LLC. His background includes years in the car wash industry at Washify in senior operating and business development roles. He has a BS in electrical engineering from the University of Massachusetts and an MBA from the University of Southern California.

Rina Mandujano is the product marketing manager at Washify Services LLC. She has eight years of experience in marketing and sales in different industries, including retail and technology and most recently in the car wash industry. She has a bachelor’s degree in marketing and a master in business management with marketing orientation.