When is it time to change the services you offer to your customers? What services do you add or do away with? How do your services compare to those of your competitors? Is it time for a change? The car wash business is like any other service business when it comes to evaluating the services you offer. You adjust your services based on a number of market factors such as the economy, customer perception, and competition.


Here are a few steps to help you decide if it is time for a change.

Step One

Analyze your services. Use SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) analysis charts to help define the following:
• Why do customers use your car wash?
• What services do they use the most?
• What services or features do you offer that your competition does not?
• What makes your service offering unique?
• What is the least purchased service that you offer? Why?

Step Two

Analyze your customers and ask the following questions:
• Who are they?
• Why do they choose your car wash over the competition?
• What services do they like or dislike? Why?
• Ask for ideas of services they would purchase if you offered them.

Step Three

Analyze your market:
• How many people live in your trade area?
• How is the local economy?
• What type of vehicles do your customers drive? Old? New? High end?
• Are there any unique vehicles in your market for which you can create a niche service? Example: I recently visited an area where approximately 60 percent of the vehicles on the road were large pick-ups and SUVs with liftkits. The vehicles were too tall to fit in the majority of the automatic car washes in town. This is the perfect self-service car wash customer.

Step Four

Analyze your competition:
• Who are they?
• How many competitors do you have?
• What services do they offer that you do not? Why?
• What does the competition do better than you?
• Are you competitively priced for similar services?

After you have completed the analysis of your services, customers, market, and competition, carefully read the details of each analysis and formulate a plan. When formulating the plan, consider the following:
• What areas stand out in the analysis?
• What changes are necessary to better serve your customers?
• How do you differentiate yourself from the competition?


Using the information from your analysis, establish what basic services you are going to offer. Take into consideration your market conditions and if any seasonal adjustments are necessary. Example: Basic services at my self-service car washes are high-pressure soap, high-pressure rinse, high-pressure wax, and foam brush.

When deciding your basic services, ask yourself the following questions: What basic services are the successful competitors in your market offering? What additional services can you add to your basic services to make you stand out? What has been successful for you in the past? What do your customers say they like the most about what you offer?
Use this information to outline your basic service menu.


Define and add additional menu services. Additional menu services are individual services that a customer can select or add to any basic wash service. A customer can choose, as an option, to select the additional services before, during, or after the wash process. Examples of additional services are bug remover, tire cleaner, foaming presoak, a pressure boost to the high-pressure rinse option, surface sealant, foaming tire brushes, tire gloss, premium wax, spot-free rinse, and handheld dryers. More than 50 percent of customers who have options in addition to the basic wash services select one or more of them. Adding additional options to your self-service wash menu offering will increase the revenue per car.


After analyzing your costs, and analyzing your market conditions, set your start price and your price per minute for wash services. If you are the nicest wash in town, it is okay to price your services higher than the competition. Customers will pay for quality.


Add additional services for different seasons. You can make seasonal adjustments to your wash menu options to help enhance your product offering. These seasonal services can be very profitable and help you stand out from the competition.

Example 1
The Rockies region of the Western United States experiences a “mud” season. The mud coats the vehicles and a standard wash pressure does not remove it all. In addition, you may not want all of that mud in your bays. Many operators offer a mud removal bay that has higher pressure and they charge a premium for the service.

Example 2
Florida experiences a “love bug” season. The front ends of vehicles become coated with the annoying little critters. Many operators offer a “Love Bug Removal” chemical option that proves to be very profitable for them.

Example 3
Self-service operators near large bodies of water can add a seasonal boat-motor flush option to their menu. In addition to flushing their engine, the customers will wash their boat. It takes a lot longer to wash a boat than it does a car!

Your market analysis will help you develop a plan for additional options to offer in the different seasons at your car wash. Each area of the country is unique and has its own set of washing challenges. Find your wash challenges, develop a solution, and profit from it.


A great way to give a facelift to a tired self-service bay is to cover the walls in PVC paneling or paint the walls with a fresh coat of bright epoxy paint. It is amazing how this change will make your bays brighter. In addition, the price of LED lighting has come down significantly. Consider installing new LED light fixtures in your bays. Along with the fresh wall covering, the bright LED lighting will attract new customers.


Once you have developed your plan, you need to execute it. Change your menus, train your staff, and educate your customers on your new enhanced product offerings.
Making changes to your service menu may seem like an overwhelming task. The process is easier if you do your homework, develop a plan, and execute it. I recommend checking your menu offerings at least once a year to see what adjustments are necessary due to cost increases, customer demand, or competitive offerings.

Wash On!

Bobby Willis has been in the car wash business for over 20 years. He owns and operates Cool Wave Car Washes in Virginia. He can be reached at bwillis@coolwavecarwash.com.