Digital menus look cool. But more than anything, the benefits far outweigh the aesthetics.

What prompted me to write about digital signage and digital menus is a recent conversation I had with a new operator — and a mistaken assumption I made. To set up the situation: this operator knew that clean tires and rims were a priority in their market. When designing their tunnel, they invested in the equipment and chemistry necessary to deliver a service superior to local competition. Multiple applications, friction, high-pressure.
I have to say they put out an incredible wheel.
The operator asked me, “How can I make sure every customer knows what a great wheel we put out?”
I began listing best practices for their menu and communicating a “wheel deal” wash package. I started to talk about video footage of a shiny wheel rolling off the conveyor with motion graphics declaring something along the lines of “The best wheel in town!” And if you know me, when I get on a roll with ideas, it’s hard to slow me down. I then quickly went into other ideas like 10-second promo spots, Super Tuesdays where wheels get the extra attention, Wheel Deal Wash Clubs … and then suddenly, the owner abruptly interrupted me.
With a confused look, he asked, “But how am I supposed to test different ideas?”
Huh? It’s then that I realized this operator didn’t have digital signage.

Digital Signage Mulligan

I’ve discovered two critical moments to take a mulligan. First, I’ll admit to taking an occasional do-over while playing golf. Second, and way more important, is when I — or operators we work with — could be (and should be) utilizing car wash equipment that makes it easier to bank on opportunity.

When it comes to signage and menus, I remember the days of manually adjusting pricing and offerings on static menu boards. It was costly having to print new signs and manually remove the old ones. And it was frustrating trying to implement ideas quickly to increase my average ticket, to promote on holidays, and to test new ideas. Then came the age of digital signage.

Improve the Way You Advertise

Over 70 percent of purchase decisions are made when a customer is at the register — or as we now call it, the pay station. This creates a huge opportunity for you to communicate to customers waiting in line to process payment. I have operators put offers in front of people as they wait and update with daily or weekly specials, happy hours, wheel deals, and any other notifications that customers should know about.

Modern Entertainment

With static signage, customers have to focus and read. With digital signage, customers get entertained! Digital signage brings excitement to your products. Have fun with it and showcase content that interests your customers. I always find it best if a wash creates and stores a bunch of ideas. This way it’s faster to change content and to entertain customers based on holidays, rainy days, game days, or if you want to push memberships or communicate about fundraising opportunities.

Easy to Read, Easy to Buy

The way your wash and products are described, matters. This influences how people perceive the service.

Digital menus make every aspect of the decision to purchase as simple as possible. Use easy-to-read fonts. Use graphics that are fun and engaging. Have screens change out to keep people entertained and interested in seeing more. But don’t flip through screens too fast! If it’s fast for you, it’s fast for them. Make sure you and your family, friends, or employees view the screens before pushing live.

Always Be Closing

Digital signage is one of the best virtual salespeople you’ll have. We all know that one of the most challenging ways to increase revenue is upselling — it’s also one of the easiest. Before, you had to rely on staff to upsell and not all staff has the ability to do this. Now, you can take advantage of digital signage to upsell. You can suggest products and services, you can group them together to meet your revenue targets, you can use the signage to lead and attract your customers to higher priced items. And the best thing: if what you are doing is or isn’t converting to sales, you can change it quickly!

Customers Engage with What They Like

Remember, visual communication is the most natural and effective way to engage with your customers. This is why we always want our employees smiling as they guide a customer onto the conveyor. People connect more to your business culture than to your products, so use digital signage to communicate the human side of your business and get personal in your approach. Greet your customers with a welcome message. Thank your customers. Be genuine in your creative copy and graphics. Use the signage to keep your relationship with your customers and in turn, boost your business sales.

Complements Static Signage

I look at traditional signage and digital signage like I do snail mail and e-mail. There’s a time and a place for both. Static signage may be slow and expensive to change but it also creates consistency. Use it in areas where the message doesn’t change often so you won’t have to constantly reinvest in producing new signs. And use digital signage in areas where you want to display multiple messages at once. Although there may be a larger upfront cost with digital signage, the long-term costs are minimal, and the payoff is far greater.

Bottom Line

Once you decide to make the investment you have some work to do. Hardware costs have come down tremendously and there are many suppliers. Not all are created equal.

Make sure you select an enclosure up to the rigors of the car wash environment. Review warranties and onsite service options. Consumer-grade displays are not meant to be used outdoors. Ruggedized signage does cost more but it is manufactured to operate in extreme environments where dust, wind, and rain would render a consumer-grade display useless.

Next is installation. Make sure your displays are installed at the right height and angle so that customers can easily read content. If you fail to pay attention to proper placement, you’ll soon have a very expensive piece of outdoor furniture.

Finally, measure what works. Using a combination of reports from your digital media content provider and POS system, you can measure the effectiveness of new promotional slides and menu updates. Simply compare your average ticket with the timing of changes in your signage.

This can be huge. I know one location that added a ceramic application in their top package and saw a modest increase in their average ticket. They then added a motion graphic video promo slide to their digital menu explaining all the benefits of ceramic. The graphics included a live action in-car experience and contributed more than a dollar per car to their average in just one day.

As with anything, time is money. Don’t spend months waiting for word-of-mouth to take course, leaving thousands of potential revenue dollars on the table. Think about the offset of the initial investment in digital signage to get your message out quickly, to try new tactics, and to close more customers and generate more revenue — now.

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