When I greet an operator for the first time, I always ask two introductory questions:

• “What do you know now about the car wash industry that you wished you had known before?” Their answers tell me what challenges they faced to get to where they are now.

• “Not counting yourself, who specifically takes complete ownership for your car wash revenues now?” Responses to this revealing question frequently provide a quick insight into how successful each operator will be in the future.

In fact, very often their initial remarks to the second question speak volumes about the financial performance of their washes. Also, it is here, if only momentarily, that many operators will break eye contact.

Most have been extremely diligent, you see, in selecting a premier car wash site, and in negotiating a proven equipment package from a reliable supplier. Yet their efforts to market their washes effectively have been inconsistent and, most would agree, their success in building a durable customer base has been less than stellar.


Curiously, many know this costly shortcoming is a chronic and potentially fatal weakness in their business. Yet they seem strangely unaware, unable, or even unwilling to take corrective action.

Do not fall into this dubious category of “gloom and doomed” operators. Instead, begin today to market your wash smartly and relentlessly. Make it a daily priority to build a stronger relationship with your customers.

A very easy, first step to initiate this necessary task is to study the two dozen or so reasons why your customers may visit your wash. (To facilitate the learning process, see the sidebar: “Are These

Your Customers?” on page 70) Be smart, creative, relentless, and complete. With a better-defined and more precise target, you will discover that right now is a perfect time to increase your wash counts and revenues.

Rarely will a well-informed operator, once he better understands the specific buying habits and patterns of his best customers, suffer a dramatic erosion in his customer base.


I recently paid $14 for an $8 hair cut. Truth be told, it was an easy and painless decision for me to make. A skilled stylist/cashier greeted me with a smile, and stated confidently, “Our special promotion in July is a half-priced hot towel facial for all our customers.”

“Sounds refreshing,” I said, “Count me in.”

“For our best customers, Mr. Perry, we also include a shampoo for only $2.”

“Great, that works,” I answered.

“This month, our store is sponsoring a charity with this group.

Did you want to make a small contribution to this worthy cause?” she asked.

Who could say no?

In a short span of less than 20 seconds, a motivated and extremely well trained attendant easily and seamlessly added $6 to an $8 ticket. Yet I can count on one hand the number of times in the 20 years I have been in the car wash business, when I have been asked in a c-store to buy an $8 wash.

Does that depressing statement strike a nerve?

Experienced operators all know how devastating fickle weather conditions can be to weekly and monthly sales. What we don’t know, however, is how much precious revenue is lost each day due to poorly prepared and coached employees. We can do nothing to change the uncooperative weather patterns. But operators who aspire to be “best in class” can surely earn higher revenues (and gain better customer satisfaction) by consistently obtaining greater engagement and “buy in” at the point of sale by a superbly trained team.


To maximize your revenues, make this game-changing task a priority:

1. Complete the Marketing Report Card (see sidebar on page 72). You may want to ask your best employees and your most trusted supplier to complete this report card on your marketing prowess as well.

2. Determine who on your staff has the ability and maturity to be assigned the complete responsibility of increasing your wash counts.

3. Pick one upgrade from your current menu, and practice or role-play with your cashiers and attendants to create a comfortable and easy-to-use script that will prompt your customers to select an upgraded wash.


First, determine what your average monthly wash count has been for the past 90 days, and then calculate, during that same period, what your exact revenue per car is.

Then imagine what would it mean to you and your business, if you could increase your wash counts by 20 percent over the next four months, and simultaneously increase your revenue per car by 10 percent?

You might be pleasantly surprised. Starting a spirited “20 and 10” campaign in 2015 could easily rocket your wash to the next level.

Are These Your Customers?

When and why do your customers want to get their cars washed?
How many of your regular customers might say something like this?

1. I wash my car because it is really dirty.

2. I wash my car infrequently, and it is always an impulse purchase.

3. I wash my car because I have a pre-paid car wash package.

4. I wash my car because I am going out of town, or going on vacation.

5. I wash my car because the weekend is coming up.

6. I wash my car because I have never used this wash before.

7. I wash my car because today is my payday.

8. I wash my car to celebrate my birthday.

9. I wash my car because I am picking up my in-laws at the airport.

10. I wash my car because I have an important meeting in the morning.

11. I wash my car because I received a text or e-mail announcement earlier today.

12. I wash my car because a clean and shiny car always makes me feel good.

13. I wash my car because today is a special day (e.g., Mother’s Day).

14. I wash my car because we are going to a wedding tomorrow.

15. I wash my car because I have a date with my significant other.

16. I wash my car because I could see they weren’t very busy.

17. I wash my car because I want to get this nasty-looking pollen off of it.

18. I wash my car because my car maintains its value better when it is clean.

19. I wash my car because I am working with my boss tomorrow.

20. I wash my car because I saw an attractive promotion on the reader board.

21. I wash my car because I like taking a break in the middle of a busy day.

22. I wash my car because the trained cashier prompted me to wash it.

23. I wash my car because I enjoy the superior customer service I always receive.

24. I wash my car because I received a promotional offer in the mail.

25. I wash my car because of an attractive, eye-catching on-site promotion.

26. I wash my car to celebrate a recent promotion, sale, or successful meeting.

Knowing the many specific, daily events, which would prompt your clients to wash their cars, will allow you to better plan, create, and implement a more effective marketing plan.
Anticipate your customer needs. Develop closer relationships with your regular clients.
These two marketing activities, more than anything else you can do, will help you build a larger customer base

Marketing Report Card

With 2015 rapidly approaching, it is both timely and relevant for operators to review their progress in planning and implementing new and innovative ways to bring more customers into their car washes.


1. I have one person who completely
“takes ownership” for my car wash revenues. …….. ……..

2. I have a detailed, written,
180-day marketing plan. …….. ……..

3. Every motorist in my market will receive
a complimentary car wash on his/her birthday. …….. ……..


4. I have a specific program to bring
“new movers” into my car wash each month. …….. ……..

5. I cross-market my wash with other
successful local businesses in my area. …….. ……..

6. I regularly communicate (via text or e-mail)
with the top 20 percent of my customer base. …….. ……..


7. I have programs designed to increase
the frequency of the hundreds of occasional
users of my car wash. …….. ……..

8. I have developed an active community
outreach to deepen my roots in the
local market. …….. ……..

9. I have a compelling vision of servicing
thousands of sparkling clean, dry, and shiny
cars within a 3-mile radius of my store, and I
take positive action each week to bring that
powerful vision into reality. …….. ……..

A failing grade on three or more statements indicates that your marketing program is in need of serious attention and repair before you will maximize your car wash revenues.

A noted industry consultant, Mike Perry has more than 30 years of retail marketing experience. He can be reached at mpccws5@aol.com.