COVID has kicked off a massive shift in consumer preference for contactless services. I’m sure you’ve read about the nationwide plunge in cash transactions and the 25 percent decline in cash withdrawals from ATMs. The rising fear of handling paper money, the encouragement of social distancing, and the CDC’s official guidance promoting “reduce the spread” behaviors has businesses of all sizes making operational changes.

No one knows when this will stop or where we are headed. One thing I do know: I count my blessings as an express-exterior car wash operator.

Sure, we have concerns, like every business does these days. But in general, the worry is limited. The express wash is inherently socially distanced. Our employees rarely interact with customers. We have recurring revenue from monthly plans. Pay stations provide cash-less payments. We don’t have product inventory like most retail businesses, and Amazon can’t wash cars virtually.

Convert Now or Later

Convert now, convert later. Invest now, invest later. The tug-of-war of now or later continues, and uncertainty in the year 2020 remains constant. As I continue my series on full-serve to express conversions and how to quickly drive profits, sooner is better than later. Those that have converted are already reaping the rewards.

Make It a Zero Man Show

Disclaimer time. I, Anthony Analetto, in no way recommend the operation of a conveyorized car wash with fewer than two attendants to always ensure the safety of staff and customers.

When I say “Zero Man Show,” I’m referring to operational mindset and operational efficiency. The greater the operational efficiency, the more profitable a business.

Basically, I do what I can to implement solutions that improve the productivity of my attendants to a degree that the wash “could” in theory run without them.

Automate Transactions

Automation, in general, should do more than reduce costs. Automation must improve customer experiences; must help your business be more responsive to changes in promotions and offerings; and must support communication and connection with your customers.

It’s not enough to have a pay station, menu board, and a gate.

Customize modern pay stations with animations, graphics, and guided selling to help you increase your average ticket. And always make sure your e-commerce and website experience reflects your car wash in-person experience.

Having a fast, smooth, and user-friendly sign-up process, supporting different payment methods and offering features that allow customers to update their wash subscription, will help you convert more customers. We live in a digital era of user experience or “UX” and it matters. Don’t believe me, ask someone if they prefer Lyft or Uber and why. Chances are it’s the online experience that drives their preference.

Finally, a strong consumer engagement strategy that welcomes, reminds, and thanks your visitors is the best way to tackle customer churn. All of this can be done automatically.

Automate the Queue

Most systems today offer some form of license plate reader (LPR). LPR is a must-have in my mind. Members find it convenient because they breeze right through the VIP lane. I find it convenient because the pay station automation registers unlimited plan members, sets automatic payments, and signs contracts — taking me one step closer to making my wash a zero man show. Plus, there is no labor needed to manage RFID stickers.

From a queue perspective, I have automatic retracts for nearly everything. I also have systems in place that will read the license plate, reorder the queue, and basically think faster than a human. There are a lot of options. Take the time to meet with your controls supplier to automate as much of the queue experience as possible.

Automate Reporting

Measuring the right key performance indicators, KPIs, of your business is vital to your success. Most systems out there deliver plenty of real-time data and metrics to manage your business. Often, the generic reports are enough to fill your daily or monthly needs but there are times you may need to meet with your controls provider to setup customized reporting.

There are times that you may require configuring alerts on customer acquisition or specific campaigns.

Or you may want to have an equipment sensor in place to automatically alert you of abnormal equipment functions. The reports or alerts implemented by your controls provider alleviates your reliance on staff and improves insight into your business. The goal is to have the ability to react quickly when something demands your attention.

Automate all Cleaning

It’s relatively straightforward to deliver a clean and shiny car without labor. Advanced chemistry, equipment, and applicators are readily available. Drying, on the other hand, is the hardest thing to do and it is the primary complaint from customers. Balancing pH of applications and calibrating blowers and rotational buffing machines requires careful planning and testing. Speak to your service provider, line up your partners, and get it done.

What’s Next? The Grand Re-Opening

Converting from a full-serve to express is exciting! You want your business to re-emerge as an efficient, professional, and fully automated express-exterior car wash. Next month, I’ll cover a grand re-opening strategy that sells so you can attract as much attention as possible to draw in customers.

Until then, 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