More than just a form of currency, tokens can have a significant impact on your car wash. From promotional use to increased profits, there are many benefits to tokens that range beyond their ease of use. Across the country, many businesses have begun the shift from coin-operation to tokens, and it is clear that custom tokens are an innovative change for the better.


One of the greatest benefits to tokens, and one that many people overlook, is their use as promotional materials. Tokens function as “mini billboards” that, with the right design, will stick in customers’ minds. Susan Anthony of Squeaky Clean Car Wash in Vallejo, CA has seen this benefit firsthand. Vallejo is located in the Bay Area, and Sue wanted a way to help her tokens stick out from competitors — while also reflecting her business’s local and personal identity.

An award-winning dog and an iconic landmark
combine to create a unique image.

Not far from Squeaky Clean is a site where tourists and locals alike take pictures with the iconic San Francisco Bridge as a backdrop. Anthony overlaid this image with another popular business in Vallejo — California-Carolina Dogs, a breeder of Carolina Dogs, commonly referred to as the “American Dingo.” Squeaky Clean’s token features Bear, an award winning Carolina Dog that Anthony frequently brings to the car wash, and is familiar to customers. On Anthony’s coin, Bear appears as a tourist posing with the San Francisco Bridge in the background. Customers not only recognize Bear, but also the fact that the car wash is very dog friendly. Another unique feature that sets Squeaky Clean apart is a full-length dog run at the rear of the car wash where the dogs watch the customers as the customers wash their cars.

When Susan combined artwork of the bridge with the dog portrait overlay from, the image was crowded when reduced to token-size. The team at her token supplier was able to crop and clean up the design so that it would reproduce well at the desired size. According to Anthony, the extra effort that went into editing the image paid off in a finely detailed and easily recognizable image.

“Customers love it,” she says of the personal touch. One individual even commented that the token was “the nicest looking business card I’ve ever seen.”

The final detail Anthony added to her coin design was the address of Squeaky Clean. With so many potential customers — visitors and locals alike — using GPS either on their phone or an individual device, the address is all they need for directions straight into Anthony’s car wash. Having the address right on the coin brings customers one step closer to Squeaky Clean; they know right where to go.

Anthony’s clear design choices reflect the individuality of her business. Specific details, such as the name and address of the car wash, lead customers right to her driveway. Her tokens establish her brand with a personal touch that reflects her business, which goes a long way in potential customers’ minds.


Along with creating a positive association with customers, customized tokens can take on a life outside their everyday use. Steve Bartlett owns a car wash in Nacogdoches, TX, and decided to focus less on personal branding and more on incorporating local flavor. His tokens feature the state of Texas on one side, with a star marking Nacogdoches’ locations as well as the town’s slogan “Oldest Town in Texas.”

Token as tourist (and collector) attraction.

Rather than personal branding, Bartlett says he focused on a local historical flavor. The tokens have sold not only to car wash customers, but also to collectors and tourists alike. Recently, a pair of coin collectors stopped by on their way to a coin show, and purchased tokens to show off. “It has been a true success story for us,” Bartlett said.

Customization options are numerous and, with the right design, can attract customers that may have never needed to buy the tokens for a car wash. Custom designs give the coins a value beyond their worth in car washes.

With customized branding, tokens can easily go from simply being an exchange method to a nice memento, reminding customers of the personality of a business.


Tokens do not only provide extra revenue when sold as mementos. A phenomenon known as “walkaways” also can add up to a nice chunk of extra change for a business. Tokens are often sold in bulk (i.e., 11 for $10 on dollar-value tokens) and the extra, unused tokens tend to end up in cup holders, desk drawers, and other out-of-the-way places, mixed in with loose change. These unused tokens are pure profit.

“We placed an order of 10,000 tokens to start with for both locations,” Bartlett said, “Within four months we ordered another 5,000; the tokens are walking out, and we’re buying them for 15 cents and selling them for a dollar.”

Not only are the tokens sold at a profit, but the extra revenue generated from the tokens that remain unused by customers is a unique phenomenon that cannot occur with quarter-operated washes. In a sense, simply switching from quarters to tokens allows for a unique source of extra income for the business. It may seem like small change, but over time the numbers add up to a significant boost in profits.

Bartlett is grateful for the boost tokens have given his business. After the oil and gas industry left his area of Texas, he was worried his profits would dry up — and then he made the switch to tokens.

“I suspect we’d have been 15 percent lower [in terms of revenue] had it not been for tokens,” Bartlett said.


Tokens not only provide extra profit and advertising opportunities; they also are easier to handle than cash. Moo-Moo Wash, with several locations around Columbus, OH, at one time accepted five different payment methods. Now, they have begun to reduce the clutter by implementing tokens.

A website referral right on the token.

The car wash had its own token-like method, “Moo-La,” a paper token that over time became more of a burden than a benefit. Customers didn’t use them all the time; the car wash couldn’t recycle them quickly enough; the paper would get folded and break the magnetic strip thus damaging the machines — too many things were going wrong with Moo-La.

“Tokens read perfectly every time,” operations manager Michael Kolb says, highlighting their reliable and easy-to-use nature.

Moo-Moo’s custom tokens are redeemable at any of their locations around Columbus, OH and even include the website on the token so customers can find the nearest Moo-Moo wash as they are out and about. Combined with a mobile-phone-friendly website, the tokens act as a physical advertisement that helps show customers where they can spend that token.

The coins are also simply easier to manage than cash. With a single value for every coin, there is no need for sorting the tokens for storage. Moo-Moo sells tokens in increments of one, five, and 10 — each for $1. This means that they have eliminated the need to make change, making the entire handling process much smoother.

This is not an isolated improvement. In Nacogdoches, TX, Steve Bartlett reported that the switch from quarters to tokens has eliminated a large point of stress. With fewer coins to deal with and no need to have change in every machine by selling tokens for whole dollar values, ease of use is yet another advantage to making the switch.

“We’re still sorting quarters from our vaults,” Bartlett says. “It is a lot easier for us to handle the tokens.”

Another headache for many coin-operated businesses is customers who come by simply to make change. Since switching to tokens, George Brown of Wally Wash, located in Oklahoma City, has had to restock his machines far less frequently.

“We literally became a drive-through exchange for quarters,” he says of the time before the switch. “Laundry customers, cab drivers, pizza delivery people — they all came to our establishment to get quarters.”

After a week of this, every machine would need to be restocked with quarters for the week ahead. Since tokens have no inherent value outside of the businesses that use them, this headache disappears completely.


Because they operate by currency, coin-operated car washes are a prime target for thieves out to make a quick buck. For them, burglarizing is as easy as smashing open a machine and making off with the coins inside. Tokens are not only easier to handle for the company, but also deter thieves from making these businesses their next victims.

Since any cash held on premises is no longer in the machines outside but in a more secure location, thieves have a much more difficult time accessing the cash. Likewise, making off with a sack of car wash tokens simply doesn’t have the same allure as a bag full of cash for most thieves.

Security was at the top of Susan Anthony’s mind when she reopened her token-operated car wash in 2006. Squeaky Clean Car Wash is located near several bars, which draw a lot of late night traffic. According to Anthony, “You never know who’s hanging around.” With her car wash running on custom tokens, she’s less concerned about the possibility of theft or property damage to her token dispensers.

In Nacogdoches, thieves had struck Bartlett a number of times. Since making the switch, he hasn’t been struck once.

Another worry is that many tokens can be used at multiple businesses. In fact, not only the design of the tokens can be customized — choosing different metals can also serve as a deterrent. Red Brass, for example, has a different electromagnetic signature than standard brass, so programming coin acceptors to accept red brass means that these same acceptors will reject standard brass used by most arcades. Moo-Moo Wash, like many others, uses bi-metal tokens with a very unique signature, making them even more secure.


Despite all of these benefits, one of the main worries for business owners is the cost of changeover. They don’t know that many machines are already capable of accepting tokens. In Nacogdoches, Bartlett simply had to make some small adjustments to his machines in order to accept tokens.

“As it happened, we just retrofit our existing changers so we take a dollar and dispense a token — it was a very cost-effective change — in fact it was a free changeover,” he says of the process.

When using machines that accept only tokens with a specific metallurgic content or installing credit card acceptors, there may be some extra steps involved, but in general most machines that accept quarters are already capable of accepting tokens. It simply takes a bit of maintenance, and they will be ready to go.

Susan Anthony, in Vallejo, CA, didn’t have to change her equipment at all, as her operation was already token-run. She just made the switch to custom-minted tokens to reinforce Squeaky Clean’s unique location and features — thus solidifying her personal brand in customers’ minds.

There’s no excuse for still using coins at a car wash. They are a pain to handle, they attract thieves, and they don’t lure customers the way custom tokens do. Not only can custom tokens be used as marketing materials that strengthen your business’s identity, but they are safer and easier to handle than hard cash and will, in many cases, increase profits in a way that quarters will never be able to do. The evidence is clear that tokens hold advantages for many businesses. Maybe it’s time to consider making the switch for yours?

Dottie Hopkins is senior sales associate for Van Brook of Lexington, a division of Osborne Coinage Co. You can contact Dottie at (866) 274-0868 or via e-mail at