Sometimes I learn a lot about car washing by talking with people not in the industry. For example, one of my friends has a condo in South Dakota they visit in the summer. I asked how he cleans his car and motorcycle there because he is not allowed to wash in the driveway.

He said he uses the coin-operated wash up the street. He likes it because if you follow the order of selections on the coin-box, the car comes out pretty nice, and there is also an in-bay automatic.

I asked if he or his wife ever used the IBA. He said yes a couple of times, but it really didn’t do a very good job, not mentioning anything about the price.

Being a good friend, I then asked how they washed their cars back home in Florida. He uses the driveway and his wife visits a commercial wash, part of a large chain.

I asked why he didn’t use the commercial wash. One of the reasons he gave was that the place was usually busy when he went, so it takes long and it’s not simple like self serve. By “not simple” he was referring to the menu. It starts out okay with the basic wash, he said, but then more and more products are added to each subsequent choice, the final choice having a laundry list of everything.

She is a solid DIFM, while he is mostly DIY.He had a vague idea that foam conditioner has some useful purpose but no idea how wheels can be “polished” in the tunnel with soap and water. This is a guy that used to make a living grinding and polishing cylinder heads and valves for performance engines.

He was clear on tire shine and rain repellent but questioned why he would want to put both wax and paint sealant on top of repellent. In other words, he wasn’t clear about the value for the price.

He was also underwhelmed with the commercial wash’s four-day guarantee after I explained that repellent and hot wax are supposed to protect for up to 30 days. On the other hand, his wife, a registered nurse, likes the wash because they clean the inside of the car for her and she can buy hot wax because he won’t wax her car.

At this point, I stopped the 20 questions because it’s difficult to explain how a car wash works to someone who knows you need abrasives to condition or “polish” something. Besides, explaining the nature and difference between repellent, sealant, and wax gets people’s eyes rolling to the back of their heads.

So, his wife is a solid DIFM that buys up, while he is mostly DIY and skeptical, getting a basic wash if and when. One thing shared in common is an understanding they need to clean, shine, and protect their vehicles.

So, why doesn’t the solution resonate with certain consumers? For example, the common denominator for any commercial car wash is that cleaning exterior surfaces — usually referred to as the basic or good wash — includes rinse and dry. Say, $5. Whereas the “kitchen sink” wash, as my friend refers to it, includes bug remover, rust inhibitor, wheel polish, lava bath, triple foam, rain repellent, paint sealant, and hot wax. Price: $18.

My friend questions whether all this stuff (eight items) is really worth $13 extra dollars. After all, you can almost buy three basic washes for this amount. I also didn’t have a good answer when he asked why anyone would buy an unlimited number of top package washes. However, his wife had an answer — it’s because the stuff is only guaranteed for four days.

She buys the unlimited top package for a monthly $49.99 and goes once a week. So, the price is really $12.50 per wash instead of $18 or a 31 percent savings. Then he asks: How much can those products really be worth if you can cut the price so much? Maybe it’s magic, she says. Then he says maybe it was the blue fairy.

That pretty much ended the car wash discussion.

However, that was a good question. Are eight car-care items for $13 or $1.63 each and unlimited a good deal? For example, she buys the top unlimited package for 12 months. That’s $600, or more than the price car dealers charge for a paint- and interior-protection program with a lifetime warranty. Whereas my skeptical friend scoffs at the notion you can get high-quality wax or paint sealant for only a couple of bucks while the car is being washed. After all, like she said, the guarantee is only four days. How good can it be?

One of my clients says the top package and unlimited is good to the tune of over $20,000 per month. This wash has a turnover ratio of 3.14 (throughput/inventory) where throughput is the selling price minus cost of materials. So, a decision that results in increasing throughput or decreasing inventory should be a good decision.

For example, Rain-X®, total body, and similar repellents are 30-day products; they repel rain on paint and glass. Hot wax is also 30-day product and repels rain better on paint and glass. Combining them in the same package is redundant because there is no cumulative effect. It’s just pouring more stuff on the car.

So, removing repellent products from the package and marketing them otherwise increases throughput and decreases inventory. It might be a good decision.

Bob Roman is president of RJR Enterprises – Consulting Services ( You can reach Bob via e-mail at