Every operator wants to increase revenues to enhance profitability. There are several avenues an operator can take to increase revenues. Some feel that saving as much as possible on operating costs is a good way. One very successful businessman I worked for had a favorite saying: “You can’t save your way into profitability.” While operating as efficiently as possible without compromising wash performance is an important element, it is only one piece of the puzzle. Some feel increasing volume is the answer. Most marketing experts would say this is probably the most difficult and expensive way to go. Upselling involves using your existing customer base to increase revenue by improving sales efforts. While this involves a conscious effort, it also maximizes revenue with something the wash already has — existing customers.


Upselling really begins with maintaining a customer-friendly wash and good onsite marketing. Generally the overall appearance and operation can go a long way to help increase or maintain high revenues. When people go into an attractive retail setting they anticipate spending more than when they are in a discount merchandiser or volume outlet. They also expect a higher level of performance and quality.

The entire operation must reflect quality and have the look of success. The physical appearance of the wash and equipment should enhance the wash experience. For washes expecting high revenues, this means that the site must be as attractive and well maintained as possible. The exterior and grounds of the wash should present a well-groomed appearance. Customers should see the look of quality in every area of the wash.


Creating awareness and understanding of the products and services offered at the wash are essential to the success of upselling. Caution must be taken here not to overload the customer with too much information in one area, creating physical clutter and mental confusion. The overall site goal should be to simplify the customer experience and create a cohesive presentation of services. Judicious use of signage, banners, and other marketing tools goes a long way in the education of the customer. Check with local regulations before investing in any exterior signage. The goal is to educate using as many customer-friendly techniques as possible to inform customers of the type and value the services your wash provides.

Obviously, with any of the various types of washes, producing the best wash performance is the key to successful upselling, repeat sales, and satisfied customers. Educating your customers and promoting your wash offerings is essential to make your wash “user friendly.” Designing an onsite sales/market

ing program is not an easy task. It requires thoughtful planning and execution. Take a good look at your current onsite marketing efforts and ask yourself these questions:
• Is my wash itself an asset to my overall marketing strategy?
• Does it present the image that I want?
• Does it encourage my customers to use all my services and to return on a frequent basis?

Answering those questions will put you well on your way to a successful upselling program.

Employees must be well trained and knowledgeable about all the services your wash offers. This includes any full- or part-time employee who might have contact with the customer. In the case of self serves and in-bay automatics that mainly employ part-time employees, it is especially important that they are able to assist customers with choices they make in the wash or are able to demonstrate how to use the wash properly to get the most from their wash experience.

For self-service operators whose contact with their customers is somewhat limited, upselling can be a real challenge. In addition to an attractive, well-maintained site and equipment in good working condition, it requires offering the services your customer desires. In the early days of self service, all that was required was good cleaning chemicals and excellent high pressure. That evolved into the foam brush and tricolor polishes. Today, there is a variety of other options like hand-held dryers, tire-dressing applicators, and multi-function vacuums. The key to upselling these options is to make sure signage educates and encourages usage and ease of selection while making them easy to use properly. Offering credit card usage is a must in our society, which is becoming more and more cashless. Onsite promotions offer further opportunities for upselling. Offering bonus time can encourage sampling of extra services and create additional value for customers. Don’t forget that offering useful, popular products in your vending machines can also be an asset in upselling the self-service customer.

In-bay automatic operators may use methods from both self serves and tunnel washes. While there is usually more contact with the customers, educating customers and upselling opportunities are much greater due to the variety of pay station options available on themarket today. Newer models often allow an operator to use a short, canned video or allow you to create you own. This can be invaluable to upselling by educating the customer to the value of any extra services your wash may offer or wash specials.


With limited customer contact, packaging services is also key to upselling automatic customers. It is important, in either an automatic or tunnel, to sell to the needs of your customers. How your packages are presented and listed is critical. Like their tunnel counterparts, not much time or space should be devoted to the basic package. People entering the wash have already decided to buy a wash. The challenge is to encourage them to purchase the wash that best meets their needs at a cost that is reasonable to them.

Bundling the most desirable services in easily understood terms can aid them in their decision. Some may disagree with me, but most experts would say the majority of customers are there for the value of the wash they chose, not cost savings. For that reason I favor using terms that make the customer want to choose a package that meets their needs, not one that saves them money. Keeping this in mind, a term like “best value” would be more desirable than “you save” to encourage customers to try a package.

Bundling services in a package requires a good working knowledge of your customer base. All too often operators are tempted to offer their most profitable services rather than those that customers prefer. Successful packaging of services offered involves designing the packages around those services your customer base requests the most, not the most profitable for the operator. Although the number of services in each package is important, the services offered will usually be the determining factor on how well the package is received by your customers. It is important that the names of the packages reflect their value and that those names clearly define which package is better or best. Simple terms such as “good, better, or best” or “silver, gold, or platinum” do the best job of educating customers. Also using words like clean, shine, and protect in service descriptions educates customers in a clear, simple, and easy-to-understand manner.


Another key to upselling in an automatic or express-exterior wash is facilitating smooth processing through pay stations. If possible, at busy times, it is highly desirable to have an employee assist customers at the pay stations. This may not only assist upselling but also lead to smoother throughput. Customers tend to become impatient if they have to wait in a long line for a wash, which encourages them to select one of the cheaper options to make their visit as short as possible. Some may even think the larger the package the slower the service. Any time you can have an employee at the pay stations, it can be very helpful to upsell your customers. It is essential that these employees present themselves well in terms of appearance and manner, in addition to being knowledgeable about all the services and contents of the packages to assist those customers who may have questions or need help using the pay station.


The key to any successful upselling in a traditional full-service or flex-service wash is to have well-trained, well-mannered, and well-groomed service advisors. Having each one of them attend a formal training session followed by observation of their work is essential. They must have a thorough knowledge of what each service does and how it is performed as well as how to use a menu and the features and benefits of each package offered. The temptation here is to hire a “good talker” rather than a good communicator who observes the vehicle for possible needs and listens to what the customer tells them.

Any good service advisor should be highly motivated by a good incentive program. The program must be well defined and based on goals that are realistic and achievable. Most well-conceived plans involve incentives based on increased rather than maintained sales levels. When trying to upsell, don’t forget the value of a la carte sales. While usually only a small part of overall sales revenue, adding an extra service to a sale helps maintain a good sales average. To accomplish this, it is important that a la carte items be realistically priced and clearly defined. They can be effective upselling tools for a service writer to encourage a customer not willing to purchase a package who may want an individual service instead of a package. Adding a clear-coat protectant or tire dressing to a basic wash helps maintain the sales average while still meeting the individual customer’s needs.

Regardless of your wash format, upselling is an effective way to increase revenues by getting the most from your customer base. It requires a concentrated effort on your part to create the best atmosphere to encourage customers to use all the services your wash has to offer. Make sure that sales and marketing efforts are coordinated to optimize your sales efforts by sending a consistent message to your customers. While it may be tempting to focus on selling the most profitable extra services, basing your upselling efforts on meeting customer needs will produce the best results. When customers value their wash experience your upselling efforts will be rewarded every time they use your wash.

Ron Holub has been involved in the car wash industry for 35 years working for several national car wash chemical companies, owning a car wash and detail supply company, and serving as a general manager for a national car wash chain. He currently does consulting and training and can be reached at rph9168@comcast.net.