A customer arrives onsite at the local car wash and immediately chooses the entry-level wash package. In their mind, the basic wash is likely to provide the solution to their immediate problem — they want the dirt off their car. They scan the wash menu, automatically searching for the lowest price point. They disregard the icons and text on the sign highlighting more expensive wash options offering more features and a perceived greater overall value. An entry level, basic wash is all that’s needed, the customer reaffirms.

            If an onsite team member is near the payment kiosk, do they simply let the customer pass through the gate for this entry-level wash? Or do they take a moment to educate the customer on the benefits of the higher-level wash packages? If not staffed, does the payment kiosk itself give the customer an option to upgrade to the “best” wash, or an Unlimited Wash Club membership?

            The art of upselling — or selling a higher-end product or service of an item the customer is initially interested in, is a great sales strategy and one of the most important revenue driving techniques for car wash operators. Taking the time to review current marketing and sales initiatives to ensure they are properly focused on upselling can propel your business ahead of the competition and increase overall revenue.

            Here are several things to consider when researching and implementing a successful upselling strategy at your wash: 


            The moment a customer enters your wash, upselling should begin. Whether a customer must wait through a stack lane, or immediately reaches a payment kiosk, signage should be clear and messaging as succinct as possible.

            “Adjust your signage, screens, and scripts to hit one key point again and again, rather than overloading the customer with too much information,” recommends Kacy Erdelyi, vice president of marketing for NJ-based Spark Car Wash.

Digital menu signage is an excellent alternative to static menus and offer the benefit of easily updating messaging surrounding promotions, packages, and seasonal offerings.

            Industry signage and marketing experts agree that the most effective signage placement is immediately prior to where the customer makes a wash selection. Strong static or digital signage displaying available wash packages is best displayed before the payment kiosk. Strive for a max of three or four wash package offerings — any more can cause customer confusion and decision fatigue. Prominently feature higher-level wash packages at the top and minimize real estate for lower-package offerings.

            Die-cut signs, yard banners, WindMasters, cone signs, and gate arm covers are other examples of onsite marketing that can be used to display upselling messaging. Relatively inexpensive, these can be swapped out with seasonal messaging to keep materials fresh and content from becoming ignored or stale in the customer’s eyes. Upselling themes and messaging can be specific to solving specific regional issues which could include excessive bugs, bird droppings, pollen, and road salt, to name a few.


            Customers typically come to the car wash to solve one major problem: their car is dirty and they want it clean. In theory, that means if there was only one wash package, and access to vacuums for interior cleaning, customers would leave 100 percent satisfied, 100 percent of the time. Not quite! Successful upselling happens organically when genuine collaboration with a customer occurs to solve a problem or fill a need that perhaps the customer didn’t even know existed.

            Erdelyi urges operators to focus on what a customer wants to know, rather than what we think we need to tell them. “It might sound really important to us that the customer know that a membership includes ceramic, wax, underbody rinse, and graphene, but most customers just want to understand how they’re going to save money.”

            The best way to understand customer needs? Ask them! This quick, initial conversation will provide clues as to whether the customer is interested in just a quick, basic wash, if they are open to a higher wash package that will protect their car’s finish, or if they are interested in the benefits of an Unlimited Wash Club membership. Sales associates can then adjust their upselling strategy and pitch accordingly.

            When training your teams on the art of the upsell, find areas that they themselves are passionate about, and allow team members to focus pitches on those areas. For example, how incredible and silky a car’s finish feels after a ceramic application, or how tire shine completes the look on a vehicle like a “fresh pair of shoes.” A word of caution — make sure your team members know all wash packages inside and out, can confidently offer individualized recommendations and answer any questions.

            By focusing on what the customer says they want, and firsthand upselling recommendations on what a team member thinks can enhance the customer’s overall experience, you are building trust and loyalty, and hopefully a long-term customer relationship.


            Complementing onsite marketing and team member communication, today’s POS systems offer many customizable upselling features available to operators, including the options to create a screen flow that automatically offers extra services with customizable prompts.

            One of the easiest features to implement is messaging or an incentive for a customer who just purchased a single wash the option to upgrade to a monthly unlimited wash club package for just X dollars more.

            “Our top-level Unlimited Wash Club packages are priced extremely competitively so that if a customer is washing at minimum twice a month, a membership is going to pay for itself,” said John Roush, CEO of Express Wash Concepts. “All of our brands have a kiosk flow that’s designed to offer customers a visually appealing upgrade option, with a focus on how much money the customer can save as we know that is extremely important to them.”

            Another POS or kiosk upselling technique involves the use of brief videos to reinforce the value of an upgraded service or wash package. Short videos should not negatively affect throughput and should provide the customer with a clear call to action.


            Once onsite marketing is in place and teams are sufficiently trained, it’s time to start putting the art of the upsell into practice. Shannon Kessell, chief marketing officer for West Palm Beach-based Mint Eco Car Wash, focuses first on stationed greeter teams with “Chick-fil-a” style tablets to educate customers in their market about proper car care, and why a club plan is something they should be interested in.

Succinct kiosk messaging can help customers quickly decide the benefits
of additional services or upgrading to an unlimited wash club package.

            After initial education is complete, upselling begins. Overall, Mint Eco has seen a 30 percent to 40 percent increase in club plan conversions at sites from prior months with the re-launch of a promotion where customers are given the option to join the Unlimited Wash Club for the price of a retail wash and enjoy unlimited washes for the first month.

            “Allowing customers a way to “trial” our club plan for what they were already planning on spending that day as a retail customer felt like more of a relationship-oriented approach to promotions for us, which is directly in line with our brand values and goals,” explained Kessell.

Position well trained team members at the payment kiosk to upsell customers.
Onsite signage such as gate arm covers offer additional opportunities to provide
upsell messages in highly visible places around the wash.


            When launching a new product, building a strategic go-to-market strategy around product awareness and education to existing customers is crucial, and offers an opportunity to roll out the red carpet for existing club members. “For operators looking to upsell either onsite or online, my tip is to invest in the members that you have,” said Kendell Palmquist, director of marketing for Kansas City-based Club Car Wash, with 130-plus locations.

            Palmquist recalls one of Club Car Wash’s most successful upselling promotions happened during the launch of a new ceramic-based wash package. “The ‘new’ top package had a price point of $10 more a month, so it was important for their campaign to focus on highlighting the benefits of ceramic, and the ability for current members to try before they buy.

            “For the first month of offering Ceramic X3, we allowed all current members to upgrade from their current wash to the MVP wash for free,” explained Palmquist. Club Car Wash took the entire first month to educate members on the features and benefits of Ceramic X3 through social media, e-mail campaigns, and print materials, as well as allowing them to try the new wash to see the difference for themselves.

            “Phase two of the campaign started the following month where we then offered the same existing members the opportunity to upgrade to the company’s MVP Membership for free for the first month. Giving members this opportunity not only allowed them to see the benefits of using the product for a month, but it also gave them a sense of loyalty appreciation as an existing member,” said Palmquist.

            By allowing the customer to try the product in tandem with providing them the educational material over the product benefits, Club Car Wash saw a large percent of customers who continued with their top-level MVP Membership as opposed to downgrading.


            Palmquist believes that in addition to providing customers with promotions, upsell opportunities, or continued education reminding them of the importance of washing their car, one of the best upselling strategies operators can implement is to obtain a mobile phone number or e-mail to continue the relationship.

            Data can be used to create customizable journeys that can serve a customer throughout their entire lifecycle. Automated marketing journey campaigns can be focused not just on additional upselling opportunities, but for cross-selling and retention purposes through the offering of special discounts or promotions.


            When onsite marketing, sales teams, and post-visit customer communication are in sync, upselling becomes a seamless activity that favorably impacts revenue and increases customer loyalty and overall satisfaction. Taking the time to understand customer needs, making appropriate upselling recommendations based on those needs, and finally working to earn and maintain trust, will go a long way to propelling your business.

Beth Martin is the vice president of marketing at Express Wash Concepts, the 85-plus location parent company of Central OH-based Moo Moo Express Car Wash and Bee Clean Express Car Wash; Greater Dayton, OH and Richmond, IN-based Flying Ace Express Car Wash; Cleveland and Toledo, OH and Pittsburgh, PA-based Clean Express Auto Wash; and Virginia and North Carolina-based Green Clean Express Auto Wash.