Getting the Most Out of Your Car Wash

American-Pride5Energy efficient washes can help car wash owners save money, while winning bonus points with customers who value sustainability.

By Jim Callahan.

Increasing profits at the car wash depends on two tasks: drawing new customers and tempting current customers to increase the frequency of their visits.

To succeed with a car wash, you must be convinced that it is worth the effort. I have come to realize that being able to offer a quality car wash adds a whole new dimension to your business and really separates you from the competition. While most of us don’t have the time or the dedication to wash our own vehicle, everyone feels better driving a clean car. Yet, most major convenience store chains have very few stores with a good car wash, giving you an opportunity to create an important point of differentiation to set you apart from the pack.    

Car washing, to some, carries a reputation for not being very profitable because of the costs of chemicals, an increased water bill and ongoing repairs. But let’s not forget that a car wash provides a steady cash flow every day.

Professional Washes More Effective
According to the International Car wash Association (ICA), professional car washes use less than one-tenth of 1% of the water used by a municipality, daily. Plus, most professional car washes use water reclamation systems that significantly reduce water usage. Here are some simple tips to achieve an extra 10–20% profit with a car wash:
• Having a car wash equipped with cash and credit card acceptors will appeal to road warriors in a hurry. It’s akin to having pay at the pump on your fuel pumps.
• Don’t let your vacuum business slip away. This is another often overlooked destination. Check your hoses regularly and offer other items like air fresheners to boost incremental sales.
• During freezing weather, train yourself to open the car wash as soon as the temp hits 34 degrees and is on the upswing. I constantly see car wash facilities with their doors closed many hours after the morning sun has warmed into the 40’s. All that does is send customers to the competition.
• Spend time investing in your employees training. Teach, implement and enforce a rule requiring each of your employees to use suggestive selling to market the car wash every single day, without exception. Discipline is the key.

Season for Selling
There are three things that I cannot stress strongly enough:
1) Capitalizing on the different seasons. In the winter, salt damages the paint on cars. In the spring, pollen is an issue. Customers are looking for a place to get their cars cleaned up.
2) The critical importance of having a clean car wash appearance. What customer would want to shop at a car wash that looks dirty and uses dirty water? This is not the reputation you want for your facility.
3) Using those learned and acquired suggestive selling techniques. This current pollen season provides one of the greatest opportunities for employees to gain confidence and success in suggestive selling because every single customer that walks through your doors during pollen season will need a car wash. And the best part is, they will need another one tomorrow. So make sure the wash is spotless and your people are encouraged and rewarded for their success.

My dad used to say, “Our clothes might be frayed, but there is no excuse for them not being clean.” It’s a great lesson. While we can’t control the weather, there can be no plausible reason that your people do not upsell the car wash or that the facility is not clean. Make this your next challenge and make this your most profitable car wash season ever.

Jim Callahan has more than 40 years of experience as a convenience store and petroleum marketer. His Convenience Store Solutions blog appears regularly on He can be reached at (678) 485-4773 or via e-mail at


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