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5 tips for boosting traffic at your neighborhood car wash

5 tips for boosting traffic at your neighborhood car wash

From increasing automation to offering membership plans, these are tried-and-tested ways of attracting customers and growing revenues in the car wash business

If you’re running a car wash business, you’re already familiar with the complexities of this seemingly simple concept.

To begin with, there’s a wide range of different car wash types and service levels, from completely self-service to fully automated. There is also a host of add-on services that can conveniently accompany a standard wash and dry.

In short, making a success of a neighborhood car wash isn’t always as simple as it may seem to the outsider.

But one key to success that everyone can easily understand and appreciate is the need for traffic. So how can you increase traffic at your neighbourhood car-wash business?

1. Increase automation

Many of your potential customers are far busier than they’d like to be. That’s just a fact of life in this hectic world.

So it’s vital that your car wash makes the process as quick and painless as possible.

A row of bare-bones self-service booths with coin-operated sprayers will still get some business, especially on weekends. But it’s the fast, automated car washes that appeal most to the busy commuters and errand runners who can’t imagine spending 10 minutes in a booth just to save a few dollars.

If your car wash is completely self-serve or dependent on human labor, you’ll see a tremendous increase in traffic if you invest in at least one automated tunnel.

2. Offer free vacuums

While it’s fairly common for car washes to have stalls on the property with self-serve, coin-operated vacuums for cleaning the car interior, it’s rarer to find those vacuums made available for free.

This is understandable because these large vacuum systems use a significant amount of electricity and can be expensive to repair or replace if they break down.

But the potential increase in traffic you can generate by switching to free vacuums could make that concern a non-issue.

According to statistics reported by Tommy Car Wash Systems, “many wash owners report more than a 20% increase in memberships and wash sales when free vacuums are introduced, making the potential overall income value of free vacuums actually greater than that of paid vacuum systems.”

If you already have vacuums set up, it could be worth experimenting by setting aside a particular week or month and switching vacuums to free as a ‘special sale’. Then, if you find the resulting increase in traffic is worth the added expense, make it a permanent feature.

3. Offer membership plans

Just as many digital services (like the mobile apps you regularly use and Microsoft Office) have in recent years switched business models from a large one-time purchase to a small, monthly subscription model, you can do the same with your car wash. This benefits both you and your customer.

From the customer’s standpoint, it’s all about convenience: they have a monthly bill that can be set up to automatically apply to a credit card or checking account. In comparison to other standard monthly bills like their mortgage or car payment, it’s almost an insignificant amount.

And in return, they know they can swing into your car wash and move right through the line without even waiting to pay. Many car washes that even have a separate automatic tunnel set aside for members only, so they don’t even have a line to worry about.

For you, a membership plan has the twofold benefit of built-in customer loyalty and sustained, regular monthly income you can rely on for budgeting purposes.

It doesn’t make sense for someone to pay for a membership at your car wash and pay extra to visit your competition too. You can rest assured, therefore, that every time that person washes their car, it’s going to be with you.

4. Beef up your visual branding

More often than not, deciding to wash the car is an impulsive choice made in the few seconds between seeing your car wash and pulling in. Drivers rarely leave home for the express purpose of washing their cars.

Realizing that, it becomes obvious why your entrance lane, roadside signage and the facility itself need to attract attention and make a quick, positive decision as easy as possible.

The Tommy Car Wash System places a high priority on creating visually stunning locations that attract curiosity and interest even before they’re open for business: “Built on a major traffic artery, this car wash maximizes its visual impact with large signage, an impressive tunnel length, glass walls, barrel vault roofing and corner towers.”

By creating a visually impressive facility and signs, you’ll attract more attention and increase the number of impulse customers. Keeping that visual brand consistent can also help increase the potential for future expansion as the local populace comes to recognize and appreciate your brand.

5. Take advantage of mobile technology

It should go without saying at this point that your car wash needs an online presence. Your website needn’t be spectacular, but it needs to promote your brand and include a means of ordering memberships (if you currently make those available).

Above all, your online presence needs to effectively offer up your location and directions to anyone who searches for a car wash on their mobile device. Be sure that your business listing on Google is always up to date. Keep images fresh and update it with any current sales or promotions.

Be mindful of reviews as they come in. Unfortunately, the rare dissatisfied customer tends to be the most vocal, so encourage every customer to check in on Google Maps, Facebook or whichever social media or review site they normally use. That will help ensure that your happy customers think about posting reviews too.

Finally, it can be valuable to you and your customers if you engage them with a mobile push notification campaign. There are many third-party services that offer this marketing tool in one form or another, and you can even invest in a custom mobile app if you wish.

The benefits are similar to the monthly membership program described above. The customer will receive a reminder to wash their car every week or two. Since it arrives via push notification, most people (up to 80%) will read it (as opposed to about 4% or less for email or other reminder types) and your location will naturally be the one they’ll tend to visit.

Interested in this potentially lucrative sector? Browse car wash businesses for sale on right now.

Bruce Hakutizwi

About the author

USA and International Manager for, a global online marketplace for buying and selling small medium size businesses. The website has over 60,000 business listings and attracts over 1.5 million buyers to the site every month.


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