Delivering a Positive Customer Experience, Even During Downtime

Car Wash Customer Service


Any length of car wash downtime is costly, and managers and operators should work diligently to prevent and minimize such occasions. Fortunately, with a thorough preventive maintenance schedule, robust backup systems, an up-to-date inventory of detergents, and a good stock of spare parts, the problems that cause downtime can be largely eliminated or minimized.


But despite all these measures the unexpected may still occur. And if a technical issue or customer accident does prevent the wash’s proper function, a plan should be in place that goes beyond just putting up traffic cones, turning off the lights, and pointing customers away. Operators and managers can take steps, like the following, to put a positive spin on an unfortunate downtime situation and deliver a great customer experience regardless.


Inconvenience Cards

Though they go by many names, Inconvenience Cards are business-sized cards passed out by managers or staff to customers who come for a wash but are turned away due to technical difficulties. The card explains that the car wash business regrets the inconvenience and, by way of apology, invites the bearer of the card to come back for a free wash or a dramatically discounted one when the facility is back up and running.


Of course, because inconvenience cards represent a certain value, there is a cost involved and they can present theft risk. Therefore they should only be accessed and their use approved by managers in specific situations. Nevertheless, using these cards effectively turns costly downtime into a free-car-wash marketing event and ensures that any new customers coming through don’t leave with negative impressions that may turn them away forever. Instead, each visitor will return in order to redeem the card, experience the wash, and possibly become members or regular customers in the future.


This above-and-beyond approach leaves a fantastic impression in customer’s minds, and even club members (who don’t need the cards for themselves) frequently pass the cards along to close friends or family, allowing a car wash to market effectively to new customers via referral.



Other operators have had great success with freebies like air conditioners, cleaning kits, or other giveaway items to visitors during downtime. These promos can be presented to customers at the entrance as they are turned away, or at other facility locations like the dog wash centers or vacuum stations.


Again, by offering customers something relatively inexpensive, but which still has useful value, washes effectively combat negative experiences to promote greater customer loyalty and satisfaction.


Good Communication

If possible, update social media channels like Facebook and Twitter both when the downtime begins and when the wash is back up and running. Explain the situation briefly and with a positive tone. For instance, “We are experiencing a glitch in our computer system and are working to resolve it so that each customer receives the wash that they paid for. Please pardon any inconvenience and we hope to see you at the wash soon!”


The same goes for in-person communication on-site. Have good signage plan in place and have team members explain the situation in an open and friendly way to any disappointed customers who may come by. This can also be a great opportunity to have conversations with customers and answer any questions they raise – especially any questions regarding the local membership program!


Refer Customers to Services that are Still Open

Even if a car wash goes down, customers may still be able to make their trip worthwhile if other on-site services are up and running. Free vacuum stations, dog wash centers, or detailing services can all operate independently of the wash tunnel and offering discounts on these services or inviting customers to use them, since they are already there, can help salvage what might otherwise have been a wasted trip in the customer’s mind.


Preventing downtime and properly mainlining a car wash’s normal function is a critical priority, but failure to plan is planning to fail, and operators should take steps to make sure that if and when they do have problems, they are able to continue serving and impressing their customers. Have a plan that lets you and your team go above and beyond to deliver the best possible experience for your customers no matter the circumstances. They will notice.

Tommy Car Wash Systems


Looking Back at the Car Wash Show 2017

ICA Booth Display


With tremendous thanks to our distributors, partners, visitors, and the International Car Wash Association, Tommy Car Wash Systems and Tommy’s Express Car Wash are happy to report an outstanding experience at The Car Wash Show 2017.

Highlights included a brand new, cutting edge virtual reality tour of a Tommy’s Express Car Wash facility as well as Ryan Essenburg’s presentation “Fundamentals of Express Car Wash Success” – both of which you can view below.



The event also featured the return of the Totally Tommy Lego Edition (a long-time fan favorite), and the debut of the Wash Club App, license plate reader technology, and other innovations exclusive to Tommy Car Wash Systems and the Tommy’s Express Car Wash Franchise.


Totally Tommy Lego Edition


Wash Club Display   . 

2017 will be a year of constant innovation and change, and we hope you will join with us as we pursue new levels of excellence in the car wash industry together!


Tommy Car Wash Systems


Come See Tommy Car Wash Systems at The Car Wash Show 2017!

Car Wash Show 2017Mark your calendars to attend “Fundamentals of Express Carwash Success: Why Belts, Brands, and Buildings Will Dominate in 2017”, an informational session presented by Tommy Car Wash Systems’ President Ryan Essenburg covering key factors expected to drive car wash growth and innovation in the immediate future.


The session will be held on April 4th from 8:00 am to 9:00 am at The Car Wash Show 2017 in the Las Vegas Convention Center. All attendees are also formally invited to visit the Tommy Car Wash Systems exhibit during regular show hours at booths 1914 and 2014. We’ll be highlighting our original equipment, building designs, and advanced wash control solutions, and we look forward to seeing you there!




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The Critical Importance of In-House Chemical Management

Car Wash Services


The effectiveness of a car wash’s chemistry determines the performance of the wash equipment and the quality of the end wash provided to customers. Understanding this chemistry, the function of the products in use, and the various factors that influence this function is key for proper car wash performance—as is partnership and service from a reputable chemical vendor.


However, despite the central importance chemistry plays, wash operators and managers frequently neglect cultivating the expertise necessary for close inspection and fine-tuning of the chemical action at their own wash, instead passing the responsibility of chemical management and service to outside vendors or salespeople. With wash quality as a critical hedge against any local competition, it is up to each car wash operator and their team—and only them and their team—to protect and guarantee that quality.


Car Wash Body Soap


In-House Chemical Management Benefits

Any quality chemical vendor and their representatives should be able to not only evaluate the overall cleaning and drying performance of a wash and perform routine chemical services, but train the wash’s staff to do the very same, giving local car wash teams the ability to closely monitor their own wash performance, respond to changes, and jointly manage chemical services in the future.


In particular, this training should cover:

~When and why a product should be adjusted

~What compromises the product line makes (there will be several)

~At what dilution each product starts and stops performing

~How the various services may interact

~What proper chemical performance looks like vs. subpar performance

~All safety procedures are necessary for chemical management tasks

~What stock levels must be maintained to guarantee that services are never unavailable


Carwash chemical management isn’t magic. The backroom knowledge and procedures involved typically require less than a day of training for staff members to learn, and keeping chemical management in-house can often save local washes over $5,000 annually when compared to the exact same services provided by a chemical vendor or salesperson. Savings may be even greater given that direct freight from a vendor is more efficient and costs significantly less than distributor warehousing fees.


Car Wash Rainbow Coat Soap

The Right Approach to Chemical Adjustments

“Manage wash quality by micro, and manage costs by macro.”


Small adjustments to car wash chemistry and detergent application are important and should be made by staff on a regular basis. However, these small, regular adjustments must come from the mindset that the quality of the wash provided to customers is paramount—even over costs. Operators should never attempt to minimize chemical overhead by metering application levels over short-term intervals, as variations in small sample sizes (a higher than average number of long vehicles, for instance) can distort results, leading to subpar performance and customer dissatisfaction once settings have been changed.


Instead, wash operators—with assistance from their chemical providers—must take a long-view and simultaneously monitor both car-to-car wash quality and the monthly cost and chemical usage (per car). This longer-term, high-sample-size approach allows trends to even out and costs to stabilize, so that operators can make better and more informed strategic chemical choices without sacrificing wash quality.


Carwash CTA Detergent

 Regional and Seasonal Challenges

In addition to small changes made for wash quality or strategic adjustments made to manage costs, it will be necessary to adapt various chemical applications in order to meet the different and changing challenges posed by various climates and regions. These challenges can be diverse, with bugs, mud, sand, road salt, water hardness, or even high-demand conditions all requiring changes to the dilution of a wash’s product, how much product is applied, or even what product lines are used for various services—and there are no true one-size-fits-all solutions.


Remember, all local car washes in an area will struggle with the exact same conditions, so consider how you can solve those challenges and by doing so set your wash apart from the competition. This very opportunity is why so many top operators spend significant time at the exit of their wash, monitoring wash quality and taking the time to carefully optimize wash production on a regular basis.

Tire Shine Application


Choosing Chemical Vendors and Products

With chemistry as the cornerstone of your wash’s quality/value proposition, trusting a chemical salesperson exclusively to make all decisions regarding your wash’s chemistry is rarely the best option. Instead, select a provider willing to work with you as a partner, prioritizing your success, training your staff, and providing support for the long haul.


Start by asking potential providers if you can visit another paying customer’s tunnel to see their products in action, or invite the vendor to set up a free test of one thousand vehicles. If your provider has no regional customers who are using their products with great results, or if they are not willing to let a prospect run a trial before being trusted with that wash’s future, then that provider should be treated as suspect. The same is true of a vendor who refuses to train local staff for in-house chemical management, as it means the provider either:


~Isn’t invested in their client’s success

~Doesn’t understand their product well enough to train others, and cannot be relied upon

~Is worried that once clients become familiar with the products they will no longer feel that the chemical line provides good value or performance


Of course, there is nothing wrong with arranging chemical contracts to improve a wash’s service, but direct control and independence should never be sacrificed in favor of an exclusive contract. The wash quality delivered by an establishment is its future, and any vendor you work with must have a deep understanding that that quality—and your wash’s independence—should never be endangered for a short term cost-savings or because a piece of paper requires it.


Carwash Chemical Management POD


Detergents by Tommy Car Wash Systems

After half a century in the car wash industry Tommy Car Wash Systems understands what it takes to be successful as a high volume car wash, and in-house chemical management is one of those factors. Committed to our clients’ and partners’ success, we offer necessary chemical management training along with a full line of proven and reliable car wash chemicals, efficient bulk-storage hardware, and Fill-A-Skid free freight shipping.


We’ll help you optimize your services and strike the right balance between quality and cost. To learn more, visit our Detergents Information page and Car Wash Detergents webstore, or contact us directly at (616) 494-0411 /


Carwash Presoak Application


Tommy Car Wash Systems


Tommy Car Wash Systems’ Detail Packets Support Work at Holland Rescue Mission

Since 1907 the Holland Rescue Mission has supported the men and women of Western Michigan with shelter, provision, and other resources offered freely in times of need, generating a tremendous impact for good in the local community. With the facilitation of an independent advisory firm, The Collaboration Center, Tommy Car Wash Systems has been proud to partner with clients of the Holland Rescue Mission in order to package a large order of vehicle detailing packets now available for sale at various Tommy Car Wash Systems’ customer locations around the nation.


Six determined women from the Family Ministry Center, all of whom are officially disabled, came together last December and successfully packaged over 4,500 of the vehicle detailing packets. After a well-deserved lunch celebration for the first 2,500 packets, they returned to complete the final 2000, ultimately working three hours per day for two days a week to finish the entirety of the order.


According to a spokesperson,

“[The women] are grateful to Tommy’s, Tommy’s customers, and the Rescue Mission for this opportunity to create income—particularly during the Christmas Season when it is so needed for their families…. In doing this work, everyone went at their own pace, completed more packets together than we could ever imagine, learned together, built friendships, built community, and made some money—and all in a process leading toward our goals of future independent living. We are grateful!”


Tommy Car Wash Systems thanks the Collaboration Center and Holland Rescue Mission for making possible this valuable economic venture, which has benefited all parties. To learn more about the Holland Rescue Mission and its various programs, please visit


These car wash detailing packets are available from the Tommy Car Wash Systems store through this link, and are designed for fast, easy sale via an original, stainless steel vending system installed directly on self-serve vacuum stanchions.


Tommy Car Wash Systems


License Plate Readers Find Success in Car Wash Applications


Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags were a revolution in the car wash industry, giving operators a simple, low-maintenance method to manage subscription membership programs. These memberships, which include loyalty programs and unlimited clubs, stand as a perfect win-win for customers who want to maintain their vehicle’s appearance with more frequent monthly washes at a lower cost as well as sponsoring car washes looking to build a steady customer base. Once installed in the customers’ vehicle, the RFID tags work with the car wash database and point of sale systems to allow automatic wash admittance and wash package selection per the customer’s chosen membership level.


But, innovative and successful as RFID tags are in this role, they aren’t a perfect solution, and already their replacements have begun to make an appearance in the market.


Driven by cloud technology, the proliferation of smartphones, and cheap modern computing power, license plate readers (LPRs) offer all the advantages and functionality of RFID tags while allowing greater and more sophisticated automation at the entrance queue. The systems work thanks to high definition cameras, automatic sensor systems, and sophisticated imaging software tied into the wash’s member database and point of sale system. Instead of manually attaching a tag to the inside of the customer vehicle after every single membership sale, the license plate information can be entered over the phone, at the cashier window, or even by the customer themselves over the internet—a change that minimizes labor and eliminates the recurring expense of new tags. Plus, plate and payment information is retained in the database for easy renewal by the customer in the future.


The real world evidence for the benefits of these plate readers is mounting. Beginning in early 2016 LPR systems were installed on all Tommy’s Express Car Wash locations as they opened, allowing the young franchise to quickly begin building an Unlimited Club membership base. At the same time the franchise rolled out the Tommy’s Express App on both Apple and Android devices, giving customers an interface with which to purchase, change, cancel, or renew their memberships remotely without visiting the car wash, installing or removing a tag, or handing over a credit card at the cashier window.


The response has been decidedly favorable with high membership sales, app downloads, and reduced queue times at wash locations due to the rapid and automatic admittance of Unlimited Club members. The technology has also provided a strong selling point for the brand and has the potential to be used in the future to track non-club member vehicles as their drivers purchase single washes, in order to build customer profiles and market Unlimited Club promotions in the pay lane itself.



For the time being, Tommy Car Wash Systems’ licence plate readers and club application are standard for Tommy’s Express franchise locations. A customizable version of the wash club will launch in January of 2017 and, along with associated LPR hardware, be made available upon request to customers operating four sites or more. For pricing or to request additional information, please visit


Tommy Car Wash Systems

Is your Car Wash Participating in Grace For Vets 2016?

Grace for vets car wash

Each year thousands of independent car washes in several nations join together on the day of November 11th – Veterans Day – to provide free car washes to veterans and active military personnel. By offering something as simple as a free wash, participants honor the sacrifices and service provided by our past and present soldiers, recognizing and rewarding them as valued members our of communities.


This year a number of washes associated with Tommy Car Wash Systems, including Tommy’s Express Car Wash locations, are participating in the Grace for Vets program, and we would like to welcome others around the industry to add their locations and join in as well. Registration is simple and comes with free media resources to help your wash promote the event before and during the day of the 11th.


For more information, including registration and program guidelines, please visit


Tommy Car Wash Systems



Tommy’s Express Car Wash Franchise Gains Momentum

Car washes are time-honored American tradition, but the equipment, architecture, and experience associated with using a neighborhood car wash haven’t meaningfully changed in decades. However, by abandoning convention and embracing a fresh customer experience a new car wash franchise is seeking to change this status quo. Built on a proven, easily replicated platform covering equipment, architecture, and site layout, the Tommy’s Express Car Wash Franchise is now laying a foundation for rapid national growth.


Tommy's Express Logo


Featuring a comprehensive plan for the wash facility, equipment, and operations, this foundation originates from Tom Essenburg and Ryan Essenburg, car wash veterans largely responsible for the success of sister company Tommy Car Wash Systems and the “Totally Tommy” car wash platform. Washes utilizing  this platform are highly recognizable thanks to the commanding nature of their primary and secondary towers, floor to ceiling bay windows spanning the length of the tunnel, sloped translucent roofing, iconic circular car wash arches, and dual belt conveyors.


In each case the entire system is designed from the ground up to promote safe, effective, predictable, high-efficiency, and high-revenue operation.

Tommy's Express of Grandville (Rivertown) Michigan. Opened April 2016.

Tommy’s Express in Grandville (Rivertown) Michigan. Opened April 2016

New washes opening under the Tommy’s Express banner have done more than simply adopt the Totally Tommy site plan. Instead, they feature exclusive innovations that expand upon this proven platform while taking advantage of in-house operations training and marketing support.


Of the five licensed Tommy’s Express locations currently operating in California, Michigan, and Kansas, three represent new 2016 construction packed with cutting-edge technology.  This includes a unique semi-central dual drop vacuum system for improved suction and reduced maintenance, automated license plate readers for automatic vehicle admittance through the entrance queue, and a brand new app allowing users to purchase and manage their wash club memberships from mobile devices. A sixth Tommy’s Express is currently under construction in Missouri with several more in various stages of planning and approval around the nation.

Tommy's Express of Hemet California. Opened May 2016

Tommy’s Express in Hemet California. Opened May 2016

“We are excited to bring our innovative car wash technology and support to car wash operators around the world,” reports Eric OConnor, Head of Franchise Business Development at Tommy’s Express Car Wash. “We’ve taken 40 plus years of car wash experience and developed a truly comprehensive operational, financial and marketing support model. There’s really nothing else like it. We are tremendously excited with our progress so far and always looking for new franchise partners and investors who are interested in taking advantage of what we believe to be the best express automatic car wash business setup on the market.”

Tommy's Express of Overland Park Kansas. Opened September 2016.

Tommy’s Express in Overland Park Kansas. Opened September 2016

Recommended wash pricing for the franchise is affordable, designed promote high wash volumes. Monthly unlimited memberships at top wash tier run $29.99 while the second tier run $24.99 (prices may vary by location). Vacuum service and, in some locations, automatic floor mat cleaning are free to all comers. The total time through the wash is 2-3 minutes total with facility capacity totaling an astonishing 160 vehicles per hour.


Parties interested in the Tommy’s Express Franchise should visit the franchise opportunities page of the Tommy’s Express website to learn more.


Tommy Car Wash Systems