The Fundamentals of Car Wash Success

Note: the following blog post is adapted from Ryan Essenburg’s presentation at the Car Wash Show 2017 in Las Vegas, NV titled “Fundamentals of Express Carwash Success: Why Belts, Brands, and Buildings Will Dominate in 2017”. If you would prefer to watch or listen to the presentation, you can do so using the video embedded below.



The car wash community, both in the United States and worldwide, is in a period of transition and ripe for the same level of disruption that has revitalized and transformed countless other industries in recent years. In the same way Uber and Lyft leveraged mobile technology to cut costs and connect riders, or ‘casual fast’ restaurants like Chipotle found a way to deliver a better meal experience faster, our industry is ready for innovations that will take the car wash experience, streamline, and perfect it with the right technology and a newly professional approach.


Where we are Today?

What does the average American car wash look like today? On the whole, it is an aging, small, independent owned facility, probably an inbay automatic or rollover system, or possibly an outbuilding connected to a gas station or some other business. It is single story, fairly unimpressive, poorly lit, and could stand for a fresh coat of paint and power washing.


And for huge portions of the United States, there may only be one or two of these facilities serving tens or hundreds of thousands of individuals in nearby communities. These blue water markets exist by the thousand and harbor real demand for car washes able to jettison the bare-minimum, mom-and-pop approach that has long defined the car wash business. If new washes open, professionalized with powerful, performance-focused equipment and an ROI, expansion-driven business model, they will find untold (and untapped) potential.


What Will Make this Leap Possible?

The technology and strategies that are going to drive this change will come from a holistic approach to performance-oriented car washing. Factors will include:


→ New Retail Operations and Investment Capitol

→ Presentable and Highly Efficient Equipment

→ Digital Branding Strategies / Franchising

→ Lean Operations Supported with Facility Systems

→ Mobile App and Customer Club Integration


Investment Capitol

In the past, many individuals seeking to launch car washes did so with a subsistence mindset. They sought to open a single, moderately successful wash or set of washes using the bare minimum of capital required to do so. Concerns such as customer experience, maximizing wash capacity, or wow-factor came a distant second.


However, car wash growth now and in the near future will be built on a very different mindset and will follow the concept of profit amplification. Entrepreneurs entering the market understand that investing the capitol required to secure the right location with the right technology in the right package is more than worthwhile—it is paramount. An ROI focused approach will yield a higher caliber of membership-worthy washes able to turn out substantially higher wash counts and better margins.



We are already in the midst of a car wash industrial revolution today, in which the technology and systems that have served the industry are being re-imagined and improved in order to provide 1) an improved customer experience and 2) better processing speed and capacity.


This shift is perhaps best exemplified by the shift to Dual Belt Conveyors. From our own experiences, in the last few years at Tommy Car Wash Systems we’ve seen an explosion in belt conveyor orders. Today we are now selling five of our Tommy Transporters for every one of the older, slower, and less customer-friendly chain and roller conveyor. This technology drastically improves the speed at which client washes can process vehicles and serves as either a foundational choice for a high-performance wash system, or a much-needed (and easy) upgrade to an older existing wash.


Similar revolutions are expected across points of sale, controller systems, wash arches, club infrastructure, and wash hardware.



Brand saturation is a core principle of modern retail, and one with considerable potential impact on new car wash development. Consider that, nationally, after six years more than 90% of newly developed franchises remain in business.  The same is true for less than 50% of independent startups. Even local car wash chains can use this powerful effect by pursuing a critical density of stores in their local community. By launching similarly branded stores that deliver the same experience, all in drivable distance of one another, the young brand generates more familiarity, a larger footprint and pooled customer base, and improved economy of scale.


The digital aspect of this modern, experience-centric branding also opens the door to exciting new possibilities. For instance, collaborative club roaming schemes such as those now appearing in European markets


Facility Operations

For too long prospective car wash owners and entrepreneurs have viewed the car wash building and car wash equipment as separate and interchangeable, rather than a single unified whole. But from the perspective of both the customer and operations personnel, the entire car wash property (including the building and all equipment within) is a single machine with the function of taking dirty vehicles in one end and releasing clean vehicles at the other. And even the smallest details of this machine will have an impact on it’s efficiency and ease of use—for good or ill.


For this reason it is newly important that car wash facility and equipment designs be prepared by developers with specialized experience and expertise in performance-centric car wash operations, rather than out-of-industry architects.  From proper floor slopes to staff routes, lines of sight, queue spacing, stop button locations, conduits and much, much more a favorable and well-designed building will contribute to the car wash’s day-to-day operational success, allowing a smaller team to handle large vehicle loads with minimal effort and less incident risk.


In the same way, window placement, lighting, and attention-garnering architecture allow the equipment and building as a whole to function as a recognizable landmark and as an effective marketing tool. The importance of this wow-factor and using the building/equipment as marketing cannot be discounted.

App and Club Integration

The forces acting on the car wash industry today have been a long-time in coming, and many of the most exciting innovations on the horizon are long overdue. While car wash membership and unlimited clubs have been a staple for some time, fully integrating these programs with mobile and other high technology (such as licence plate readers) is a more recent move with the potential to streamline and even digitize the wash experience.


With new options freeing local washes from expensive point of sale commitments in favor of cheaper and more flexible modern car wash POS solutions, new wash club systems will also reduce the level of labor required to administer the club program from the cashier window as many customers will become self-sufficient, adjusting their plans from their cell phones or online accounts as needed. This system will ultimately give modern customers fast, connected, on-demand service they have come to demand.


Franchise Opportunities and Development Assistance Available Now

The only way to ride a wave without wiping out is to catch it early, and that means moving now. At Tommy Car Wash Systems we seek to push these boundaries in our quest for never-ending improvement and innovation.


If you are interested in the latest in high-performance car wash design and investment-minded development you should contact our team by visiting our contact information page. You may also be interested in the rapidly-growing Tommy’s Express Car Wash Franchise, where franchise partners receive close operational and marketing support as well as extensive training prior to and following a facility launch. Visit the car wash franchise information page to learn more. 


Tommy Car Wash Systems


7 Reasons to Keep your Car Washed

Keep Your Car Clean!


While some Americans treat a visit to the car wash as a spurge, a luxury, or even as entertainment for the kids, there are good reasons to make a trip to your local car wash a regular part of your maintenance schedule. Here’s why:


1. Dirt is Damaging

While engines and wheels receive the lion’s share of preventative maintenance, the paint and coatings on your vehicle is an important barrier that prevents moisture and oxygen from rusting the vehicle’s frame. Unfortunately, that barrier can be steadily broken down by exposure to corrosive compounds including insect splatter, bird droppings, road tar, and even regular, run-of-the-mill dirt and dust. A regular wash keeps the surface clear and limits the damage dirt can cause.


2. Washing is the Only Way to Remove Road Salt

As corrosive as dirt and bugs may be, salt is much worse, and if you live in a climate with cold winters where salt is applied to melt roadways your car will be covered in it weekly. Even a few winters’ worth of salt can cause and accelerates rust across the frame, and even vehicle owners with heated garages or who take the time to rinse their vehicles down aren’t safe, as the elevated temperatures of the garage speeds the corrosive action and much of the salt is deposited on the bottom of the vehicle where rinsing is impossible. The only way to efficiently remove this salt from all surfaces is via a car wash with an underbody or undercarriage flush service.


3. It Keeps Your Car Looking New

Scrubbing away dirt and putting some shine on the tires goes a long way towards keeping a car looking like it did when you bought it. Not only does this mean that owners (like you!) feel better about the car longer, but when a car looks nice it also means that drivers and passengers tend to keep treating it better. This creates a positive loop where a nice looking car tends to stay looking nice longer, all thanks to a few quick car washes.


4. It Makes Driving Safer

Even a light layer of dust can impact visibility, especially when light conditions change. Anything that prevents a driver from clearly seeing out each window and mirror affects vehicle safety and a car wash is one of the quickest, easiest ways of keeping those surfaces crystal clear.


5. For Improved Fuel Efficiency

When the Mythbusters tested fuel efficiency between a dirty car and the same car cleaned up, they found that a clean exterior improved fuel efficiency by nearly 10%! Even light dirt build up can create drag and waste fuel over time.


6. It’s Safer for the Vehicle

Hand washing can be a perfectly good alternative to a trip through the car wash, but only if the washer knows exactly what they are doing. Using the wrong soap (dish, bath, or hand soap) will strip the clear coat and ruin the finish. Using the wrong brush or sponge will carve thousands of little scratches into the paint forever. And even if you have the right brush and the right soap, it’s still possible to grind dirt against the coat. A well-maintained automatic car wash, on the other hand, uses specialty chemicals and soft cloth specifically manufactured for its purpose, so that owners don’t need to take more time, buy more supplies, or risk mistakes to get a great car wash result.


7. It’s Better for the Environment

As we’ve written before, professional automatic car washes are a far greener option for car cleaning when compared to driveway washing. An automatic car wash uses far less water (thanks to targeted high-pressure nozzles and reclaim systems) and the soaps and waxes that rinse off are diverted via sanitary sewer to a water treatment plant. This keeps harmful chemicals out of local streams and lakes where they can trigger algae blooms and wipe out fish and animal populations.


Don’t put off taking responsible care of your car. Visit your local car wash today!


Tommy Car Wash Systems


3 Reasons Customers Will Leave the Competition for You

Once a customer establishes a relationship or identifies with a particular car wash, changing their mind and flipping their loyalty is more easily said than done. And the most common challenges to this loyalty, which usually involve a combination of price wars, promotions, and advertising blitzes, are costly with varying mileage.


But that doesn’t mean wooing your competition’s customers is impossible. In fact, provided you can nail the following three factors and keep up with the basics like good customer service and facility cleanliness, your chances are surprisingly positive!


Car Wash Customer Entrance



Busy customers want quick visits, and if your system can deliver a faster wash that fits in their schedule better, they will notice. Review your entire process, from the queue, to payments, to the conveyor speed, to parking lot and vacuum station traffic flow. And remember, increasing wash speed also has the advantage of increasing your wash’s total production capacity—a win-win!


“More Convenient”

Speed is a huge portion of customer convenience, but it isn’t the only factor to consider. Customers are interested in how easy it is to get to the car wash and pull in from traffic, how simple or intuitive the point of sale system is, how long they have to wait before they can get into the wash, how easy it is to load their vehicle, and how quickly they can pull back out onto the road afterwards. If you can provide a low-stress, low-pressure, in-and-out experience—especially for wash club members!—your customers are that much more likely to keep coming back and tell their friends why.


“Better Quality”

Does your car wash do a better job? Are customers happier after they wash with you than when they go to the cheaper place down the road? Is there anywhere where you can you improve?


Delivering on your promises and putting out the cleanest car possible is one of the single most important aspects to running a car wash, and failure will cost you new customers and old alike. Take the time to maintain your system, monitor output quality, and fine-tune your applications. Then compare your wash quality results with the competition. If you can consistently beat them in performance you can win the long game without sacrificing or undervaluing either your pricing or services.


Interesting in joining a fast-growing, innovative, results-focused car wash franchise? Then take a look at Tommy’s Express Car Wash. Tours now available in Western Michigan.


Tommy Car Wash Systems


8 Keys to Nurture Customer Loyalty and Frequency

Cultivating a faithful customer base is no easy task and must be considered one of the most important objectives of any new car wash. But once a critical mass of happy local customers are familiar with the brand and wash process, a wash’s work is still far from over. Maintaining these customer relationships and encouraging both increased loyalty and frequency among return customers is an ongoing objective crucial for meeting a facility’s maximum potential.


While closely related, loyalty and frequency are each distinct objectives:


> Loyalty refers to an individual customer’s preference towards one car wash (or car wash chain) above all others

>Frequency, on the other hand denotes how often that individual actually visits and uses that particular car wash


Both of these factors must be considered when organizing strategy and programming at the wash, as both will have a profound and enduing impact on a car wash’s future.


Car Wash Visual Design


Strategies to Encourage Customer Loyalty:


Emphasize Club and Membership Programs


Club and membership programs have been a boon to the car wash industry and are now widespread, and their adoption by a local car wash facility is a potent tool for building loyal decades-long customers. By offering a good deal on a monthly VIP club membership, customers feel as though they belong and become more loyal and locked in. At the same time, those customers who are the biggest fans and who most appreciate and associate with the business will generally become club members over time.


Remember, when a customer joins a club, typically with a month-to-month or longer commitment, they are putting down money for the right to have their car washed more often at the wash they prefer and at a better overall cost. This means that that customer is, with few exceptions, exclusively giving their business to one wash—and that means that that customer and their business should be prized and guarded jealously.


Establish VIP Lanes


Busy days at the car wash make for long lines and wait times that can turn away potential customers. VIP or Cub Member lanes provide a possible solution while also rewarding a wash’s most loyal customers/club members with special recognition and priority wash admittance.

Get the Word Out Through Community Involvement


Once an individual customer feels associated with a particular wash, they naturally become more aware of it and more willing to act as cheerleaders and boosters when the car wash comes up in conversation. Therefore, a wash’s leadership should make use of opportunities to build up their community exposure, expanding the wash’s presence in the community through events such as fundraisers, sponsorships, participation in community programs, parade floats, and more.


These events also make great topics to broadcast through social media marketing.


Deliver Stellar On-Site Customer Service


Positive on-site interactions between staff and customers can start yielding loyal customers from day one. Operators must make sure that all wash employees are prepared to do whatever it takes to delight customers, going above and beyond to put smiles on their faces and leave a great impression.


Strategies to Encourage Customer Frequency


Increase Processing Speed


Customers don’t come to the car wash to while away the hours. They want a wash that fits into their schedule and takes up as little time as possible. Review your process from start to finish, including the payment process, prep/presoak, wash equipment, and how long it takes to exit the wash, and optimize.


Deliver on Quality


Delivering a fast wash is a great incentive to keep people coming back—but only if the quality is equally great. Once customers become used to having a spotless vehicle with minimal effort on their own part, it is much more likely that they will continue coming back more and more often to maintain that appearance. But don’t underestimate the effort it takes to keep your chemicals and equipment in top working order.


Modernize with an LPR or Tag System for Your Club


Automatic admittance dramatically cuts down on wait times in the queue and can increase a facility’s total output dramatically. While RFID tags are a traditional solution, higher-tech and lower maintenance License Plate Reader solutions (With Wash Club App) is on the rise. This automation makes customers feel special and welcome, reduce the load on your cashier staff, and increases the utility of the VIP lane as well.




Customers will generally pull in for a wash when a) their vehicles really need it, or b) when it is convenient to do so due to proximity. So how to you improve your wash’s proximity to more of your customers and club members? By opening up new locations.


This is, of course, not an overnight solution. But expanding with uniform, well-branded facilities spread across a local or regional area can help create a critical density of customers leading to more frequent washes per customer, more market penetration, and even reduced local competition.


For car wash detergents, equipment, and more visit the Tommy Car Wash systems webstore. For Franchise information, please visit the Tommy’s Express Car Wash Franchise Information Page. And for information on the NEW Tommy Car Wash Systems Wash Club App, please visit WASH.CLUB


Tommy Car Wash Systems

Keeping Your Car Wash Employees Safe During Extreme Heat



This summer large portions of the country are experiencing high temperatures and humidity, with above average conditions expected through July and August. These heat spikes can be particularly dangerous for car wash employees and warrant measures to prevent heat stress and protect the individuals working your facility.


Why is Heat So Dangerous At the Car Wash?

Human bodies are surprisingly good at dissipating heat and maintaining a precisely balanced internal temperature. When an individual gets too hot, the body adjusts blood circulation to push more blood closer to the surface of the skin in order to divert heat from the internal organs and release it. At the same time, the body automatically releases water and dissolved chemicals from sweat glands, to pull away heat via evaporation.


However, extreme or prolonged heat exposure can easily overwhelm these mechanisms, causing internal temperatures to increase to dangerous levels even as the body dehydrates from sweating. This is doubly true for high-humidity heat waves or for work conducted in a high-moisture car wash tunnel, as the moisture in the air cancels out evaporation and stops the body from benefiting from sweat formation. The risk of heat exhaustion is also increased when employees are out in direct sunlight at the vacuum stations, in a car wash bay that is heating up due to natural sunlight, and when they are wearing dark-colored uniforms that absorb sunlight.


Heat exhaustion is marked by confusion, dizziness, headaches, nausea, fatigue, racing heartbeats, and even delirium—symptoms which are unacceptable in the high-risk car wash environment.  Therefore, any signs of heat exhaustion must be treated with extreme urgency.


5 Steps Car Wash Managers Should Take

1) Keep an eye on the temperature. What qualifies as a heat wave will change in different parts of the country, but you’ll know it when you feel it. When temps get too high it’s important that you take steps to reduce heat exposure among your team—especially if your bay heats up due to sunlight and humidity.


2) Limit the amount of time your employees spend outside or in a hot car wash bay during a heatwave. This may mean shifts as short as 10 or 15 minutes with an available air-conditioned space for use when they don’t need to be outside.


3) Keep your employees drinking cold water in order to stay hydrated and replace the fluids they’re losing as they sweat. Remember that soft drinks, while they may provide some benefit, won’t be nearly as hydrating.


4) Have a short-sleeved, loose-fitting uniform option to allow airflow and keep your team cool.


5) Train employees to recognize the signs of heat exhaustion and encourage them to take a break, call for help, and get water if they have need.


The last thing you need is for your team to work themselves to a breaking point. Prepare ahead of time and be ready to face this year’s biggest heat waves safely and without incident.


Tommy Car Wash Systems 


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!




Tommy Car Wash Systems