10 Things Car Wash Managers Should Know

car wash operations


What are the most important lessons an experienced car wash manager have for their up-and-coming colleagues? We asked managers Nate Chandler, Brian Grecu, and Jeremy Welsh, all serving at our sister company Quality Car Wash of Holland, MI, and this is what they had to say:


1. Hourly walk-throughs are critical, and most major problems equipment and detergent problems can be avoided or caught early simply by being present and keeping the site monitored on a constant basis.


2. Be deeply aware of your wash quality standards and monitor your results closely and constantly. Just because a car leaves cleaner than what it did when it entered, doesn’t mean the wash is putting out a high quality, well-washed car.


3. Monitor chemical usage closely and keep product lines clean. The smallest inconsistency will cause a car not to clean or dry correctly and will affect chemical usage.


4. Bad weather days are blessing. Good managers use that time wisely to inspect, repair, and maintain the equipment and facility as a whole – especially around the changing of the seasons.


5. Mind your customer service. A smile will make the customers day, a clean and dry car will make both your and the customer’s day.


6. Appearances and routine tasks are important. Keep the vacuum area clean, check the trash cans hourly, and sweep up.


7. Learn all of your team members’ communication styles. Not everyone will react the same way to directions, it is important to know how each of your team members react and how they prefer to be communicated to.


8. Patience is a virtue. Be patient with your team. Be patient with your customers. Be a listener and hear what they have to say.


9. Even though you’re in a leadership position don’t stop asking questions or learning. Not everyone knows everything, nor are you expected to know everything. Having the willingness to learn from others is still a leadership quality.


10. Have the right attitude. As a leader your team looks to you and they copy you. If you have a great positive attitude it will rub off on your team and the quality of their work go up. If you have a negative attitude it will destroy the atmosphere at the wash.


Tommy Car Wash Systems


The Value of the Local Car Wash

Car wash tunnel arches


What value does the local car wash hold their customers, and the community at large? What does a community lose when they lack an updated and well-maintained car wash facility?


 Fast, Affordable Vehicle Maintenance

A dirty car experiences more wear and tear than a vehicle which is regularly cleaned. Road salt, used to keep pavement clear of snow and ice, is the most severe example and both triggers and accelerates rust and corrosion on exposed metal surfaces. Even in warmer climates a coating of caked mud, bug slime, or road tar will slowly etch at paint surfaces and degrade paint over time if tolerated.


Local car washes provide an extremely time and cost-effective way to scrub away these offending materials and protect the vehicle’s exterior—including the underbody where rust and corrosion is usually the most extreme.


 Greater Owner Satisfaction

From gearheads, to soccer moms, to retirees, each and every driver in a community deserves a vehicle that provides them a certain measure of satisfaction and respect. Dirt, tar, salt, and road droppings take an otherwise good looking vehicle and lessen its beauty. If the owner doesn’t have the time or isn’t physically capable of washing it themselves it has an impact on the way they feel—both about the vehicle and about themselves.


Car washes help by once again providing a fast and easy way for all vehicle owners to keep their cars looking new with body soap, spot free rinse, and tire shine service available on-demand. Not to mention on-site vacuum service for interiors heavy on pet hair, cheerios, or old French fries.


 Ecological Advantages

Washing the car in the driveway on warm summer afternoons is a distinctly American tradition, but it comes with an unseen environmental impact: detergent runoff into local waterways and significant water waste.


Car washes address both problems. Water use is metered and minimized, typically reduced to forty gallons or less per car (a fraction of the water pumped from a standard garden hose during an average driveway wash. All detergent runoff and cleaning products are kept out of storm drains and properly disposed of via sanitary sewers.


 Community Impact

In addition to hosting seasonal and entry level positions (ideal for students and new graduates), local car washes also have a strong tradition of supporting local organizations and otherwise serving their communities. From youth program fundraisers to unique local events, car washes provide a well-known and trusted venue for local philanthropy.



Fortunately, car washes today are experiencing a renaissance with updated equipment, wash products, and unified building designs changing the way the industry operates. Now learn more about Tommy Car Wash Systems’ patented building designs, access our equipment and detergents store, or learn about the nationally-expanding Tommy’s Express franchise.


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What is Grace For Vets?

Veterans Day – Nov 11 – is almost here! And that means that car washes across the USA will be taking part in a unique and growing tradition: Grace for Vets.


Since the event’s founding by Mike Mountz in 2004, Grace for Vets has stood for a single, simple principle: to give back to the men and women in uniform who give so much for our nation. Participating car washes open their doors to all veterans and active service members, providing free washes all day with no strings attached.


Born from a single wash only thirteen years ago, thousands of independent and often competing washes across four nations now participate each year.


If you are a car wash operator and you would like to participate, you should visit graceforvets.org/car-wash-operators/register. There is still time to sign up, get the word out, and celebrate those who have sacrificed and given so much of themselves!


Tommy Car Wash Systems


Car Wash Halloween Special Events

Tunnel of Terror Car Wash


Halloween is just around the corner, and that means that car washes across the nation are readying for special, terrifying events to draw and entertain their customers once the sun goes down-including our affiliates at Quality Car Wash here in Holland MI. These events are hugely fun for children in particular, and are perfect for express car wash tunnel layouts. They also offer a valuable way for car wash operators to generate extra revenue, marketing buzz, and community goodwill.


Here’s how to get started:



Once you name your event (“Tunnel of Terror” is a perennial favorite) generate branded marketing materials with the event date and details and begin advertising at least two weeks beforehand. Flyers, on-site posters, and mailings are all options, but social media and Facebook in particular is your best tool.


Not only can you use social media to advertise the event to thousands of local individuals for just a few dollars, but you can also generate organic interest as viewers share the event to one another. Be sure to monitor your posts during the lead-up and answer any questions that are raised.



If there is a charity you would like to support with a portion of the event proceeds (your local children’s hospital, for instance) you can include that information on your marketing materials. You may also be able to contact the organization ahead of time for help marketing the event or generating positive media coverage.



Many wash operators begin by stringing up spider webs and other decorations, shutting off all tunnel lights aside from red, and setting up strobe lights or lasers with a fog machine. Custom signage and soundtracks are also a nice touch as the red lights from the service indicators turn foamy water into torrents of blood and the strobes illuminate the scenes from decorations or mutilated staff members spaced along the tunnel length.


Keep in mind that this event should be targeted towards young children and their parents. Also note that in order to generate the right experience operators may need to tweak the services offered (if any) during the wash and slow down the belt conveyor speed to give customers more time in the tunnel.



Your staff members and any extras you can round up can make or break the event. Position them near the entrance, inside the tunnel, at the exit, or elsewhere on the property and let them know that just by dressing up in scary costumes, laughing manically or screaming, and enjoying themselves they will become the stars of the show.



Safety, as always, should be a key concern for all involved. Car wash equipment can be extremely dangerous if regular safety procedures are ignored and any extras used in the event should be properly trained and kept outside of the wash tunnel or any other employee-only areas.


It is also wise to set an age advisory for the event, depending on just how gruesome of an experience you plan on delivering, and to disclose at the cashier station and on any marketing materials that there will be flashing lights, as these can trigger epileptic seizures.


After Marketing

Take videos and photos and add them to social media to extend the marketing benefits of the event. You may be surprised just how much your audience will grow from one year to the next!



Many car washes are simply not in a position to host a true tunnel of terror, usually because of their location. While a steady stream of customers may not be a problem during the day, large numbers of gawking families at night may cause lines that back up off the property and into traffic, resulting in a public hazard. Whether this becomes a problem will depend on the layout of your site, the cooperation of the local community, good planning, the event’s popularity, and the typical volume of traffic on the road.


And even if your wash is not able to host a true nighttime Tunnel of Terror there is no reason not to decorate, advertise, and enjoy a smaller scale event during normal business hours on or before the holiday.



Tommy Car Wash Systems


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!

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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.

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