Designing a Digital Storefront for your Local Carwash


Today we’re taking some time with Caleb Eckman, Web Developer and Designer here at Tommy Car Wash Systems, and exploring car wash websites and the digital storefronts that play such a significant role in modern car wash customer service and advertising.


Q: Caleb, tell us a bit about yourself.

I’ve been at Tommy Car Wash Systems for over a year now. Before that I spent four years at Michigan State University working towards my Computer Science degree. While there, I specialized in database systems, web technologies, and web app development.


My role at Tommy Car Wash Systems is the design and development of our corporate websites. This includes everything from designing new pages or content to managing our existing online infrastructure. There are always new things being built and it’s my job to make sure that those things get showcased online.


Q: We all know the internet is here to stay, and having your hours and menu available online is important. But is that really all the value a well-designed website holds for a local carwash?


The significance of a well-designed online presence can’t be overstated in today’s digital world. A website has enormous influence over a company’s brand identity, public relations and customer experience. In fact, modern consumers now expect that a business’s online presence is well-polished and intuitive.


But beyond the basic website, there are many services that can be offered digitally that improve the experience of your customers. These could include things like club programs, additional payment options, location finding or mobile apps. Another huge digital asset is, if done correctly, more streamlined and varied avenues of communication with your customer base. Give customers options on how they communicate with you, along with making it simple and easy to do so.


Q: What are some guiding design principles or strategies you would suggest for a wash operators looking to design their own websites or have them built?


I would say the biggest design principle to remember is simplicity and ease-of-use. You could spend hundreds of hours working on the best-looking, most eye-catching website, but if the content isn’t good or is hard to find, your customers will leave frustrated. It doesn’t matter what your website looks like if your customers can’t navigate your site or easily find the information they need.


So design your website around your content, don’t fit the content into your design. Put the most important information in prominent, recognizable locations (location, hours, pricing etc). Minimize the number of clicks or taps it takes to access this information so that visitors don’t have to heavily commit. Customers will stay and browse, but only if the initial experience is good.


Q: Once a website is finished and available online, what should a wash operator focus on next?


Getting a website established is only the first step in providing a positive digital experience. While it’s great to have new visitors to your site, it’s optimal to give them reasons to come back. This can take many forms, but it mostly comes down to a consistent form of new content. This can take the form of social media posts, a blog, or a news section which highlights upcoming events. Another big feature that will be constantly in use is your contact page. Ensure that all communication with your customers is polite, consistent, and effective. A positive brand voice can vastly improve your reputation as a business.


Q: What are some of the worst or most common website mistakes you’ve seen in the wild?


One of the biggest issues I see in a majority of websites is a lack of mobile responsiveness. With more than half of web interactions happening on mobile devices, it’s extremely important to design a site that will look and work well across all platforms. It’s definitely not a good web experience if your visitors have to pinch and zoom to read text or interact with buttons. This can be especially bad when the main site navigation is affected, as this makes the website practically unusable.


Another thing I often see is when small resolution images are used as hero or background images. Always make sure that the images you use are large enough for the medium they’re being viewed on. For desktop, that’s usually around 2000 pixels in width for a full screen image, but with some retina displays you may need even more resolution. Both of these issues are easily remedied and will greatly improve a customer’s experience on your site.


Tommy Car Wash Systems


Conversations: Brand Voices in Car Wash Digital Marketing


If advertising is a shout that goes out to customers, attracting and informing them, social media marketing is more of a conversation, a conversation held in a very public forum. In this new arena your brand’s voice and your approach has tremendous consequences.


To tell us more we’ve invited digital marketing expert Jami Winstrom to answer a few questions. Jami is a Digital Marketer at Navigate (Holland, Michigan) and manages a variety of digital advertising and social media campaigns, including those of our sister company, Tommy’s Express Car Wash.


Q: Welcome Jami! First, tell us a bit about yourself.


I have extensive knowledge and experience in the digital landscape, working within the B2B and B2C environments. As a digital marketing professional, my primary focus is on inbound strategy and paid search. I am also a ever-learning expert in using social media as a critical piece of the Tommy’s Express Marketing Strategy.


I have a BA in English from GVSU and am a proud member of Sigma Tau Delta. I earned my MS in Digital Marketing from Eastern Tennessee State University, where I learned from and collaborated with leading brand managers, marketers, and strategists from companies, including Cardinal Path, Adobe, Nilsen, Supercell (Clash of Clans), and more. I am Hubspot certified in Inbound Marketing, and I am also a Google Ads Certified professional, specializing in video campaigns.


Q: It’s clear that marketing has changed over the past generation, with Social Media and Internet Marketing becoming dominant concerns. What are some ways this change affects the daily or monthly operation of car washes in the industry?


This is a great question, and I’m going to answer it from a methodology approach. With the exponential growth in technology, and as we experience changes of process and rate of consumption of brand messaging, marketers have an opportunity for tremendous impact through a multitude of medias and channels. We can analyze data with such precision and segment our markets better than ever before, and moreover, we no longer have to take an interruptive approach to share our messages with our consumers. We can meet people where they are and invite them into our brand messaging.


With that said, traditional marketing efforts are absolutely not obsolete, particularly as we are sharing messaging across several generations. We are in an era where we need to make constant technological considerations that meet the needs of multiple generations. A brand like Tommy’s Express is not simply focused on one age demographic. Instead, we are reaching far across a chasm of digital immigrants and digital natives alike. We need to be mindful of the delivery and mode of our messaging.


With that said, whether we are speaking to the Baby Boomers or the Gen Zers, we need to understand that no matter how people communicate or how much technology advances and changes, what attracts a person to a product or a service is authenticity, quality, and honesty. This is the message is our brand voice, and that will never change, no matter how adaptive we become with our delivery.


Q: How should a car wash owner or team member develop or define their ‘voice’, and how does it impact the overall marketing strategy?


The voice of the Tommy’s Express brand in the digital space is fun with a little bit of spunk and is authentically empathetic. We strive to be good social listeners and hope that we allow our customer’s voice to speak into our brand. While traditional media often focuses on a message that merely travels from the sender to the recipient, social media offers the opportunity to travel in both directions–from the sender and to the recipient and vice versa.


While traditional media is homogeneous, social media is quite personalized. Content and products can be more diverse and tailored to each individual rather than building a product range with the intent at gaining one conversion out of a larger unsegmented group. With that said, we have the opportunity to meet our customer where they are, using an informal and very personal voice. While we are technically speaking to the masses, we want to feel like we are speaking directly to one individual.


Q: Intersections between customer service and digital marketing can be tricky to manage. What are some best practices wash operators should keep in mind?


Tricky is absolutely right. There are days when customer service is fun, people are happy, conversations are great, and everything is sunshine and puppies. But let’s be honest, some days customer services is really difficult. An experience is only as good as the reaction. Some days it’s our own reaction. We’ve all had days where we have hard things going on at home, or we just simply got out of bed wrong. Those are the days where it’s just hard to put on our “Be Nice” hat. We’re told “the customer is always right.” But we know the truth, and sometimes, they’re just not.


I mean, there are hundreds of memes out there dedicated to customer service faux pas. All jokes aside and digital or not, customer service is one of the most important, if not the most important pieces to a good brand strategy and brand reputation management. The customer is right, or somehow, it is our job to make it right. The difference is that 20 years ago, maybe five people would know if something went wrong or right. Today, 5000 people may know instantly. If there is an issue, the best thing to do is to get people off social channels as quickly as possible and resolve the issue in person, through a phone call, or though an email. Always remember how we attract and retain our customers: authenticity, quality, and honesty.


No matter what, we always want to be responsive, and we want to listen. As owners, managers, and wash operators, we may think we know what’s going on in our wash, but our customers know more. As for those great days, we want to keep those conversations going, engaging them, and ultimately, we want to invite them to be a part of our brand story.


Q: What are some of the biggest or most common digital marketing missteps or errors you’ve noticed?


One of the most common missteps that are made on social channels are going dark and being unresponsive to questions, concerns, or issues. We are no longer speaking to just one person, rather on our social channels we are speaking to potentially thousands at once. We can’t ignore something, hoping that it will just go away. Believe me when I say, if something is said in the digital space, it can never be taken back or put to rest. It will always be there. Maybe it won’t have as much impact three months down the road, but it will still be there.


Q: Anything else?


Everywhere we look, we are being sold to–were a culture of advertisement. And each day we digest countless billboards, print ads, radio spots, commercials, emails, banner ads, videos, and so on. Traditionally advertisement has been thought of a means to tell our customers what they should be doing, what they need, and how they can get more.


What if–instead of this interruptive approach–we could allow our consumers to be a part of a story, the brand story? That’s exactly what we hope to do with Tommy’s Express in our digital space. We want our customers to connect with us at a deeper level. In turn, our customers are empowered to use their own voices, surpassing the constrains of time, place, and space, and they become the most valuable advocates for our brand.


Tommy Car Wash Systems


Tommy Car Wash Systems Welcomes New Chief Operating Officer

Tommy Car Wash Systems is pleased to announce that Alex Lemmen has joined the company in the capacity of Chief Operating Officer.


Lemmen brings an international perspective and growth-centric mindset to the Tommy Car Wash Systems team, having served for approximately five years with distinction as a management consultant at The Boston Consulting Group (BCG). BCG is a highly respected global management consulting firm and the world’s leading advisor on business strategy.


Ryan Essenburg, President of Tommy Car Wash Systems, stated: “Alex brings a perspective and skill set that is essential to our sustained growth and profitability. His experience with BCG puts him in a select group of individuals with the experience needed to scale a business to a national and international level.”


While his former responsibilities focused on global consumer goods and retail sectors, primarily concentrated in Latin America and the United States, Lemmen will now be responsible for helping the company navigate the aggressive growth triggered by the successful launch of the Tommy’s Express Car Wash franchise.


Lemmen is a native of West Michigan and holds a Bachelors of Business Administration degree from the University of Michigan’s Stephen M Ross School of Business.


Tommy Car Wash Systems


Getting it Right, the Importance of Proper Car Wash Site Layout


The location and layout of a new car wash can make or break its long-term success, which makes proper design and good site selection some of the most critical and strategically demanding early steps in the car wash development process.


To learn more, we asked Nate Smith, a 2D and 3D designer and layout specialist at Tommy Car Wash Systems, a few questions about car wash layouts and the process behind them. Nate went to school for 3D design and since joining the Tommy Car Wash System’s team has taken over the 2D drawings for site layouts as well. His focus is on overall site selection and approval as part of new and prospective car wash developments.


Q: Why is it so important that car wash layouts, in particular, be done right?


Much like everything we do here at Tommy Car Wash Systems, there is a science to creating great car wash sites. Based on the experience and criteria we’ve built up in our previous projects, we are able to define all of the key traits that made our car washes so successful. To us, the best locations mean nothing if we cannot accommodate the perfect site layout. If the site does not flow well or does not allow us to meet our own internal standards, we know that the site will not live up to our expectations or those of our customers. Our top priority is to set every customer and site up for success, which is why we have steadily become more involved and more strict with our site and layout standards over time.


Q: At what point in the car wash startup process should layout be decided, and city approval begin?


We are focusing on trying to get a “soft approval” from the city before prospective customers even identify potential land for sites. We’ve found more and more throughout the approval process that many cities have strict standards that can compromise our own internal standards. Therefore it is extremely important to find out as early as possible if a Totally Tommy car wash building will be approved before someone invests time, money, or energy into a potential site.


Once this positive relationship is established, then a site layout will be drawn up. And once we have a solid concept drawn up, a civil engineer will make sure everything is good to go, and that point the official city presentation can begin.


Q: Do you have any examples of common layout mistakes or real-world layouts that were done poorly?


Actually there are quite a few common mistakes that are made with older sites, or if someone outside of Tommy Car Wash Systems or a professional car wash development team attempts to draw up a potential site on their own.


The most common mistakes I would say are due to lot size and shape. Many problems come from trying to force an awkward layout onto piece of land that is either too small or not rectangular. Typical errors include incorrect site orientation, as we prefer to have our main tower and paylanes out front. Another common error is not having enough space in our turn stack or when customers are exiting the wash tunnel. This prevents cars from having adequate space to straighten out when entering the tunnel and not hit curbs, as well as to safely exit the wash and have plenty of space around other cars, and again, not hitting curbs. A site that is on a triangular-shaped lot, or really any irregular shape, typically will have both of these problems, and may even have other problems like cutting out the vacuum center.


All of these issues lead to a poor site design that does not flow or will not run efficiently.


Q: What are the best strategies for prospective car wash owners or operators to keep in mind when they approach potential sites?


When trying to find land for a potential future site, the biggest thing to look for is a rectangular piece of land that is at least an acre. Many sites have decent setbacks, and most require some kind of water detention, both of which can easily push the size of the land required to over an acre. If we have at least an acre to work with, chances are we can make you a great layout.


Aside from the site layout itself, the location is also a huge factor. We have a ton of great tips here on our site models page for prospective owners to look for.


Tommy Car Wash Systems


Understanding the 5 Elements of Wash Quality


For the best operators, wash quality is an obsession to be checked and maintained every, single, day. But first new operators must first understand each of the factors at work in the car wash tunnel and how they fit together to determine wash performance—particularly during busy, high volume periods.


These five elements are:



Each wash product has a particular function, recommended dilution ratio, and pH value. For instance, Tommy 360-C (our proprietary presoak application) is quite alkaline in order to effectively cut through stubborn vehicle stains such as road tar or bug smear. On the other hand, Tommy Brite, our body soap, is slightly acidic in order to balance out the overall pH of the wash tunnel.


If the pH values of the products applied are not correctly neutralized by the end of the wash it results in extremely poor drying performance with “sticky” sheets of water lying heavily on the vehicle’s exterior.


In the same way, if the dilutions of the product are not correct operators will experience higher overhead, drying residue, or diminished performance across the wash tunnel. Maintaining proper chemical performance is a daily process!



Just like a hot cycle in your dishwasher or washing machine removes soils better than a cold cycle, using the proper temperature water in the tunnel activates the various wash products at work. This means certain functions should receive heated water while others can be kept cool to control costs.


High air temperatures are also important, as they promote vastly better drying performance at the end of the tunnel. Heated blowers are generally recommended for car wash developments in cooler or seasonal climates.


Friction / Pressure

Friction defines the contact of different cleaning materials on the car, while pressure refers to the force of water sprayed across the vehicle. Both are vital for effective cleaning performance.


Soft-cloth or closed cell foam brushes, which are continuously and heavily lubricated with body soap, provide the physical cleaning power to lift dirt and grime away from the car safely. These must be kept clean, lubricated properly, and replaced when they begin to wear out.


High pressure spray delivers cleaning compounds to all sections of the car with enough strength to expose the more-stubborn materials so the presoak or conditioner can get to work. Lower pressure is used for areas where damage could occur under high pressure conditions, such as the undercarriage, or with applications like UV protectant which don’t require forceful application.



All wash products, from presoak to hot wax, need a set amount of dwell time to perform their functions effectively. In a busy tunnel car wash, this time is often a matter of seconds, and if the products are rinsed away or diluted prematurely the quality of the car wash will suffer.


As a result operators must select products designed to work effectively at high conveyor speeds during peak operating hours. Car wash equipment should also be laid out in such a way as to provide just enough working room between each function.


Water Quality

Hard water is the bane of many a car wash. A high mineral content prevents car wash soap from properly lathering up, leaves behind an unappetizing residue instead of a spot-free shine, and can also wear down equipment prematurely and cause damage over time. Water hardness must be investigated thoroughly and corrected with the use of water softeners and reverse osmosis systems, in order to provide high quality water for wash functions.


Always remember: wash quality is YOUR PRODUCT. Let it slip and the long term consequences will be far greater than a handful of dissatisfied customers. Instead, work constantly to improve and protect your results, including the results of washes at your lowest menu tiers.


Treat your customers right and work to give them the best possible result for their money. They will notice!



If you are interested in investing in a high quality, national car wash franchise we invite you to consider the Tommy’s Express Car Wash Franchise. You can also visit the Tommy Car Wash Systems webstore to find high performance, specially formulated express car wash detergents products and equipment.


Tommy Car Wash Systems


Five Ways the Totally Tommy Car Wash Design Reduces Car Wash Labor


Ask most car wash managers, or retail business managers in general, what the hardest part of running the business is, and they’ll likely to tell you that it’s not the equipment, the materials, or the customers – it’s managing the people. Even with a fantastic team, balancing everyone’s schedules, hiring, and training requires a huge amount of time and energy.


At Tommy Car Wash Systems we are proud of our car wash system, which allows for extremely high car wash production with the lowest labor possible, keeping teams small and making it easier than ever for managers and operators to focus on the team members they have and give them the flexibility, training, support, and communication they need to be truly excellent in their role.


Specifically, our system reduces labor by:


Eliminating Manual Prep with the Triple Presoak

Manually prepping cars with a sprayer wand is labor-intensive, monotonous, and inefficient. Car washes that still rely on this approach waste an entire team member in an unnecessary role and end up expending far more water and car wash detergent for a less standardized presoak result.


The Triple Presoak Arch by Tommy Car Wash Systems, also called the Bug, Body, and Backend Autoprep Arch, automates this process with ranks of highly-targeted high pressure nozzles and a thorough application of Tommy 360-C. This process speeds loading times compared to a manual prep system, delivers a highly standardized and precise result, and is able to maintain performance under high volume conditions. In fact, the system operates best in non-stop busy tunnels and tightly-loaded conditions, as it efficiently applies product to the back of one vehicle and the front of the next continuously.


Streamlining loading with the Tommy Transporter Dual Belt Conveyor and Self-Loading Entrance Module

Dual belt conveyors have been demonstrated to improve loading times and reduce customer anxiety, as they provide a wider target and eliminate all roller-related loading errors. This reduces downtime and allows vehicles to load closer, faster, and with more confidence over time.


In the same way, the Self-Loading Entrance Module offers very clear instruction with both audio and visual cues for customers. During low volume periods, established washes using the Tommy Transporter and Self-Loading Entrance Module generally do not use a loader unless a customer needs assistance.


Incorporating the Wash Club License Plate Recognition System

Memberships, no matter the format, increase wash production by eliminating the payment step – or rather converting that payment process to an automatic monthly one that happens in the background. The Wash Club LPR system takes this concept one step farther, however, by allowing customers to purchase and modify memberships directly from their smartphones by using their vehicle’s license plate number.


When the new member arrives at the car wash for the first time the system is already ready to immediately read and accept their vehicle into the wash bay without any input or time spent at the cashier window entering data or applying a radio tag. Over the life of the wash this system saves countless hours of energy and delay and increases a customers’ control over their account as well as the convenience and flexibility the membership offers them.


Incorporating the Flight Deck Design

The Flight Deck Design principle takes the cashier station and enhances it until it becomes a central control hub for the entire car wash, providing lines of sight as well as immediate physical access to the pay queue, cashier station, loading area, and the entire car wash bay. Touchscreens put the entire wash under instant control of any single employee, and security cameras and glass man doors effectively shrink the site, allowing fewer workers to do more and to do it more efficiently.


Extensively Automating Wash Systems

Powered by Guardian Wash Command, Tommy Car Wash Systems offers one of the most automated and advanced wash control suites available in the industry today – including the Tommy Premium Advantage. In essence, the TPA is a relay system which connects the wash controller and a series of iPads and allows the tablets to be used, essentially, as remote controls. Staff can use these tools to monitor wash functions in real-time, troubleshoot errors, and adjust settings from any location on-site. They are also used for routine hourly walkthroughs and checklists.


For more information on any of this equipment, or the Totally Tommy car wash site design as a whole, visit our site-models page or the various listings in our car wash webstore. If you have questions, please use our contact page.


Tommy Car Wash Systems



Taking Advantage of Blue Water Markets


Location is critical for the success of any business, and car washes in particular rely on the strength of their site to drive traffic and customer awareness. This makes site selection one of, if not the single most important step when founding a new car wash. But even an ideal location with good traffic count, size, layout, and proximity to desirable destinations like shopping malls or grocery stores, can be undone by a single, often overlooked factor: competition.


It’s tempting to only build in your own backyard, setting up a marvelous car wash with down-the-street convenience in your own community and accepting moderate success as a result. But first take an honest look at the area and the car washes already established there.


If your local market is already claimed (much less saturated) by entrenched older car washes with established customer bases, you’ll soon find yourself locked in a fierce marketing and price battle for the attention of a set population. While it is possible to win these competitions (particularly with high quality equipment and a service model that boasts faster, better results) the fallout will drag down all players, with the advantage going to the wash with the bigger reserves and membership pool.


The best bet is to avoid the issue altogether and search for an ideal site in a local area with no express car wash competition whatsoever. These locations, ironically, are often found in smaller communities, home to low-power car wash solutions like in-bay automatics and populations who will immediately notice the new facility and the difference a real car wash can make.


Admittedly, this investment-minded strategy may add to your commute. But a blue-ocean site selection approach can yield a far larger, undivided customer pool and open up high quality car wash service to communities which have never experienced it before, with raving customers and higher wash counts as a result.



As always, if you are currently in the process of developing your own car wash, consider the Totally Tommy wash design by Tommy Car Wash Systems, featuring a cohesive car wash layout, architecture, high-end wash equipment, and labor-saving automation technology. Learn more HERE!


Tommy Car Wash Systems


Tommy’s Express San Antonio Operating with LEED Certification


From building material selection to interior air quality, low energy use, and water efficiency, LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified buildings represent a considerable commitment to environmental sustainability and responsible practices.

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