The Seven Things Customers are Really Looking for In a Carwash

Your customers aren’t a captive audience, they have plenty of options. Driveway washing, inbay washes, tunnels, or just putting it off. So, if you want people to choose your wash and to keep choosing it over and over again for years or decades to come, you have to understand what exactly they are really looking for, and you need to make sure you’re in the best position to give it to them.


Low pricing structures and great deals are attempted so often. But a race to the bottom won’t give your customers what they really want (though it will devalue your services). In this economy value stands heads and shoulders over raw cost, and value as a concept encompasses the physical and sensory experience of the wash, the quality of the wash product, the variety of services available, and a whole host of other factors (all of which are on this list).

While pricing—including membership pricing—is extremely important, always compete on value rather than simple dollars and cents. When something is worth more, good customers will be willing to pay what its worth.


You need good land, period. Building on good, centralized property in main shopping areas or commuting routes puts more eyes on your property to boost word of mouth advertising, gives you convenient proximity to your customers, and makes it easy and painless for countless drivers to add a quick car wash to their commute or weekend routine.

Good land is worth the investment.


Processing speed is a car wash force multiplier. It keeps queues short and perceived wait times low so larger numbers customers pull in rather than bouncing when they see a long line. When tunnel travel is fast and the line is moving it shortens each customer’s time commitment, so they feel more productive and come away with a more positive impression.

Not to mention that relentless processing also increases the total hourly and daily capacity of your wash—which is critical for high capacity days.


Visiting the car wash needn’t be a life-changing experience, but it should still be one that conveys a sense of quality and comfort. Use the customer’s senses to your advantage with lights, sounds, and scented detergents as well as attractive landscaping, well-maintained equipment, and top notch customer service.

There should be nothing in the process of using your car wash that negatively impacts your customers’ perception of the visit or their willingness to participate in the future.


Wash quality, delivering a completely clean car at the end of the tunnel, is the central proposition that every car wash makes. And considering the huge variety of vehicle shapes and sizes, as well as the difficulty of removing road dust, stains, and soils, establishing and maintaining good wash quality can be profoundly difficult.

It falls to operators to take up this challenge and run with it. Your wash results must be ensured and guarded wash after wash, or your entire value proposition will suffer.


When given the choice modern customers prefer to participate with a company they feel values them and their community. This gives operators a golden opportunity to build a fan base (and membership pool) through efforts as simple as good face to face customer service, compelling marketing (including, but not limited to social media), and community outreach efforts.

Give your brand a some personality and highlight the various ways the car wash supports nonprofits, conserves water, protects the environment, serves its customers, and does good.


You could also it novelty, buzz, or production value. Energy comes from being the best in town, having a cheerful and engaged team, generating massive word of mouth marketing and customer loyalty, being consistently busy, maintaining the same great experience you had for your customers when your wash first started, and eventually growing and spread with new locations.

Never underestimate the value of an excited, engaged, and motivated fan base. Success breeds success, and if your car wash is vibrant customers will notice in a thousand little ways that all make them more willing and excited to participate with you over the months and years to come.

Tommy Car Wash Systems is a national leader in high performance car wash equipment and building design, providing both for the fast-growing national Tommy’s Express Car Wash Franchise. Visit for round arch stainless steel equipment, high volume car wash detergents, backroom components, and much more.

Tommy Car Wash Systems.

The Top 5 Reasons Why Car Washes Fail

In the United States the car wash industry, as a whole, has seen a long period of growth with steadily increasing demand – around 2% more cars washed each year over the past decade. However, despite this growth and the real need so many communities have for reliable car wash resources, some car washes have failed in recent years.


We asked Ryan Essenburg, President of Tommy Car Wash Systems and founder of the Tommy’s Express Franchise, why this is the case and what the most common root causes behind car wash failure are.

 1. Poor Design

RE: It’s important to note that failure, in our industry and this article, does not always mean a shuttered site gone out of business. It also includes car wash businesses that underperform, failing to meet the great opportunity at hand and limping along for years or decades at a time without real success or growth.

Poor site layout cause nearly half of the car washes built to “fail” before the day they open. Hard to navigate mazes, and layouts designed one-off to fit odd parcels destroy most hope of building a consistent brand. Facilities designed to be cheap or low investment, rather than to attract or entice consumers, also destroy many car washes before they open. The ‘me too’ car wash sends consumers a message that your site is no different than the other bad car wash down the street.

 2. Bad Location

RE: Without guidance, investors and operators think a good deal means a good plan. A good deal on a piece of land means you have a bad site and bad location. Very simply, the more you pay for land the better your car wash will likely perform and the less risk you’ll have of failure. The less you pay for land, the poorer your car wash will likely perform and your risk of improvements on the cheap site will be at great risk of loss.

 3. Poor Operations / Misunderstanding Your Guests’ Desires

RE: Beyond basics like uniforms and well-trained team members, big errors come from misunderstanding the needs of your guests. While some operators often think they’re serving their market, it’s shocking how often you speak with the consumers and they say “I can’t find a GOOD car wash around here.”

Take prepping for example. Instead of investing in proper equipment and chemistry, many operators just stick an employee upfront with a pressure washer. After all, it’s cheaper (up front) and allows operators to tell themselves lies like, “I’m serving my customers extra and adding value”. No, what you are doing is slowing your processing speed and introducing human error, and it’s driving your customers to your competitor.

 4. Equipment Neglect

RE: Car washing is a service business and depreciation is our expense. Like a jet airplane, ½ our costs are incurred now and ½ our costs are incurred in the future after the engines need to be rebuilt. Depreciation is not a perk on your taxes, it’s real and you must put dollar for dollar aside towards future improvements just to get your wash back to baseline with where you started. Most operators think their cash flow is their profit and find themselves with a worthless asset inside 20 years because they killed their golden goose by not feeding (maintaining) it.

 5. Poor Processing

RE: Processing is not just about speed. It’s a crafted experience that involves consistency, harmony, and anticipated circumstances. Companies that process well perform well and those that don’t usually fail.

Success is in the details, from the downhill slope we pioneered in 1990 to triggering the customer’s senses at specific points in the process with instruction, lights, colors, and scents. Everything must work in harmony to achieve continuous, smooth, high throughput, including your team members’ ability to anticipate situations as they happen and respond. The principles of processing apply to any business transaction and those that master efficient processing win.

About Tommy Car Wash Systems:

Built on fifty years of car wash experience and innovation, Tommy Car Wash Systems provides designer stainless steel equipment, high performance detergents, car wash conversion services, and performance-focused facility designs while supporting the design, development, and logistics of the Tommy’s Express Car Wash franchise.

International shipping from our Holland, Michigan headquarters is available.

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 understand each of the factors at work in the car wash tunnel and how they fit together to build good wash performance—particularly during busy, high volume periods.

Read more

Spring Cleaning For Your Car Wash

Spring Budding Branch

Spring offers a particular challenge for many car washes. While winter is generally the busiest season by percent of sales, spring often brings record-breaking days as consumers react to the warmer temperatures and clear skies by heading out to have the car washed. One day a wash may be bumper to bumper with eager customers, and the next heavy rains and cold temperatures drive them away leaving wash employees with little to do but listen to the radio.

Read more