COVID-19 / Coronavirus FAQ for Car Wash Operators

Retail businesses in the United States and across the world have entered uncharted territory with the spread of COVID-19 at pandemic levels. With customer and employee safety in jeopardy and all aspects of daily life and commerce impacted by this unprecedented event we believe it is important to answer some of the biggest questions that car wash owners and operators may have at the moment.

Please note that this is an evolving situation and the information presented in this FAQ represents only our best understanding of the facts as they stand today. Best practices, policies, and advisories may change hourly, and each state is escalating their public safety policies differently.

1. My wash does not have enough wipes or sanitizer to wipe down vacuums or automated pay stations every hour (as recommended to limit virus transfer). What do we do?

A. Disinfectants can be made from a variety of everyday household supplies, with the most common being bleach diluted with water (1/3 cup bleach per gallon of water). Wear gloves and eye protection and exercise caution when handling undiluted bleach.

2. Should our car wash limit customer/employee contact by reverting to members only or automated payments only?

A.  Every state is mandating different action. However, as of yet the CDC has not recommended the discontinuation of cash or face-to-face credit card transactions and accordingly we do not we do not believe it is necessary to limit cashier activities (where permitted by your state or local area).

Cashiers should be healthy and symptom free, wash their hands excessively, and should refrain from touching their own face while on duty. Heavily used cashier station surfaces should be sterilized and re-sterilized frequently.

3. Should our employees wear gloves and masks while on duty?

The sight of an employee wearing gloves or a mask is likely to trigger anxiety in a large portion of your customer population, and these supplies are urgently needed by healthcare professionals.

Instead focus on good handwashing procedure (20 seconds of washing with soap and warm water has been shown to be far more effective than either rubber glove use or hand sanitizer use) and limit close contact with customers wherever possible.

4. What is the protocol if an employee tests positive for COVID-19?

A. If an employee tests positive for the infection or displays symptoms they should immediately contact their healthcare provider and self-quarantine at home for a period of at least 14 days. The same goes for any individual who was within six feet of the employee for ten minutes or more as their symptoms could appear at any time between 2 and 14 days after exposure.

These symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Dry Coughing
  • Shortness of Breath

All areas where the employee was active should also be thoroughly wiped down and sterilized.

5. Should we shut down our vacuum stalls?

A. Our current recommendation is that vacuum center activities be limited to every-other stall, separating customers as much as possible in accordance with the CDCs recommendation for social distancing. Note that as the situation evolves (and in many states already) vacuums services may need to be shut down entirely.

6. Should I stock up on detergents, spare parts, and other supplies?

A. As of right now we do not anticipate any disruption in the national or Tommy Car Wash Systems supply chains. If you feel more comfortable and have the space to house more product, you are welcome to do so.

7. How long will this epidemic last?

A. COVID-19 is spreading in every state and claiming lives already. We don’t know how long this disease will run, how the health system will hold up, or how damaging the long-term effects will be to the economy or the car wash industry in particular. But it will pass, and we will recover. Remember:

If you operate a car wash you are obligated to follow all Federal, State, and local policies first followed by the recommendations released by the CDC and Local Health Departments. As car wash operators and professionals it is our collective duty and first priority to protect the safety and welfare of our employees and guests, no matter how uncertain the situation facing us may be.

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A Car Wash Pre-Marketing Gameplan

Your car wash is nearly finished! Paint is drying, equipment is installed, and you’re getting ready to dial in your chemistry. But as your official open date gets closer you can’t help but wonder; will there be any customers?

First Impressions Count!

Prior planning prevents poor performance. Early car wash success and customer base development don’t just happen. They are born of planning, strategy, and energy—especially when it comes to marketing.

So how do you develop a marketing plan that’s proactive, well-rounded, and effective, and when should you deploy it?

1. Develop Your Brand

Your brand, encompassing your logo, colors, style, and voice, can’t simply be made up as you go. This is 2020—businesses and services everywhere have professionalized their public face and uneven or ad-hoc advertising will turn off customers who are looking for a trustworthy car wash solution.

So take the time to carefully develop your brand with the help of marketing professionals. You should receive a formal brand guide as well as high quality logo resources and other branded assets that can be used for many years to come, giving your advertising a recognizable and consistent look and feel in repeated deployments as your facility continues to operate.

2. Launch Your Digital Real Estate Well in Advance

As soon as the public notices your building or signage going up they’ll start looking for information about you online. This early interest is extremely valuable and it’s critical that you have the right materials out there to be found and to answer and further that early interest.

This means setting up your FaceBook Page, website, and other selected social media months before your business is actually ready to launch, complete with regular posts, your core messaging, and options to allow customers to follow or sign up for updates, whether through push notifications or emails.

3. Take a Multi-Channel Approach

Between digital and traditional advertising wash operators have plenty of marketing options to choose from, and over time you’ll have the opportunity to evaluate different messaging and formats and see what type of marketing gives you the best return on investment.

But prior to your grand opening you won’t have this luxury, so commit to launching your campaign with the necessary investment across a wide range of channels in order to hit the best possible cross section of potential customers in your area.

4. Nail Your Timing

In the weeks immediately before you open you should dispatch mailers that clearly lay out your grand opening date as well as any promos or special offers you’ll be offering. Immediately after you open, reliable marketing options include radio advertisements, another round of mailers, and localized social media and other digital advertisements emphasizing that you are now open for business. “Try us out for free!” incentives often go over very well at this stage.

It is important that all these materials have the same theme and appearance, as it may take multiple exposures to prompt a reaction from your potential customers.

5. Don’t Neglect Grassroots Marketing

Some of the best marketing happens when your team gets out in the community and starts building connections with other business owners (dealerships, auto body centers, oil change businesses, etc.), nonprofit organizations (youth sports teams, charitable causes), and regular customers.

Whether you’re independent or part of a national brand, telegraphing your local involvement and community heart has to be top priority.

6. Relax

Good car washes are in demand, and if you can nail the basics you have a much better than even chance of being successful.

What are these car washing basics?

  • Maintaining facility cleanliness and professionalism
  • Delivering a good wash result
  • Providing excellent customer service
  • Leveraging effective ongoing and seasonal marketing

So relax, have fun, and don’t be afraid to engage your customers as they visit and really get involved in fielding good and bad reviews, answering questions, and engaging your customers directly with contests, challenges, and incentives.

Tommy’s Express: Bringing It All Together

The Tommy’s Express franchise operates a uniquely modern, performance-focused family of car washes based on the widely-renowned Tommy Car Wash Systems building design and high performance equipment package. All independent Tommy’s Express operators benefit from national brand recognition, hands-on operations training, national marketing campaigns, reputation management services, and proprietary franchise-exclusive technology and services.

Tommy Car Wash Systems

Professionalism Matters: De-Escalating Combative Encounters

Working in the retail industry can bring some rough days and tough moments. And when you’re dealing with people’s vehicles and damage claims or accusations the level of pressure and intensity in customer interactions can be just that much higher.

Experienced car wash operators know that even if they take outstanding care of their equipment and evaluate incoming vehicles religiously for potential hazards, situations still eventually crop up.

Such as?

  • Perhaps a vehicle has stubborn stains or is dirty to the point that one wash, or even repeated re-washes, can’t get certain surfaces or zones completely clean.
  • Sometimes a customer spots pre-existing damage on their vehicle that they hadn’t noticed before, damage completely out of line wash’s motion and operation, but they blame the car wash reflexively.
  • Antennas and wiper blades can often be pulled off, especially on certain vehicles, if the customer declines a wiper bag, or if the component is already damaged or fatigued.
  • Perhaps there may be a technical issue with the point of sale or a miscommunication at the cashier window. And reoccurring payments charged as part of a club subscription can be a common friction point if the customer didn’t read or properly understand the terms of the subscription.
  • And, unfortunately, there may be those occasional situations where car wash tunnels experience genuine faults.  

Committing to Excellence

In these moments when customers are angry, frustrated, and venting all those ill-feelings at you or your team, it can be tempting to respond in kind or to simply give in to your own stress, frustration, and annoyance. But, of course, this is not the answer. Instead, focus on deescalating the confrontation using the following game plan.

1. Stay Calm

Focus on taking strong, deep breaths and not giving in to what could be a very strong fight or flight, adrenaline-fueled response. Escalation will only cause emotions to rise at the expense of rational thought, damaging your brand and further poison the experience you’re trying to resolve.

2. Listen

Maybe you know exactly what happened. Maybe you have a game plan or procedure in place to deal with the issue. Maybe other customers are waiting for you.

But if the customer with the compliant doesn’t feel that they are being heard, none of that will matter. Sometimes venting, talking, and getting it off their chest is all a customer needs to feel validated and reclaim an element of control in a stressful situation.

3. Model Respect and Dignity

Ultimately you have no idea what a customer is going through, or what struggles or stresses might be at play behind the scenes.

Maybe they are overacting to the situation because they have another need or something else weighing on them. Maybe not. Vehicles are major investments that are worth caring for and protecting, and treating all customers who entrust you with those vehicles with respect and care, regardless of their attitude or demeanor, should be a fundamental value at work in your car wash organization.

4. Don’t Make Demands

Car washes are full of heavy machinery and moving vehicles, and if you have to take any action to remove a customer from a potentially dangerous location, do it. The same goes for interactions where employees are being physically or verbally threatened or demeaned. Safety is a priority and overrides all other concerns.

But once a safe environment is established, don’t give orders and stop making demands. Attempting to tell someone who is upset to calm down or be quiet or just listen will only make them feel steamrolled, ignored, and disrespected.

5. Avoid Triggers

Other potentially disrespectful or patronizing actions or attitudes to avoid include smiling, making jokes, saying ‘I understand’, getting defensive, arguing, raising your own voice, speaking too quickly, entering their personal space, or touching them in any way.

6. Outline the Procedure, Limits, and Boundaries

The customer has said their piece and possibly tired themselves out a bit. They haven’t been patronized, insulted, or demeaned. They finally want to know what you’re going to do for them.

Hopefully your car wash has a very specific procedure for dealing with damage claims. Give the customer this info along with documentation and let them know the timeframe involved. Avoid saying that you will solve the issue or making any guarantees, and instead give them clear steps, limits, boundaries, and timelines for resolving the situation.

7. Document Everything

As soon as the customer leaves, document the interaction along with times, dates, bullet point summaries, impressions, and a thorough description of the initial situation. Good notes can be critical for providing good follow-up, or even defending yourself or your facility if the customer were to pursue legal action.

8. Debrief

Maybe the customer engaged one of your younger team members first. Maybe the interaction went on for the better part of an hour. Maybe it took a busy day and turned it into a nightmare.

Take time to debrief following difficult interactions and provide the proper care for you and your employees. Burn out is a serious issue in management and retail positions and your own emotional needs and well-being should never be ignored.

9. Handle the Digital Fallout

Given the countless digital spaces that any retail operates in in 2020, a disgruntled customer can rapidly broadcast their perspective (fair or not) to thousands of your biggest fans and future potential customers in the form of reviews and posts.

Just as with physical interactions it is incredibly important that these complaints be dealt with properly, in a reserved and professional manner. Avoid sharing details or digging in to back and forth arguments as these will generally paint the business owner in a bad light, and instead apologize for the fact that they did not have a good experience, reiterate your commitment to being a reliable and positive service in the community, and invite them to reach out to you directly to discuss the situation.

Even if they never take you up on it, or if they take the opportunity to simply yell some more, the simple act of reaching out with tact and humility can take a negative review and turn it into a powerful demonstration of your organization’s heart.

Tommy’s Express: Bringing It All Together

The Tommy’s Express franchise operates a uniquely modern, performance-focused family of car washes based on the Tommy Car Wash Systems building design and equipment package. All independent Tommy’s Express operators benefit from national brand recognition, hands-on operations training, national marketing campaigns, reputation management services, and proprietary franchise-exclusive technology and services.

For more information please visit the Tommy’s Express franchising page.

Tommy Car Wash Systems

Why Floor Mat Washers are a Perfect Fit For Express Tunnels

The Rhino-Mat Automatic Floor Mat Cleaning System is the perfect solution for express car washes looking to give their customers a truly robust vehicle cleaning destination. Here’s why:

Those who have experience in the car wash industry know that the express car wash model has a number of notable advantages over other car wash systems like inbay, rollover, or hand-wash:

  • Faster washes and a convenient overall customer experience
  • Very high hourly and daily capacity
  • Automated systems reduce required labor
  • Good menu options and upsell potential

But what about full service or flex service washes? While express washes can generally compete with these on speed and price, there is a substantial customer segment who are interested in interior cleaning services to pair with their exterior wash—a segment that most express washes meet half-way with self-service interior detailing aids like vacuums and detail kit vending machines. And this where the Rhino-Mat Floor Mat system shines.

What is it?

The Rhino-Mat Automatic Floor Mat Washer is a unit around 40” x 40” x 20” inches that can be installed under an overhang or exposed to the elements. Once fitted with a simple push button start or some form of payment processor it accepts, washes, dries, and drops a huge variety of commercial vehicle floor mat types.

Why Rhino-Mat?

Unlike some other floor mat laundering machines, the Rhino-Mat is Energy Safe & ETL Certified, requires no extra hook-ups, can be easily moved on wheels or installed more permanently on location, and delivers OUTSTANDING cleaning performance in 30 seconds per mat.

All in all, customers love it.

They really do. When the weather finally clears after winter or a rainy, overcast stretch everyone wants to get out in the sun, and cleaning the car is always on the to-do list. By offering fast, convenient, and either free or affordable mat cleaning combined with vacuum service and fast exterior cleaning, your car wash becomes a car care destination.

We’ve seen it over and over again, in situations where our floor mat cleaners really stand out in customer reviews and feedback and help compliment the car wash’s regular operation. From ride-share operators to soccer moms to contractors, the Rhino-Mat charms them all.

Available Now!

Tommy Car Wash Systems offers Rhino-Mat Automatic Floor Mat Washers in both red and blue finishes with push button start and bill/coin acceptors. Visit our Rhino-Mat webstore listing to learn more, including price, technical specifications, and installation information.

Tommy Car Wash Systems

Tommy’s Express Enters 2020 as Top Car Wash Brand

The following is a January 17 2020 press release published by Tommy Car Wash System’s sister company and national car wash franchise Tommy’s Express Car Wash.

In late 2019 Tommy’s Express Car Wash was listed as the 15th best car wash brand in the “2019 Top 50 List of Conveyor Carwashes” report by Professional Carwashing & Detailing Magazine. This places Tommy’s Express high among the most successful operations and business models in the car wash industry after only three years of operation.

While the franchise may still be in its early days, the foundation supporting it has been long in the making. Originating with the first Quality Car Wash location in Holland, Michigan, the family of companies behind Tommy’s Express celebrated their 50 year anniversary in 2019 and includes world-record setting corporate locations, car wash site developer and equipment vendor Tommy Car Wash Systems, and systems provider Guardian Wash Command.

After its inaugural year in 2016, the Tommy’s Express franchise operated four locations, expanding to seven in 2017. Today, in January of 2020, that number has climbed to 29, with over 70 additional sites slated to open this year in markets across the United States.

According to company President Ryan Essenburg:

“2019 was our biggest year by far and there’s no slowing down ahead. But we’re ready and excited for everything that’s ahead.

With Tommy’s Express we set out to build and bring together, in-house, all the elements that a national car wash organization in 2020 needs to be successful, in a way that the industry has never had access to before. That’s our foundation. Our explosive growth proves that this approach is the right one for us, for our partners, and for the car wash industry.”

According to Alex Lemmen, Chief Operating Officer of Tommy’s Express:

“Right now in 2020 we are exactly where we want to be. We’ve redoubled our team, added a tremendous amount of warehouse and fulfillment capacity, and focused on developing each and every process that goes into building and supporting this organization. I can’t speak highly enough of this accomplishment or the many people who have contributed their time, talent, and energy to make it happen.

I’m also very proud of the WHY behind our corporate mission: Enriching Lives, Adding Value, and Serving Communities. While Tommy’s Express exists today in the right place and in the right time to become a national brand, establishing the largest and most advanced chain in the world, we will forever remain rooted in our calling to serve communities and all who interact with our brand in any capacity.”

Tommy Car Wash Systems

Small Towns and Express Car Wash Development

The Tommy Car Wash Systems team has been a part of literally thousands of car wash developments across the world, many of which have resulted in some of the most advanced and successful car wash facilities in operation today. And through all of this experience our team has noticed a distinct pattern:

Small towns are some of the best locations out there for express car wash success.

This seems counterintuitive. Even our own location criteria specifies lots with high vehicle traffic volume and a high population density. Higher populations should yield a larger customer base by default, and volume is especially important for large, production-focused express car wash facilities (our specialty).

But small towns offer something that cities, large or small, often lack: community.

When a modern, high quality car wash comes to a smaller size community we’ve seen, again and again, a fantastic reception as locals notice the new development, talk about it, look up information online, and get EXCITED! And that excitement generally translates directly to high membership enrollment at or even before the grand opening, as well as high levels of activity during the facility’s continued operation.

While cities do boast a larger population, more vehicle traffic, and often a higher average income, the extra activity and crowded advertising media in the area mean that new car wash developments can easily go unnoticed and uncelebrated—at least compared to a smaller community’s reaction when the next big thing comes to town.

This is not to say that building in a smaller community guarantees success, or that car washes in larger population centers are doomed. There are countless factors at play in any car wash development, from marketing deployments to wash quality, customer service, local competition, and much more.

But we can say that smaller communities should not be overlooked or discarded out of hand when searching for development locations. Many have a lot more to offer than prospective operators may realize.

The Tommy’s Express Car Wash Franchise

Tommy’s Express is a fast-growing national car wash chain that uses the technology, site designs, marketing expertise, and operations procedures developed by the Tommy Car Wash Systems family of company over the past fifty years of operation.

With a stunning building, advanced systems and equipment, and the only comprehensive operations package in the car wash industry, Tommy’s Express Car Wash has been developed to deliver the absolute best car wash customer experience available anywhere.

To learn more please visit our franchising page.

Tommy Car Wash Systems

Wash Club: The Club App Built for the Car Wash Industry

The customer calls in. Months ago they called, or sent a letter, or emailed the office to cancel their membership, but they just noticed on their credit card statement that they’ve been charged ever since. They want a refund, for the entire amount, or else.

It’s a situation that car wash operators and any business with a membership program experiences routinely, and policies should be in place to help limit misunderstandings and streamline the account management process. But ultimately traditional membership programs force the customer to depend on car wash personnel to manage their account for them—they don’t have direct control.  

Wash Club: The Membership App Developed Specifically for the Car Wash Industry

Wash Club was developed by Tommy Car Wash Systems in cooperation with Superoperator to give the car wash industry a modernized option for car wash membership management. It’s a fully featured solution specific to car wash operations, and it’s available now!

How it Works:

From the customer’s perspective, Wash Club is the app they download from their regular app store. They pull it up, select their specific provider (from all participating car washes using the program) and are able to view and purchase their membership from their device.

All it takes is customer and payment information, and their license plate number. From then on they can visit the wash as a regular member, and make revisions or even cancel their account themselves, at any time, no phone calls required.

They have control and convenience, and the automatization involved naturally streamlines customer service, allowing a smaller team to manage more customers with less difficulty.

License Plate Recognition Built-In

Wash Club is more than an app. It’s a technology suite that’s bringing advanced, customized license plate recognition to more and more participating washes.

It is absolutely possible to enhance a radio-tag based membership system with an app system. But the best application of the technology integrates license plate recognition, as the combination gives customers the ability to sign up vehicles or make modifications wirelessly, with no car wash employee involvement. This lowers the barrier to entry and eliminates both the time and cost involved with applying and activating IR tags on-site.

And this compressive hardware + software package is already developed, ready to deploy, and supported one a constant basis by a team with a deep understanding of car wash operations.

Learn More!

To learn more about Wash Club or to bring your facility into the program, please contact the Tommy Car Wash Systems team using our contact form, or one of the other contact methods listed HERE.

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The Importance of Car Wash Production

Fast, efficient production is one of the single most important factors for the health and sustainability of a modern car wash, and not only because good production answers high volume. In fact, good production GENERATES high volume.

The ability to maintain fast conveyor speeds with excellent wash quality at all times and in all conditions has a directly beneficial impact on overall wash performance, customer experience, and value—regardless of that wash’s baseline volume. Here’s why:


Pay lane can stack up quickly and without warning. Maintaining a fast conveyor speed keeps those lines moving and limits backups or bottlenecks. Having a short line or a clear shot to open lane is an invitation to passing customers to take a quick stop and get a wash—no wait required.


Express car wash customers are hungry for an experience that delivers a clean car at great value, fast. The quicker your system can process a payment or membership, get a vehicle through the entrance queue, and send it down the tunnel the better the more valuable your service is too your busy customers.

Speedy visits should be always considered a core component of your facility’s value proposition.


When the clouds part and weekend weather turns bright, warm, and clear it’s not uncommon to see customer cars (including high numbers of non-member vehicles) stacked all the way to the road—which means that all that revenue is essentially up for grabs.

Maintaining high baseline production speed at all times empowers both team members and equipment to more easily ramp up when needed without sacrificing a good customer experience or wash quality. This means your team will be better able to clear the stack and bring in that tight, constant, continuous stream of customers when it matters most,

But how do you establish good car wash production?

First, Training

Excellence must be a habit. Each team member should know their role inside and out, understand the expectoration of their position, and have daily checklists or procedures that require them to take ownership of the wash’s performance. Car washing is a team sport, and cooperation and preparation are absolutely critical.

Equipment and Product Selection

Delivering good wash quality is easier at slower conveyor speeds. To get the same performance while washing cars faster you need wash equipment and application products designed to meet that goal, and you need to evaluate and maintain that performance on a constant basis. Hourly walkthroughs and wash quality checks cannot be optional.

Fast, Streamlined Systems and Processes

Optimize your system as a whole. Where are the bottlenecks, the hang-ups, or the delays? Common pain points include point of sale systems, manual prep, and loading confusion. Correct the problems and strive for a fast, seamless experience that keeps the cars flowing.

Tommy’s Express: Bringing it All Together

In 2019 Tommy Car Wash Systems and our family of companies celebrates fifty years. In that time we’ve grown from a single local car wash in Holland, Michigan into a renowned international car wash equipment supplier and developer, and now into a rising car wash franchise.

Tommy’s Express Car Wash is the peak in express car wash design and operations, putting together exceptional facility design, equipment, control systems, membership technology, chemistry, training, and marketing, resulting in one of the highest grossing franchise opportunities available today.

If you’re interested in joining the Tommy’s Express franchise yourself, please visit our franchising page today!

Tommy Car Wash Systems