How to Supersize the Car-Wash Ticket

Ways to boost transactions, from prompting a premium purchase to using mobile apps
Photograph courtesy of PDQ Manufacturing

CHICAGO — Americans are in the mood to baby their cars.

The average price of a new light-duty vehicle has topped $37,000, according to Kelley Blue Book’s latest figures. Reflecting that hefty investment—and the vehicles’ better manufacturing quality—is the fact that Americans are keeping their vehicles longer, or nearly 12 years on average, according to IHS Markit.

That makes the timing of Dino Stop’s investment in its Dino Wash car wash very fortunate. In 2018, the six-store, Shell-branded chain Dino Stop, based in Green Bay, Wis., bought new touchless LaserWash car-wash systems from PDQ Manufacturing Inc., De Pere, Wis., part of OPW, a Dover company.

While Tony Wied, owner and president of Dino Stop parent Wied Oil, has seen a nice increase in car-wash sales volumes since the new equipment was installed, it is also part of a longer trend of two years of “healthy increases.”

And when customers do buy a car wash, they usually opt for the top package. More than half of Dino Stop’s wash sales are from the T-Rex wash, which costs $12.

“We’re finding customers do want the best wash. They want the protectants, wax; they want to have a very clean, protected car,” Wied said.

But Dino Stop, which uses Blue Coral chemicals from St. Paul, Minn.-based Ecolab Inc., has also been diligent in promoting that top wash. When customers ask for a wash, employees are trained to first offer the T-Rex package. And Dino Stop visually highlights the top wash in signage. On the car-wash menu, the T-Rex wash is much bigger than the other wash packages, with a dinosaur graphic calling it out.

Kelly Maria, vice president of chemical sales and operations for Mark VII Equipment Inc., Arvada, Colo., said this visual prioritization is powerful because many customers do not take the time to study the menu. She advises stacking the features available in the top wash—underbody flush, rain repellant, bug wash, etc.—in a way that emphasizes the significance of the most expensive offer.

“We have some customers that are selling the top wash for $10 to $15,” Maria said. “You want to make sure you are giving them their money’s worth.”

There are other ways to steer customers to the top wash and otherwise grow the car-wash ticket. For example:

  • Prompt the premium. About 70% of car-wash purchases come from the pump, Maria said. “When asked if they want a car wash, if you don’t have a menu, they will pick the bottom and middle wash,” she said. Operators should include a car-wash menu at the pump that emphasizes the top package.
  • Provide a multisensory experience. “It’s pretty much all about the show,” said Larry McCarty, vice president of U.S. sales for Mark VII. “When someone comes in to get their car clean, they want to make sure it comes out clean, dry and shiny, but they also want to have a show while they’re in there. Have some bells or whistles, or lights.” Detergents can supply colors and fragrances that contribute to a multisensory approach at the car wash.
  • Shine on. One popular new feature at Dino Stop’s car washes is Dino Glow, a carnauba wax coating that shines and protects the exterior of the car.

“It looks like hot lava poured over your car,” said Wied, citing its visual appeal. Dino Stop promoted the new offer with signage and employee education. “Once [customers] see it on the car in front of them, learn about it from our team members, read about it on our menu boards and see Dino Glow and carnauba wax, and once they try it, they’re hooked.”

Mark VII’s ShineTecs coating is said to restore the show-room shine to a vehicle. While it is available as a stand-alone application, ShineTecs is now also offered in Mark VII’s triple-foam finish product. “Anyone with a triple-foam feature could apply it and brush it in,” McCarty said. “You can offer it to customers as a new benefit without upgrading your equipment.” Some Mark VII customers offer ShineTecs as an add-on option for $2 to $5 more or include it in a top wash package.

  • Tire time. While tire cleaner is a popular feature in tunnel car washes, some in-bay automatics do not have room for a tire shiner. “A lot of people are now converting some of their vacuums to do an add-on tire-cleaning pad,” said McCarty, pointing out that these are typically stand-alone, coin-operated machines.
  • Speak up. If car-wash volumes and tickets are not growing, Maria said operators are likely doing one of two things wrong: not marketing the wash effectively or not cleaning cars well.

She encourages retailers to keep their promotions fresh and change them out monthly. They should also play off the weather in advertising the wash. In Florida, during love-bug season in May and September, bug remover is an obvious upsell. In winter, highlighting the need to remove snow, grime and road salt are key.

Dino Stop offers “Wacky Wednesday” specials of $3 off any wash, and a 20-cent-per-gallon discount on gasoline for Shell Fuel Rewards members when they buy a wash.

  • Tap technology. Dino Stop is installing new point-of-sale equipment from its car-wash POS provider Unitec, Elkridge, Md., that will enable it to sell car-wash bundles. It is also introducing a mobile app that lets customers can buy car washes and use the app to enter the wash.


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