Secrets of Successful Self Service Car Wash Operations – Choosing Software to Work for Your Business


There is an easier way to do business, make more money, save time, increase efficiency, and streamline operations of your self-service car wash. The solution involves hiring on some additional help. This new help will never lie, never steal, never show up to work with a hangover, and always show up to work on time. It may be time to consider how advances in software solutions might improve your business.

Like all things in business, you’re growing or you’re dying, succeeding or failing, improving your business or becoming complacent. The car washing industry is becoming increasingly competitive as new investors and entrepreneurs enter the arena of building car washes bringing new ideas and new technologies to the table. New car washes are being built by the ‘Pepsi Generation’ that understands modern marketing, promotions, and most importantly, how to make technology work for them to maximize their business potential.

There have been advancements made in water treatment; car cleaning chemicals, and nearly every aspect of car washing has made major advancements from the ground up. Not every car wash has the luxury (or extra money) to change out all of their washing equipment to stay up to date with the latest and greatest every few years. For existing businesses that want to start doing more now (without the huge bill) the most cost-effective upgrade that can be made to an existing car wash operation is by investing in software solutions to improve business operations, profitability, and employee accountability.

Software is everywhere and it should be no surprise that it plays a major role in successful car wash operations. The vehicles we drive have computers in them with software that regulates fuel efficiency, engine timing, monitors tire pressure, operates complex GPS navigation systems, and calls 911 if you get into an accident. Car washes have similar software applications throughout their business. The major distinction is that vehicles COST money and car washes MAKE money. Vehicles and car washes do not need software to operate but to maximize performance it is a necessity.

What Uses Does Software Have at a Self Service Car Wash? Point of Sale

  • Accounting
  • Cash Management / Cash Monitoring (Coin Counting)
  • Credit Card Processing
  • Management of Loyalty Fleet/Gift Card Programs
  • Equipment Monitoring
  • Chemical Level / Mixture Monitoring
  • Video Surveillance Systems

Learning From the Pro’s – How Are They Doing It?The most successful self-service car wash operations all share several things in common and it is no secret that technology plays a large role in their overall business plan. The following software-based solutions are the primary contributing factors to the success of real car wash operations throughout North America.

Accounting Automation – What every successful car wash operation has at its core is the ability to properly manage their money. The primary focus of EVERY for-profit business is the tracking of cash flow, expenses, and deposits. Most car wash operators use a software program such as QuickBooks, Peachtree, or some form of custom accounting application to manage these areas of their business. These programs give car wash operators the ability to view their business at a glance and to monitor profitability and track losses. Without this invaluable information it is nearly impossible to make INFORMED decisions about how to run a successful for-profit business.

Equipment Monitoring – An important part about running a self-service car wash is making sure that all of the equipment is in working order and operating at maximum efficiency. Successful car wash operations make use of remote equipment monitoring software programs that can send a text message or ring a pager when an equipment failure occurs or if soap levels drop below a preset level. Wash operators can expect to make more money with reduced down times and increase the life span of their equipment by catching malfunctions early on before they lead to major repairs. Of the self-service operators interviewed for this article the commonly recommended software program for equipment and chemical monitoring was the Wash Remote system by Imagine Innovation, one of the pioneers of data tracking, consolidation, and wash monitoring.

Electronic Payment Acceptance: Credit Card, Loyalty Gift Card, and Commercial Fleet Solutions – The difference between a self service wash that does $6,000 in washing a month and a car wash that does $40,000 in washing a month is that the more successful wash makes payment acceptance, sales, and marketing its number one priority. Wash operators such as Marcus Schoenenberger of Texas Shine Car Washin San Antonio talks about a “problem” that his company has with accepting payment. Marcus says, “If I have a customer that wants to give me money, I’m going to find a way to take it!” Marcus makes use of a software based cashless acceptance program that allows his customers to use both credit cards and loyalty cards at ANY service at the car wash (even the drop shelf vending machines!). There are a lot of cashless payment solutions available on the market and there are important things to consider if you decide to add cashless acceptance to your self-service car wash.

Do your Research – There are a lot of cashless acceptance solutions in the marketplace and each will be a bit different. Use the Internet, speak with other car wash owners, and call the companies and ask plenty of questions. Ask for references, discuss product upgradeability, and make sure you do it right the first time.

Plan for Growth – Make sure that the cashless solution you purchase will grow with your business. Will you have the ability to add additional services to the system down the road? Does the product have the ability to be upgraded after it has been purchased? Avoid purchasing a solution that will not scale with the size and scope of your business over time.

Industry Secret: Car washes are in the business of taking a customer’s money in exchange for wash services, right? According to wash equipment distributors, the first area of a new construction or remodel project to get cut due to overspending is payment acceptance hardware and software. Does this make ANY sense to cripple a business from the start by limiting their ability to take all forms of customer payment? Successful wash operations that go over budget will leave a wash bay empty of wash equipment rather than eliminate the hardware and software that can give their business the edge needed to increase profits and stand out from their competitors. Every shred of Industry data supports the importance of implementing some form of cashless acceptance solution at a wash.

Software Basics: Types of Software Hard Coded Logic Programs – This is your standard circuit board with an array of chips soldered on it. These chips are programmed with a set of VERY specific commands that are executed based on external inputs Carwash such as button pushes that then trigger a desired response such as activating the pumps. The advantage of hard coded logic is that they are not susceptible to things such as computer viruses and are generally trouble free. The downside to hard coded programs is that they are very simple and lack flexibility. It is incredibly difficult to upgrade a system that has no central processing system such as a computer. Most upgrades to a system based on hard coded logic result in the physical replacement of the circuit boards and in many cases the entire unit must be replaced. The long term costs of a non-centralized system are much higher than their conventional software counterparts.

PC Based Software Programs – These days most car washes have a computer in their office or equipment room. There are also businesses that prefer to keep a home office and run all of their accounting programs from a home computer. The major advantage to a PC-based software solution is that it has the ability to get upgraded as time goes on. The primary downside to a PC-based software solution is that if anything happens to the on-site computer or if it downloads a computer virus the data is at risk of being lost entirely. It is HIGHLY recommended that if you have a software system on a local computer at a wash that a backup routine is put into place to store the data off-site. This can be done with a number of other computer programs or by manually copying the information to a CD or disk on a regular schedule.

Web Based Software Programs – No business has gone untouched by influence of the Internet. Business Week, Forbes, and the Wall Street Journal have all commented on how the use of Internet technologies in business is one of the greatest things to happen to small business owners and large corporations alike. Successful self service car wash operations use web-based software programs to manage customer loyalty accounts, synchronize their data to their copy of QuickBooks at their home office, sell car washes online, send out billing to commercial fleet accounts, market to their customer base, and run reports on car wash activity from ANYWHERE in the world as long as they have access to a web connection.

There are two primary advantages to web based software solutions. The first primary advantage is that rather than needing to purchase a software CD to make system upgrades, web-based software is upgraded on the fly automatically. The second primary benefit is that car wash transaction data, cash counts, accounting information, customer data, and equipment error codes are all stored remotely on the Internet. This means that if anything happens to the computer system on-site, ALL of the information is safely stored in another location. This reduces both cost AND frustration should any problems occur down the road.

Find a Solution that Works for You Many car wash operators are not ready to make use of full-scale software upgrades throughout their business. Your business will not fail if you do not invest in software solutions, but it will never HURT business to increase efficiency and profitability. It is important to find a solution that works best for you and YOUR car wash operation. Want to reduce shrinkage? Look into cash management solutions. Want to keep an eye on employees and your wash? Investigate remote video surveillance software packages. Want to capture commercial fleet business in your area? Look into cashless acceptance solutions to accept credit cards and fleet cards. Want to save time doing the books every month? Check out QuickBooks and QuickBooks compatible software solutions to eliminate double entry, and reduce headaches come tax time.

Your business deserves to hire on some new help to assist you around the wash. Next time consider the software solutions available to you in today’s high-tech marketplace.

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