Why Neglecting Car Wash Retail Customers is a Costly Mistake

June 27, 2023

Over the past several years, monthly wash plan members have become the holy grail of car wash customers. And for good reason. Your members are the ones that bring the predictable recurring revenue that helps sustain your business through bad weather, pandemics and other unfortunate conditions.

While it’s important to build a strong membership, be careful not to neglect your retail business in the process. A truly successful wash is one that has a healthy mix of wash plan members and customers who pay for one wash at a time.

Too Much of a Good Thing

When it comes to monthly wash plan membership, the more the merrier, right? Not necessarily. At some point, your membership volume can get saturated, and you enter what we call “the treadmill of doom.” This is where any new memberships that you're selling are likely replacing ones that are churning out. Typically, we see this happen when plan members make up more than 70% of your volume. 

To avoid the treadmill of doom, it’s important to keep your retail pipeline full. Retail customers are one step closer to becoming members than those who have never visited your car wash. By prioritizing retail customers, you can significantly increase the chances of converting them into loyal members in the future.

A Significant Revenue Source

It is typical for a car wash to generate over 50% of its revenue from its retail customers.  This statistic highlights the significant contribution of retail sales to the overall financial success of a car wash business. Ignoring this customer segment means disregarding a substantial revenue stream that can help sustain your operations and drive growth.

While membership programs can provide a reliable source of revenue, relying solely on members may limit your car wash's financial stability. By actively engaging retail customers, you can diversify your revenue streams.

Loyalty Without a Commitment

One of the key advantages of monthly wash plans is that they lock your members into using your wash rather than going to a competitor. However, that doesn’t mean retail members can’t be loyal.

Retail customers who are willing to pay full price and visit your car wash multiple times a month are demonstrating a strong level of loyalty. By prioritizing their experience, you can further enhance their loyalty and ensure they continue choosing your car wash over competitors. A positive experience can leave a lasting impression and increase the likelihood of them becoming long-term customers, even if they don’t commit to a monthly wash plan.

How to Boost Your Retail Clientele

Now that it’s clear why you need a healthy number of retail customers, let’s look at some ways to attract and keep them.

A Stellar Experience

The biggest factor in determining whether a retail customer will become a regular is what experience you provide. At the bare minimum, you need to provide fast, frictionless, self-serve transactions and a quality wash. Beyond that, think of ways you can delight your customers: Free dash wipes or air fresheners, a fun light show, a cool theme…the possibilities are endless.


For some customers, there is a fear factor in committing to a monthly wash plan. So why not give them the membership experience without the commitment? You can do that with the Pay-As-You-Go feature on Patheon®’s Essential Web App. With the EWA Pay- As-You-Go feature, a customer can store their credit card and designate their preferred wash. When they arrive at the wash, their vehicle is identified by RFID or license plate recognition (LPR). They are then automatically charged for their preferred wash and let through the gate. This allows them to enjoy the plan member experience without a plan membership.

Loyalty Programs

From coffee shops to grocery stores, retailers have been using loyalty programs to get a leg up on their competition. Car washes can, too. Consider offering a loyalty program where customers earn points toward washes for every dollar spent. If you have a C-Store, they could use the points on items in your store. You can manage such a plan with a mobile app by Beacon Mobile. With a Beacon Mobile app, you can send personalized push notifications promoting deals, remind customers to wash, and prompt them to update payment info. You can further keep them engaged with in-app games.

License Plate Recognition

LPR technology has emerged as an alternative to RFID for recognizing monthly wash plan members, but it can also help you market to your repeat retail customers. LPR scans ALL vehicles, not just those of members. Therefore, it can recognize returning members (providing they have a clear, readable plate) and serve up customer promotions on  the pay station. You can offer birthday washes, provide a free wash after 10 or give a frequent wash discount.  

The Best of Both Worlds

Having a strong monthly wash program doesn’t mean you have to ignore your retail customers. By investing in their experience, implementing convenient payment options and providing personalized promotions, you can create a positive impression that encourages repeat business. Remember, a balanced focus on both retail and membership customers is key to the sustainable growth and success of your car wash business. 

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