Tips to Build and Launch an Unlimited Car Wash Plan 

Congratulations on your decision to own and operate a car wash! As you may know, the express exterior car wash business model has seen immense growth over the past decade. We can attribute a large part of that success story to innovations like the unlimited car wash plan. 

In fact, revenue doubled for one car wash in Northern California when it implemented the subscription-based service. Unlimited car wash plans allow customers to wash their vehicles as often as they’d like during a specified period, typically a month or a year, for a fixed price.  

A Brief History of Unlimited Car Wash Plans  

red suv at car wash pay station behind gae with graphic illustrating an RFID reader reading tag on car's windshield

Unlimited car wash plans are essential for most express exterior car washes to be successful. But how did these plans start? And why are they now such a vital part of the industry? 

While it’s difficult to pinpoint an exact origin or date, we can trace the concept through the development of loyalty programs in other industries and the evolution of car wash service offerings and technology. 

In the early 2000's, RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) technology emerged that made subscription plans possible for car washes by enabling the automatic recognition of member vehicles. DRB commercialized this technology, leading to the explosion of unlimited wash plans in the industry. 

Car wash customers saw the value in paying a fixed monthly fee for unlimited washes since it provided a cost-effective and hassle-free way to keep their cars clean. And car wash owners saw the unlimited wash plan as a reliable source of recurring revenue. 

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The Benefits of an Unlimited Car Wash Plan 

Allowing customers to pay one monthly price no matter how often they wash may sound crazy. But it’s important to understand that most members don’t “abuse the system” as operators often fear. The typical unlimited car wash plan member only washes their car an average of 3.2 times per month.  

It’s also helpful to consider the lifetime value of a customer rather than the amount you make per wash. If a member signs up for a plan that is $20 a month, that means they are spending $240 a year at your wash. Most single-wash customers wash two to five times a year, spending around $50 a year at your wash – if they choose your wash every time.  

There are a number of other benefits of unlimited wash plans: 

  1. Graphic depicting growth with the blurred image of a man pointing at the upward arrowRecurring revenue – A major challenge for car washes is unpredictability, mainly caused by weather. Having a rainy or snowy season can pose a significant financial risk. An unlimited wash program lowers that risk. It provides monthly income regardless of situations beyond your control. The recurring revenue is really what makes a car wash a great investment. It may be why you considered the car wash industry in the first place, and if so, you made a wise decision.
  2. Customer loyalty and retention – Unlimited plans encourage customer loyalty and retention, leading to a steady revenue stream and prolonged customer relationships. These relationships also often lead to word-of-mouth referrals. 
  3. Contactless transactions – These days, consumers want to reduce touchpoints in all public interactions. With an unlimited wash plan and automatic vehicle identification, customers have little interaction with staff. 
  4. Increased Throughput – Member transactions are faster because they don’t have to purchase their wash at the pay station. This allows for more cars to be washed – driving volume and revenue. Plus customers love spending less time in line! 
  5. Group effect – Unlimited plans also can create more activity at your wash, and activity breeds activity. When people drive by a wash and see that it’s busy, it makes them think about getting a wash, too.  

What a Successful Program Looks Like 

It takes careful planning to build an unlimited car wash plan. You need to consider a variety of factors before you implement your plan. Some of those factors include: 

  1. Packages and pricing strategy   An unlimited car wash plan typically has multiple packages (or levels). As the price increases, so do the services that come in that package. So, how many levels should you have? Our research shows the ideal number is three. Think good, better, best options. Also consider offering discounts for longer subscription commitments, encouraging customers to opt for annual (versus monthly) plans. 
  2. Technology and platforms   Choose POS that offers a user-friendly, online platform or app that allows customers to sign-up for and manage their plans. The POS should also provide a tracking system to monitor usage and automate customer reminders to maximize their subscription benefits.
  3. Point-of-sale opportunities   Make sure the system is flexible enough to allow you to create multiple plan levels and customize the pricing of your plans. The system should also include: 
  4. Automatic recharging –Automatically recharging member credit cards monthly to renew their plans 
    • Automatic retry – Trying declined credit cards multiple times for a set amount of time rather than terminating the plan after one decline 
    • Grace period – The option to allow members to continue washing while their credit card is being retried 
    • Card account updater – Automatically updates customer credit card information to reduce recharge issues 
  5. Vehicle recognition –When a member arrives at the wash, vehicle recognition technology identifies the vehicle as a member’s and automatically allows it through. There are two key types of vehicle recognition technology: RFID, as mentioned above, and license plate recognition (LPR).  
    • Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) – This system scans a tag on the vehicle’s windshield to identify the vehicle. Some drawbacks are when the windows are tinted or there are multiple tags.
    • License Plate Recognition (LPR) – This system identifies members by scanning their license plate. LPR also allows you to identify every vehicle, not just members, increasing marketing opportunities. 
  6. Analyze success – You’ll want to track which plans are selling so you can adjust pricing and features. You’ll also want to record plan usage and members who may be in danger of falling off. 

Marketing Your Program

Like anything else, you get out of your unlimited wash program what you put into it, and marketing the plan is a key to success that can’t be ignored. 

There are multiple channels to market your plan, including but not limited to word-of-mouth, direct mail, digital media, traditional media, events and so much more. 

  1. Digital Advertising: 
    • Utilize social media, search engine advertising and targeted online ads to reach potential customers. 
    • Highlight the convenience, cost savings and perks of the unlimited wash plan. 
  2. Collaboration and Partnerships: 
    • Partner with local businesses to offer joint promotions or discounts to their customers who subscribe to your unlimited wash plan. 
    • Collaborate with car dealerships, service centers or insurance companies to promote your plan to their customer base. 
  3. Customer Testimonials and Reviews: 
    • Showcase satisfied customers’ testimonials and before-and-after images to build trust and credibility. 
    • Encourage customers to leave reviews on your website and popular review platforms (think Yelp). 
  4. Referral Programs: 
    • When existing subscribers refer friends or family, provide a discount or an additional wash to both parties. 
    • Promote the referral program through emails, social and in-person interactions. 

Plan to Have a Plan 

Creating a successful unlimited car wash plan involves careful planning, pricing strategies, efficient technology integration and effective marketing to attract and retain customers. 

By offering convenience, cost savings and exceptional service, you can build a loyal customer base and ensure the success of your car wash business. And you don’t have to do it alone. DRB is here to help. 

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