What you’ll see in this article:
- An explanation of the problem with loading and unloading vehicles in car wash tunnels
- Benefits of using digital signs for car wash tunnel loading and unloading
- A video of our digital sign in action
- Several use cases for trigger-activated messaging for digital signs
Even though I work in the car wash industry (on the marketing side) I’m always nervous pulling up to a tunnel. Especially if there’s a line. Especially if there are people behind me.
I’m not actually scared. I don’t have claustrophobia or anything, and I’m a good driver. (Battle tested on the streets of Southeast Asia and Latin America.) But I have concerns:
What if I line up wrong?
What if I don’t understand the workers’ instructions?
The man is yelling at me. I can’t hear him. My window is up. It’s loud. I can’t see well. I’m expected to do this quickly, right? Time is money. “Cars per hour.”
Worst of all, I’m in my nice car I spent a lot of money on. If I screw up, it’s on me — the signs say so.
A car wash tunnel is mechanical chaos, an industrial grinder with brushes, blowers and now, of all things, lava!
Why are car wash tunnels like this??
I’m playing it up for effect, but not much. Here’s a comment I found on Reddit.
- I took my car to a carwash the other day because the dealership offered a free car wash, and I had a panic attack. I realized that I have an irrational fear of going through a car wash. The sounds freak me out and when those big machines with the spaghetti arms engulf your car it’s super freaky. I can’t see anything but I just hear the slapping of the car. It’s really hard to see and it just freaks me the hell out.
A lot of people in the comments were making fun of this person, but milder versions of this anxiety are common.
For a car wash owner, these facts add up to a big problem: Why are we tolerating products and practices that produce any negative feelings at all for our customers? Everything we do should be to produce the exact opposite effect: the most positive and memorable experience possible.
We’re asking people to give us a lot of their money each month. Therefore, from a business perspective (what else is there?), we shouldn’t ask for anything else.
We solved this problem because a customer came to us
In early 2021, a customer in Ohio came to us with a set of problems he hoped we could solve. He had heard we were selling digital signs and working on a way to show personalized content to the drivers.
He ultimately ended up buying into our work on personalization and helped us test that product until it was market ready. (I’ll save that story for another article.) But at that time, he simply wondered if we could figure out a way to help drivers load onto belt and roller conveyors.
He foresaw several benefits of doing this:
- Most importantly, precise loading instructions would increase the efficiency and accuracy of drivers, leading to faster loading and higher car counts.
- Next, by giving drivers clear instructions, it demystifies the experience for them. Confusion is bad. Confidence is good. You want confident drivers in your tunnel.
- Loading instructions also take pressure off the attendants, boosting their morale and giving a better “face” to the tunnel. Yelling and waving is not a good look. It doesn’t convey the mechanical precision of a high-tech modern car wash.
- As a possible bonus, if drivers can learn to follow automatic loading instructions, you might not even need to pay somebody to stand at the entrance doing almost nothing. You can save that payroll or give that person a more useful task, like selling memberships.
One of our faults is that we aren’t good at saying no to customers, and we agreed to find a way to give him all of this.
Long story short, we found it. The customer is thrilled. It’s exactly what he wanted. Here’s what it looks like:
But it took about a year to get to this point. I won’t bore you with the process, but it involved a lot of testing. My brother is not an electrical engineer, but he learned enough to figure it out. There are schematics laying around the office now. Late last year we filed a patent for our system.
We’re not done developing it. Most recently, we added control system integration and also exit instructions. There are a lot of ways to build this out and create further automations and new kinds of messaging. I’ll get into that at the end of this article.
But first, here’s an overview of how our loading system works
There are three basic ingredients, and we provide them all:
- An outdoor digital monitor with HDMI and ethernet inputs, wrapped in a stainless steel case (you’re going to want stainless to prevent corrosion from humidity and chemicals)
- A digital media player with seven inputs, plus wiring
- Some kind of vehicle sensor, such as a tire pressure switch or photo eye. Or you can just use your tunnel controller, which has more configurations and leads to some interesting possibilities (more on that later).
With most tunnel loaders, you’re trying to communicate something very specific. This is absolutely not the time to overwhelm the driver with information. Get to the point.
Typically the point is to tell them to pull forward slowly until the vehicle crosses a specific threshold. At that precise moment, you want to tell them the next step, typically “Car in neutral. Hands off wheel. Foot off brakes.”
The sign goes on the driver side about three to five feet ahead of the sensor. The sensor or tunnel controller connects to the media player to send a signal when the content should change. The media player is internet-connected, and content can be updated effortlessly at any time (though most people don’t usually change the loading instructions much). And finally the media player is connected to the monitor via HDMI cable. All of this is housed inside stainless steel.
Obviously you want to know about this. It’s actually quite affordable.
- We charge for the cost of the hardware, which usually ranges from $500 to $2,000, depending what you need.
- It’s $65/month for the media player’s software license.
- We provide graphic designs and animations for free.
For pricing on our digital signage, just contact us and we’ll reply with a quote. Lead times vary, but if we have inventory in stock we can get your digital sign to you within two weeks.
How you can use digital signs with trigger integrations at your car wash
In a way, this loading messaging works as platform technology. You don’t have to position the pieces the same way this other car wash did.
In fact, we had an operator approach us at the Car Wash Show in Nashville asking whether he could use it to deliver a purchase confirmation message. We said yes, and he bought a sign on the spot.
Please note: If you want to use one of our digital signs for personalization or as a menu board, you don’t need our trigger integration! We have other software options for you. Contact us to learn more about those.
OK, here are several ideas that I can think of for a trigger-activated digital sign.
I think you get the idea by now, but I’ll just recap briefly.
You can give drivers the exact information they need at precisely the right moment. They will know exactly when to put their car in neutral, reducing errors and speeding up your line.
You can also give your attendant other tasks or eliminate the position entirely.
Loading signs improve the customer experience.
Same concept but on the way out. We have customers who use the exit sign to thank their customers or to let them know where it’s OK to drive away.
We have also developed a system for a prospective customer (a tunnel equipment vendor) that would allow them to display a countdown timer that tells drivers when the dryers are done. We integrate this with the tunnel controller, and it can display any duration. It also looks much more professional than the high school gymnasium shot clock most people use. Ours is HD with branded animation design.
Most customers have no way of knowing if the wash they’re getting is the wash they paid for. Our digital sign system lets you do that.
You can integrate your sign with your tunnel controller and display the wash they’re getting on a high-def screen.
I like this a lot because product differentiation is a real challenge in the car wash business. It’s hard enough setting yourself apart from competitors, but you also have to set your premium wash apart from your basic wash.
An exciting purchase confirmation solves that problem.
Your customer is driving along, about to pull up to your pay station. Suddenly an ultra-bright, high-def sign lights up telling them they can get half off their unlimited wash plan if they buy it right now.
The timing of the message is perfect. Right in their face at the moment they’re pulling out their wallet.
Why is the timing perfect? Because they drove past a photo eye sensor perfectly positioned to trigger the sign at the right moment.
I would couple this on-screen message with a live salesperson at the pay station. But you could also put a video of a person on the screen and connect it to a speaker to deliver the message. As you prefer.
Frequently asked questions
We get a lot of questions about these signs, so I want to take a second to answer the most common ones here in case it helps you.
Do these signs work in Arizona temperatures and sunlight?
Yes, we use Samsung OH series monitors for our signs, which are best in class outdoor monitors. I would recommend turning them off after hours to increase the lifespan because they’re going to be working really freaking hard in a South Florida or Southern Arizona outdoor environment. But they’re absolutely the best machinery for your situation. There’s no other high-def sign that’s going to work.
Will your mounts rust after a year?
If you get our stainless steel option, not a chance. If you get our powder-coated aluminum option, you should be good the first year. You might start to see corrosion after a few years, but it’s not going to be significant or require a replacement.
Can I use your sign as a simple menu or message board without a trigger?
Yes, absolutely, and you can do it for free without any extra software, hardware or monthly plan. You literally just need a USB stick. You put your design on it, you plug it into the back of the sign and that’s it. We’ll even make your first designs for you for free.
However, if you want to be able to update your content instantly without having to unbolt the back of the sign and deal with USB sticks, then we do have an internet-based content management platform you can use. The price starts at $39/month for the software. It makes things extremely easy. You can even schedule content for different times of day or for weekly schedules.
I recommend the software option especially if you have a bunch of locations and you want all your signs to have the same information and content schedules. You’ll thank me later for it.
What if I want to display customers’ names like “Thanks for coming, Paul!”?
For that you need our omniX content package. We’re the only digital sign in the industry that integrates with vehicle recognition cameras to greet customers by name. If you want this, please contact us and we’ll talk about what you need.