There is a new family of towels in town: Courtesy Towels.
You’ve heard of Body Towels, Glass Towels, Polishing Towels and even Vending Towels. But what about Courtesy Towels? What are they?
Well, the answer starts with a story. Car wash business models, like towels, have changed during the last 20 years. In the old days, full-service washes were plentiful and one would often see fifteen or more attendants busy drying cars at the end of the tunnel. In order to keep costs down, washes began to eliminate these attendants. Today, “work sharing” is common with flex-serve and exterior washes. Customers get a relatively low-priced wash, but in exchange they have to do their own vacuuming and towel drying.
As you can imagine, it would not be practical for a customer to bring their own vacuum cleaner to the car wash when they needed a car cleaning. Vacuums are usually provided for the customer’s personal use at the wash.
So What About Towels?
Drying and interior cleaning still need to be done. Exterior, express, and flex washes quickly figured out they needed to offer towels for the customers to utilize.
The customer’s requirement for towels was filled in a variety of creative ways. Hence, the birth of the Courtesy Towel. Some washes sell towels, some provide free towels with their top wash package, while others provide towels for the customer’s free use on the property. A large segment of washes even gives towels to all patrons at no cost. These would include treated dash wipes, disposable towels, and small microfiber towels.
Many innovative washes used this new opportunity for marketing as well. A phenomenon known as “towel exchange programs” started appearing at car washes. With exchange programs, you sell a unique towel to the customer. Each time the towel is returned to the wash where it was purchased, it is replaced for free. Many washes opt for printed or embroidered towels for branding, always keeping their logo in front of their customers!
Types of Courtesy Towels
The most popular Courtesy Towels is simply providing towels for the customer’s free use on the property. This, of course, involves the investment of a washer and an extractor on premise, along with a place to pick them up and return bins in the drying area. However, it affords the greatest flexibility. One can use cotton or microfiber towels, towels of differing weights, various sizes, and even different colors.
One possibility is buying closeouts. These are discontinued towels, often microfiber, that can be purchased at a fraction of their original selling price. The color will change from time-to-time, but the quality is often excellent. When your customers take off with your towels, your costs are not as great. Ask your Kleen-Rite rep for current availability of styles and colors. Another way to go is with all black microfiber towels. The black color will never show the towel stains. If theft is a problem, washes often go with a smaller 12” x 12” towel. If pilferage is less of an issue, a 16” x 16” heavier GSM towel is preferred. It is more sustainable, and frankly works better.
Perhaps the second most popular Courtesy Towel is the give-away towel. At the entrance of a wash, customers are given a towel to use after their car has been washed. Most washes use disposable towels: paper, DRC, hydro-entangled fiber, and non-woven. Another possibility would be a dash-cloth, which is a pre-moistened towel for cleaning dashboards and even windshields.
Most popular in this genre, however, are microfiber towels. With sonic edge sealing technology (edgeless), and other advances in manufacturing, Pop-Up Microfiber Towels are cheaper than ever before! Packaged in portable and affordable dispenser boxes, operators can now hand out something of value with modest expense. The towels are available in six vibrant colors including “Brilliant Black.” Pallet pricing can bring the cost of this towel down to less than $.27 each.
An additional alternative would be a “towel replacement program.” This option offers the bonus of creating customer loyalty by design. The car wash sells a unique towel one time to the customer. When the customer returns the soiled towel, they get a fresh, new, clean towel without charge. This concept also adds a layer of security to your cherished monthly wash plan customers. If they leave the fold, they relinquish their towel rights. They can keep the towel, however, unique towel cannot be replaced at any other wash.
What Makes a Courtesy Towel “Unique”?
A unique towel is a towel that can’t be easily obtained somewhere else. It could be something as simple as a black towel with red edge binding. Or a towel with the wash’s logo and/or name printed or embroidered on it. Just a note of caution here: do not go cheap on the customer or you will regret it.
When you sell a unique towel, you are making a statement about the quality of your wash. If microfiber, it should be plush and have a high GSM (grams per square meter). We recommend dark color towels, as they do not show stains very easily. We also suggest that you buy towels made from a high-quality yarn – this adds sustainability and length of service. Full service car wash towels have these characteristics. They are crafted to be washed hundreds of times. Long-lasting is good for the environment and good for your wallet!
You can’t forget about vend towels either! A corkscrew-type vending machine offers endless possibilities for additional profit for you and convenience for your customers. Microfiber, cotton, and paper towels are available already packaged for vending. It is also an easy way to provide your customers with air fresheners, premoistened towels, vinyl dressings, etc. Vending is a smart business practice. There is no point in leaving money on the table!
Some washes provide more than one way for their customers to have towels available for their use. One of the car washes that I patronize in Naples Florida offers embroidered hand towels for sale at the automated pay station (you collect the towel at the entrance) and a vending machine offering microfiber towels in the vacuuming area.
Customizing Your Courtesy Towel
In each area of Courtesy Towel conversations there is opportunity for promoting brand recognition. If you are providing a towel for a customer’s use on premise you can have your logo and name printed on the towel and/or the label.
The first way to customize your towels is with inkjet sublimation. This process uses specially formulated inks and heat-transfer to fuse text and images to cotton and microfiber fabrics. The second is silkscreen printing. This method uses fast-drying solvent-based ink to deliver a soluble permanent dye into the fabric. Both processes transfer images to the towels that are vibrant, permanent, and have the same softness as the towel. They won’t scratch the clear coat or the paint!
Secondly, embroidery presents a more professional, higher-class feel. Gold and silver color filament thread add pop to your branding! However, it is the most expensive form of towel branding, and the rear of the image is a bit rough. Nevertheless, it is a good option, and many car washes choose it.
All towel printing and embroidery is custom. Printing small quantities can be expensive and require setup charges. Large, pallet-sized orders are less expensive and can be completed in three to five weeks in the USA. The least expensive way to print or embroider towels is to have it done offshore. This allows the printing to be done on rolls before the towels are cut and sewn. Roll printing also grants the customer department store quality printing and larger images if required. Inkjet print the entire towel if you want! However, turn time is slower – it often takes twelve to sixteen weeks for delivery.
There is not one best way of taking care of your customers’ need for Courtesy Towels. The biggest mistake you can make is not providing towels at all!