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Car-Wash Operators Find RFID Helps Them Clean Up

EPC RFID tags attached to car windshields quickly identify regular customers and make sure their vehicles get all the services they signed up for.
By Claire Swedberg
May 26, 2008New Jersey car-wash operator Deptford Shammy Shine is among several companies in the Northeast using an RFID-enabled kiosk provided by Innovative Control Systems (ICS) to allow customers to receive quick, customized, prepaid car washes. Since installing ICS' Auto Sentry system in January 2008, says Steve Bulboff, owner of Deptford Shammy Shine, the average revenue for each car wash has risen by 18 percent, to $7.28, and Bulboff says his customers are happy with the system because they get faster, more automated service.

Innovative Control Systems offers an outdoor, self-service point-of-sale kiosk installed at a car wash's entrance, according to Tom Tuohy, the company's manager of RFID program and credit card processing. ICS began employing RFID technology at its car-wash kiosks about a year and a half ago, he says, to automate the process of car washing. The system, Tuohy claims, can provide greater speed and convenience for customers, as well as "improve cash flow for the operators by offering the ability to manage prepaid clubs." With the prepaid system, customers pay a standard monthly fee regardless of the number of times they utilize the service.

ICS' Auto Sentry RFID-enabled kiosk.

At full-service car washes, Bulboff says, there are typically slow times and bursts of heavy patronage. That can lead to long lines of customers waiting for service. Without an RFID system, those patrons pay for the wash with cash or a credit card, after requesting specific services such as a basic wash or a full service that includes the cleaning of tires and the undercarriage, and the application of wax. The kiosk makes the service-selection process more automatic.

The first time a customer uses the RFID-enabled system, Tuohy says, they enter the car wash's office, present their credit card and set up a monthly payment system, paying a $15 to $60 monthly fee with a specific requested service. In some cases, the initial monthly payment system can also be set up at the kiosk. Customers then receive a sticker to attach to their windshield.

The sticker includes a passive ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) Gen 2 RFID inlay encoded with a unique ID number linked to the customer's name, desired services, payment information and other information. Data regarding a clients' service agreement is stored by the car-wash operator's server using ICS software, while payment information such as credit card numbers is stored by a remote third-party server also running ICS software.

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