How to Drive Car-Wash Sales, Repeat Business

Anthony Analetto, President, SONNY's/The Car Wash Factory

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How many customers left your property today with a plan for the next time they would return? Will they be back tomorrow for their morning cup of coffee? Or next Wednesday to get their car washed? In today’s hypercompetitive, marketing-driven economy, no service business can afford to be a commodity. You can’t allow your customers to leave your business having bought only gas or a bottle of water. To make real money with your car wash, within 10 seconds of a customer arriving, you’re obligated to help them realize they have a problem, and that your car wash offers an immediate solution.

But before moving to the “good stuff” related to growing your business, first make sure your feet aren’t nailed to the floor. No amount of marketing can overcome a poor customer experience or inferior product. Your bay must be spotless, brightly lit, freshly painted, nicely landscaped and free of any noxious odors. Your equipment must deliver a consistent high-quality wash. You can never sell a “cleaning” service from a dirty or messy property. If your car wash operates 24 hours a day, your lights must be on from dusk to dawn. With that said, let’s move on.

Develop Awareness

Ideally, the bay is front and center, visible from the street, pumps and through the c-store windows. Signs must promote the car wash everywhere a customer looks; don’t forget pumptoppers, overhead banners inside and counter mats promoting a daily wash special. If you’re planning on offering a gas discount with a car wash, get with your POS vendor. Imagine the impact of your first question at the pump: “Would you like to save XX cents per gallon today—yes or no?” Choose yes, and the customer selects the desired wash. Even if the customer selects “No thanks; I’ll pay full price today,” that’s just for today. That means at some level he or she has formed a plan for the next visit to your property, for gas, a car wash or possibly both!

Develop Interest 

Unfortunately, it’s not enough just to grab your customers’ attention. Your job is to convince them that they must get their car washed this very minute. Make a list of your competitive advantages. Are you faster than the competition? Open more convenient hours? Use a nationally recognized brand of detergent, wax or total-body sealant promising a better result? Offer a re-wash rain guarantee? Voted the best car wash in any local publication? Provide an online tire-dressing service? The goal is to tell customers with concise signage everything you do that your competition can’t claim. Get creative. If, for example, you offer a punch-card loyalty program that offers a free wash after a certain number of washes, count how many you give out. Why? Because then you can put a sign out that says, “More than XXX people have joined our car-wash loyalty program; have you? Join today—it’s free!”

Create a Call to Action

“Act now and we’ll send to you a free …” I’m often perplexed about why so few c-store operators leverage this classic marketing tactic to promote their car wash. Consider that each top package sold typically adds $8 to $10 in incremental profit; there’s a lot of room to get creative with calls to action. Don’t limit yourself to using only discounts to create a sense of urgency. It’s possible you already have a counter display selling the latest fad. Once sales of that fad inevitably start to taper off, try putting out a sign “Free Pack of [whatever] with the Purchase of our Best Car Wash.” Whether you use a free drink or some other call to action to purchase a car wash, act now and watch your revenues soar.

Cultivate Loyalty

Here is where real profit is generated. The earlier steps are merely a prerequisite to incite a trial purchase. There’s a lot of talk about developing customer loyalty, creating buying habits and increasing the purchase frequency and average ticket of your best customers. That’s all good stuff, but true loyalty starts with the consistent “goodness” of the car-wash service you provide. Do you deliver a clean, dry, shiny car every time? Is your car wash well maintained and always working? Are the extra services your customers desire available? Does your equipment have the necessary throughput to handle your peak wash volume with a reasonable wait time? In the end, it comes down to delivering value in the form of a consistent, quality service, at a fair price. No amount of marketing can overcome that truth.

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