Passionate Car-Wash Marketing

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

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“Hey Anthony, did you get the picture of the turkey I sent?” One of six Thanksgiving birds one of my industry colleagues prepared, this one was brined in sweetened coffee, stuffed with doughnuts, covered with rainbow sprinkles and served as a dessert to nearly 30 guests attending his holiday celebration. (See photo.) As he exclaimed, “Everyone loved it,” it made me pause and reflect: Is it normal for dozens of people to gobble down 13 pounds of sugar-coated turkey and rave about the experience? Did they actually enjoy the commodity? Or were they simply infected by the chef’s marketing of the product, meaning his passion and enthusiasm?

Every business owner is searching for more ways to get more revenue from each square foot. Deliver more value, more reasons to visit and more reasons to come back. Life would be easy if customers were logical and rational; the highest-quality commodity at the lowest price would win every time. Unfortunately, customers don’t appreciate the work it takes to deliver fast, affordable quality—it’s the minimum they expect. Whether it’s fresh food, coffee service or car wash, a consistent, high-quality, affordable product guarantees nothing more than a chance to win their business.

Car washing’s allure of delivering dollars, not pennies, has led many investors to willfully convince themselves that the car wash is a commodity like gasoline. I’d like to take this opportunity to set the record straight. First, profitable car washing demands a consistent, predictable customer experience in both speed and quality of service. But that’s only the tip of the iceberg. Making real money requires that you become a passionate car-wash marketer. Because whether it’s inspiring 30 adults to devour a sugarcoated turkey, or to buy your top wash, most business success starts by creating an enthusiastic customer experience.

  • Observe, Ask and Listen: When trying to analyze your customers’ deepest desires, don’t overlook the obvious—ask them. Develop a list of questions to profile which 20% of customers deliver 80% of revenue. When do they wash, what do they value most (time, quality, shine, protection, other) and what other services on your property do they consume? Are you considering a 20-cent-per-gallon discount on gas with a car wash every Tuesday? Exploring a new loyalty program, or offering an early-bird free cup of coffee with a wash before 10 a.m.? Understanding customer preferences will influence wash menu, graphic design and promotions, so get out there and ask. But don’t just ask—listen. You’ll be surprised how forthcoming customers are to help you serve them better.
  • Research Your Potential: Before investing in signage or advertising to acquire new customers, determine your market’s potential. Whether you hire a consultant, register for an online service or have your equipment supplier provide one, get a demographic profile immediately. Never assume before spending real cash. You’ll get valuable insights in developing strategies to acquire, retain and cross-sell customers.
  • Research Your Customers’ Options: Quick: Without thinking, write down one competitive advantage of your car wash. There will always be someone willing to sacrifice more profit than you are, so never focus on being cheapest. Many owners struggle with this question, which means that customers will struggle to choose them. Most convenient hours, easiest access, friendliest, best shine, most attractive, fastest, richest loyalty program or cross promotions, free services such as vacuums? Write it down. And analyze your competition. Once you can say “Wow, if I were a customer, I’d be an idiot to wash anywhere else,” you’re on your way to maximizing car-wash profits.
  • Survey Your Customers: My two favorite survey questions: “Would you recommend our wash to a friend? Why or why not?” Train your cashiers to ask, “Would you like to get your [cup of coffee, fountain drink, or other incentive] free today with the purchase of any car wash just by completing a survey?” You’ll increase revenue and learn how to earn their repeat business. Now that’s effective marketing. 

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