Wash Wisdom

Car wash consultants push cross-merchandising

SAN ANTONIO -- Imagine the journey that a customer goes through at a convenience store with car wash site and ask yourself if you are doing enough suggestive selling along the way. That's the advice two industry consultants gave at a merchandising workshop last week at the 2005 Car Care World Expo in San Antonio.

David Takeuchi of Bedrock Brand Consultants, Oakland, Calif., and Kelly Maria of Car Wash Technology Inc., Rancho Cordova, Calif., asked roughly 75 car wash operators in attendance to think of what a customer goes through when purchasing a c-store [image-nocss] item or car wash. Are there signs at the cashier station that mention the value of a premium car wash? Are employees commenting on the nice weather and suggesting to customers that they wash their cars? Is there a free drink offer at the end of the car wash?

C-stores can be your biggest opportunity, Takeuchi said. In a study they did of 300 car washes, he says only 25% of sales came from the store. Less than five% of people who walk through the door buy car washes.

Maria said one key to increased sales is improving employee-customer relationships. At one location already doing well in car wash sales, she said managers implemented financial incentives and new training methods. The site saw an increase of $6,000 in revenue as a result, she said.

She also noted that while financial incentives may take away from the bottom line, operators may find the added income worth the expense. But for those still having issues about financial incentives (especially when the incentive programs end, leaving the employees less motivated), Maria suggested giving employees free car washes. If employees understand what you get with that wash, they can better communicate that to customers.

The two suggested several nontraditional ways to cross-merchandise:

Put vacuums at the pump. Maria suggested that the idea promotes cleaning the car and can be an extension of the car wash option. Cross-selling other retailers. Perhaps a dry cleaner or a fast-food restaurant would want to partner in cross selling with c-store items or the car wash. The tactic promotes the services at the site to a broader audience. Improve site navigation. Takeuchi suggested that retailers plan their sites with stripes or lines on the pavement to direct customers from the pump to the car wash. One price fits all. The idea is to make one price for the car wash and tout the benefits of that one service.

In the question-and-answer period following the session, retailers asked about employee incentives, choosing core offerings and the technology necessary to tie the in-pump card reader, point-of-sale (POS) and car wash kiosk together.

After the session, Dean Shimabukuro, of Tony Group Autoplex, Waipahu, Hawaii, asked Takeuchi for advice about site plans on a new car wash and c-store location. Looking at the plans, Takeuchi suggested moving the entryway further from the destination items. It's like in Vegas where they have you walk through the casino before you get to anything else, Takeuchi said.

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