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Multi-profit Centers

Giving gift card cheer

October 26, 2011
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Hark! The herald calendar shows; the holiday season will be here before you know. It's hard to believe, but in just a few scant weeks Santa and friends will be loading the sleigh and flying away. Carwash owners and operators can bring a little holiday cheer to their businesses by helping customers give the gift of a quality, environmentally-friendly wash.

Many operators push, promote and publicize their gift card sales, in the hope that customers will soon be there. And, why shouldn't they? Holiday travel is common, and winter roads are covered in paint-damaging salt and sand. With proper advertising and unique offers, owners can do their best to make sure every stocking is hung with a carwash gift card in there.

Signage and websites

The most traditional way a carwash can promote holiday gift card sales is through signage, according to Andrew Jaffa with Carbux Car Wash in Jacksonville, FL. Carbux has offered gift cards since they opened their first wash in 2005. Currently each location has signs placed on all auto cashiers, gates, windows and doors.

In addition, gift cards can be advertised on Twitter feeds, Facebook pages and a carwash's website. Jaffa has even utilized paid advertising on Facebook. "Facebook advertising is very easy," he said. "It's a real short ad, it's like 100 maybe 120, 140 characters." Customers who click on the small link ad will be automatically directed to a carwash's website.

Facebook ads are similar to Google advertising, and they are usually pay per click or pay per impression. Jaffa explained that Facebook advertising is especially effective in today's market because people are spending so much time on the website.

Another benefit to Facebook advertising is that they allow a business to easily narrow an advertisement's demographic. "You can say, 'Okay, I just want to advertise to people in Jacksonville, men, to a certain age group,'" Jaffa explained. "You know, people who like cars. You can really narrow that demographic down quickly."

Something extra

Some washes give discounts and free washes to customers as incentives to purchase gift cards. Jaffa said Carbux offers customers a 25 percent discount on gift cards purchased on their website. Cards purchased at a carwash are not eligible for the discount.

Other washes will give a gift card buyer a free carwash on the day of purchase. Jaffa pointed out one example in Baton Rouge, LA, where customers who buy a gift card get a free wash.

"And we've done that before in the past where we gave away a free carwash when you've bought the gift card," Jaffa said. "We found that was not as efficient as just giving people a bonus and giving them 25 percent extra. They seem to like that better."

Retail sales

Some carwashes are offering their gift cards in different retail stores for the holidays as well. Carbux Car Wash will be the first local merchant to have their gift cards featured in the Jacksonville, FL, location of Costco, according to Jaffa. "The others [offered] have been … national chains. We are extremely excited about this program."

The agreement came about because Jaffa and his father developed a relationship with Costco's general manager. The manager told Jaffa's father to get in touch with Costco's corporate offices and gave him the contact information. Jaffa's father called, and the agreement was soon completed.

Carbux currently delivers the cards to the store pre-loaded for $25. The offer for the carwash's cards is two $25 gift cards for $38.99. This allows customers to save $11 when they buy the cards at Costco. "We sell them to Costco at a discounted price," Jaffa explained. "So Costco makes some money, and we make some money. And the customer gets a great deal."

Since the cards are pre-loaded, the Costco sales process is slightly different than other retail outlets. "They don't have a rack of gift cards that are unloaded," Jaffa said. "They have a palette … and on that palette, they have pieces of cardboard that are legal size." These cardboard pieces feature information about the carwash and explain the gift card offer. The customer takes this over-sized card to the register; there they pay for and receive the two gift cards.

Holiday promotions

The most popular holidays for gift card sales are Christmas, Mother's Day, Father's Day and Valentine's Day, Jaffa said. One idea that Carbux used in the past to promote gift card sales was a contest. The wash had a dirtiest car contest for Mother's Day that was advertised on a local TV station.

"We handed flyers out to all our customers coming through," Jaffa recalled. "And people submitted pictures on the local news station's website of the dirtiest car." The TV station also ran some quick videos on their website to support the contest. When the dirtiest car was finally chosen, Carbux gave the lucky mom a free detail. In addition, the top four or five contenders received gift cards.

Upselling wash clubs

Ideally, owners would be able to upsell every gift card customer to a wash club membership. The wash would perform up to expectations, and employees would work to impress the new customers. But, transferring from a gift card to a wash club can be a challenge depending on a wash's auto cashier technology.

Jaffa said most wash clubs require a credit card for the monthly charges. "With our system, to buy a wash club, you actually have to put in a credit card. You cannot use a gift card." However, a customer can come into the carwash office and pay for the first month of the club with a gift card. After that, a customer would need a credit card on file for the monthly charges going forth.

"I think the monthly club programs are still in their infancy, and they're still coming out with different ways to pay for these," Jaffa said. "One of our deals with Costco is they wanted people to be able to use their gift cards for the wash club. So you can't really do it at the machines."

The future of the monthly billing programs may end up being a "pay-as-you-go" type system, according to Jaffa. Washes would allow a customer to use his or her preferred payment method for the club. So, each month a customer comes in to renew, he or she may charge a certain credit card, pay cash or use a gift card. "If [a business] allows that flexibility where customers can pay as you go versus auto billing, then gift cards may be more prominently featured."

Auto sentry automation

With the advent of auto sentries, machines can now sell and dispense gift cards. The automated cashier will output a card, and it can be loaded right at the machine. Jaffa said different auto sentry systems have different ways of allowing customers to purchase gift cards.

Carbux's auto cashier system cannot load amounts on the cards automatically. But, the system does have a card dispenser. When a customer presses the "buy gift card" option, the machine outputs a gift card, Jaffa explained. Then the customer can put the card into the machine's magnetic strip reader and load a value.

Jaffa said there are some older auto sentry systems that can't actually dispense the cards. Here, the machines have a tray to hold blank gift cards. If customers buy a gift card, they can take the cards out of the holder; then load it using the auto cashier.

Card makeover

A gift card's appearance can also help communicate to customers. Jaffa said Carbux recently redesigned their gift cards to include all of the wash's locations as well as their website, Facebook page and Twitter feed.

"We decided after five years it was time to upgrade them, so we totally redid our gift cards," he said. "You've got to redo them every so often, and create a new look with a new color scheme, new graphics. We thought it was important to have the gift card show the new locations, show our website on the gift card which did not exist before, show our Facebook and Twitter."

Everyone knows that it is better to give than to receive. And a well thought out gift card program can give customers old and new a reason to visit a carwash again and again.

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