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In the crowded wash market, capturing the attention and imagination of potential customers seems like an impossible task. It's always a struggle, letting your unique voice be heard over the din of the competition. How can you concisely communicate what you do best? How can you effectively explain what sets your wash apart from the competition?
Many times, successful marketing requires owners to step out of their comfort zone. Sure, it's scary tiptoeing out onto a ledge. It's hard to take a chance and try something you've never considered before — like, maybe, dressing up as different presidents and performing a super-silly carwash rap.
Recently Roger Tanna and his wife, Dipika, unleashed their inner Jay-Z on TV and rapped about their carwash for a decidedly wonky commercial. Now, 356,000 (and counting) views on YouTube and a few television appearances later, the goofy rap has been transformed into genius marketing. And, more importantly, the commercial has brought the wash an incredible increase in business.
The Presidential Car Wash & Detail Center located in North Hollywood, CA, is a uniquely styled carwash in that it offers full-service washes, express washes and detailing services. Owner Roger Tanna decided on this format while working for another carwash chain.
"While building and managing multiple carwashes for my previous employer, I had tried different models for him," Tanna said. "I [came] to a conclusion that the full-service carwash with an express lane, free vacuums with both express and full-service detailing, was the most desired and profitable in the southern California market."
In addition to the unique design, the carwash also stands out due to the amount of labor it requires. Tanna said he always seeks to provide the maximum level of customer service even though it increases his labor costs. In his experience at other washes, Tanna saw that the owners were too worried about labor percentage to have the proper number of employees on hand.
The employees at the wash also receive thorough training. Tanna said he and the general manger, Gabriel Gutierrez, train new employees on how to interact with customers. They also teach new hires the wash's procedures for vacuuming and wiping cars. Finally, all employees go through Auto Magic detail training and certification. "I take care of my employees, and I always show them they are part of the business," Tanna explained.
When Tanna came to the U.S. 19 years ago, he found his first job in the carwash industry. He noticed a cashier vacancy at a carwash in Upland, CA, and he decided to apply for the position. "Back then it seemed that many people found it disgraceful to work in a carwash, so I felt that it wouldn't be very difficult to move up the ladder," he said. "I really enjoyed working in the industry and decided to learn everything about the carwash business."
The next stop in his early carwash career was Las Vegas. There, Tanna accepted a service advisor job at Terrible Herbst. "I always stayed behind on my own time to learn about maintaining and fixing the equipment. Mr. Jerry Herbst, the owner, later gave me an opportunity to manage some of his carwashes."
After his time with Terrible Herbst, Tanna returned to California. There he worked as a carwash manager for a single-site operator in Agoura Hills who had experience and knowledge in running a gas station and c-store. Tanna used his carwash experience and helped the owner build multiple high-volume carwash sites.
"I worked for him for over ten years and finally realized that he was just using me to build his empire, and he had no intention of giving me all that he had promised," Tanna explained. "So, with the grace of God, I found an opportunity to buy a poorly managed, run-down carwash."
This run-down property would eventually be cleaned up and transformed into the Presidential Car Wash & Detail Center. In the wash's now famous rap commercial, viewers are shown different areas of the wash, and viewers see Tanna and his wife in a number of presidential costumes. The clip also highlights the different packages available at the carwash, and each wash package is named after a former U.S. president.
The commercial, made for the IFC TV show "Rhett & Link: Commercial Kings," was filmed at the wash in late April of this year. Tanna said the show initially sent scouts to the wash to see if they could film at the location. Then, the crew set up and filmed for three days, and they worked six to seven hours each day they were on-site.
Though the commercial has proven to be a marketing boon for the carwash, some aspects of the experience definitely made Tanna uncomfortable. Tanna said he had never listened to rap music before, and he was not completely comfortable when it came to rapping, performing the weird dance moves and sucking up his shirt with a vacuum nozzle.
"At the beginning I was pretty upset because I didn't understand what Rhett and Link were trying to achieve." Even so, Tanna never thought of quitting the process because he said they were having fun while filming. "I feel that the final version was excellent."
The commercial (see Cover Story here) was completed and posted on YouTube in June by Rhett and Link. In addition, IFC aired the "Commercial Kings" episode featuring the carwash multiple times over the summer, and the commercial was even played during a recent appearance by Rhett and Link on Conan O'Brien's late-night talk show.
Tanna said he has received very positive feedback and compliments from people that have seen the commercial. Most importantly, since the commercial was released, business at the wash has increased by 25-30 percent. "We have had many people come with their families from far away to have their pictures taken with us at the carwash," Tanna said.
The wash has also received phone calls and cards from all across the U.S., the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia. "Some said they are proud to have us in this great country, some singing the jingle, some saying ‘Make it rain, Roger.' The increase in business, being able to build a brand in such a short time was definitely worth it. This commercial was a blessing."
Before the commercial, Tanna used a number of different marketing methods to advertise the carwash. The business used mailers like Valpak and Money Mailer, and they also advertised using the Tolucan Times and the Burbank Times. Tanna said all of these methods proved very successful.
The carwash also advertised several times using Groupon. Tanna said Groupon brought the wash a lot of new customers, and the website gave the business an online presence without having to hire a SEO company.
Tanna said the carwash's most unsuccessful marketing attempts were working with the Register Tape Network and Register Tape Unlimited. These companies create coupons that print on the back of grocery store receipts. Tanna said they were very inconsistent because nine out of ten times they ran blank register tapes. The companies also made too many printing errors.
Looking towards the future, Tanna said he definitely sees some emerging trends in the carwash industry. "I feel that the full-service carwashes will slowly dissipate and there will be more conversions to express washes," he predicted.
Tanna said the carwash industry has changed a lot over the years, and he admitted that it is sometimes difficult to be a part of the industry. Even so, he still hopes to continue investing in new washes. "Yes, God willing I'd like to buy two more carwashes."