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Wash package 101: How to get more for less

October 11, 2010
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One way for carwash owners to ensure consumers visit their site is to offer incentives like frequent wash cards, wash packages, or even subscription unlimited wash programs.

However, deciding which promotion is right for your wash can be complicated.

1. Pre-paid book promotions

Perhaps one of the oldest sales promotions of the carwash industry is the pre-paid wash book. The basic idea: buy in bulk — but not an excessive quantity — and the wash cuts the customer a price break.

The benefit for the wash is that they sell more washes at one time under the promotion than they normally would have with the regular price.

The customer feels that he or she is making out well by paying slightly less than they would have if they only purchased one wash.

Bill Consolo, owner of Chief's Auto Wash, an exterior-only wash in Cleveland, began offering pre-paid book incentives from the time his wash first opened.

In the following years he's added other promotional options to his wash, but said that he would never consider getting rid of the pre-paid wash books.

Seasonal sales

Pre-paid wash books are one of the best holiday gimmicks around.

Customers searching for a gift for a person who already has everything will look at the wash book as a smart gift purchase.

During the holiday season, wash owners would be wise to find additional ways to advertise their wash books; creative options include:

  • Seasonal gift wrap and packaging;
  • Selling the books as stocking stuffers; and
  • Setting up an attractive holiday display.

The pre-paid books fly off the shelves during the winter holidays, but owners can promote and sell the books differently during the summer seasons as well.

Consolo said that his pre-paid wash book sales really took off one summer when the wash advertised a special discount they were offering on television.

Consolo drew new customers in two different ways: first he offered a one-time only discount on the books. The discount was on a wash that was originally $6. The offer took the pre-paid book price from $50 for 10 washes to five washes for $20 a wash book.

Second, he used the television advertising to promote his special package and draw new consumers in. According to Consolo, people jumped on the chance to pay only $4 for a wash that originally cost $6.

Up-front funds

The simplicity of the wash book is what draws many customers to it. People like paying once.

To customers, the idea of being able to visit a wash where they won't have to worry about whether to pay with cash, check or credit card is appealing.

By purchasing the pre-paid wash books they only have to make that choice once. Future visits after purchasing the books are stress-free.

Not having to deal with pre or post-sale payment choices and hassles is a convenience that many wash customers are thrilled to exploit.

2. Punch-card power

Often touted as the most beneficial promotional wash program choice by many wash owners, the frequent washer punch-card system has definite advantages.

Coffee clubs began the punch-card craze and it seems to have spilled over into almost every industry. The slogan: "Buy four get your fifth purchase free," is a commonplace sight at innumerable business establishments.

Required customer loyalty

Part of the reason this program has become so popular is because it builds a customer loyalty based not on choice, but on common-sense, necessity and frugality.

For instance, a carwash owner who offers the program stipulating that the customer has to buy eight washes to get the ninth free can rest assured that once that individual hits five or six washes they are actively working toward that free wash and will not visit another wash until they've received their free incentive.

Consolo explained that he began offering the frequent punch-card program to develop some loyalty from customers who choose not to buy pre-paid wash books and even some customers who do.

Although your wash may offer a superior service, a customer might choose to visit another wash, knowing full-well the service is inferior, but will overlook that fact for the sake of convenience and to save time.

However, once there is an incentive built in to each and every visit they make to your wash, they will take the extra time to frequent your establishment.

Bigger profits

Bruce Kantelis, owner of Platinum Auto Spa, Inc., Marietta, GA, said approximately 80 percent of his customers have signed up for his frequent washer punch-card program where they purchase 10 washes and get their 11th wash free.

At Consolo's site the frequent washer program actually earns the carwash more money than the pre-paid wash books. The full price charged at the wash is $9; the books sell for $35 for five washes, dropping the price to $7.

The punch-card frequent washer program at Consolo's wash requires the customer to buy eight washes and they receive the ninth for free. This takes the average price for a wash down to around $7.88, which is more than Consolo makes from his pre-paid books.

Gather information

To Kantelis, offering the punch-card program is a no-brainer; it's actually gathering information from the program and doing something with it that can take a wash one step further than the competition.

Charlie Loveall is fairly new to the carwash biz. He opened his carwash, Willowbrook Wash, Inc., Rostraver, PA, about three years ago.

However, after considering all the wash package options there is one thing he's fairly certain about: if he starts a frequent washer punch-card program he wants to collect his customers' information so that he can send out a newsletter and mailings.

Kantelis explained that carwash owners are missing an excellent opportunity to market directly to their customer base if they don't put forth an effort to gather their client information through their punch-card program.

3. Unlimited washing option

The topic of unlimited washing came up when Loveall visited Professional Carwashing & Detialing's® website and posted a question on the bulletin board asking if any carwash owners offered unlimited wash passes to customers.

Several owners responded and Loveall learned that the unlimited wash pass is something that is offered, however many wash owners vary how the system is set up and are continuing to work out the quarks.

Income demographics

Common sense leads one to assume that with an unlimited wash pass, customers would over-use the service and essentially bilk the wash for more than they pay.

That theory proved to be unsubstantiated at Kantelis's wash; the customers participating in his unlimited wash program are averaging about 2.5 washes per month.

When contemplating offering an unlimited wash program a wash owner needs to consider the demographics and income level of his surrounding area.

Kantelis feels that one reason why his unlimited washing program works so well is because of the income level of the community and the prospering and developing commercial area.

Platinum Auto Spa, Inc., caters to customers involved in real estate and sales, both professions where appearance is important. According to Kantelis, his wash cleans more Jaguars than Fords and that contributes to his unlimited wash program success.

A wash that attempts to institute an unlimited washing program and expects customers to pay a premium price, but doesn't have the income demographics to support the program will likely fail in that pursuit.

Billing basics

There are two common ways to go about billing for unlimited washing. Each has its benefits and potential difficulties.

a) Large payment upfront: A carwash owner can sell his unlimited washing by offering customers an opportunity to pay one large sum at the outset of entering the program.

This payment procedure means owners need to predetermine an appropriate price for a year's worth of washing. Offering this payment option simplifies the customer's financial burden and ensures a year of washing without waiting or worrying.

The downside of this method is that some customers will be turned off by the high price they will be required to pay upfront. Clients may not be able to comprehend the value of what they're paying for and its full worth.

b) Monthly billing: A second option is to bill the customer on a monthly basis. Kantelis uses this system at his wash and charges unlimited wash subscribers approximately $30 a month or $50 depending on the package they subscribe to.

According to Kantelis, this payment system provides guaranteed revenue around the first of the month and makes the total cost appear less than the larger upfront fee the customer would pay with the other billing choice.

Consolo's main concern about this approach is the technology and time required to perform the monthly billing. Currently, his exterior-only wash doesn't accept credit cards and he said that's not something he feels they need to change.

However, Consolo admitted that with a full-service wash having a credit card payment option is important. Essentially, a subscription program at a full-service wash is going to be very different from one offered at an express exterior.

Building relationships

No one really considers carwashing a relationship building business. The customer sometimes spends about as much time at a wash as they do at a drive-thru, but McDonald's doesn't seem too concerned about growing personal relationships with their customers.

However, Kantelis said that his unlimited washing subscription program has begun to change how his wash operates and how customers regard their wash experience.

By simplifying the wash process, Kantelis ensures that customers won't dread visiting his site and will begin to trust the employees they see more frequently.

As time passes, the trust grows and customers begin to depend on wash employees to alert them when any issues arise. At Kantelis's wash he said his system has created a special relationship that allows employees to up-sell easier and build a better detailing business.

Kantelis said that almost all of his subscribers originally started on the punch-card program and moved up. At Platinum Auto Spa customers can also request their subscriptions be put on hold if they are going on vacation for an extended period of time.

Just as Platinum Auto Spa customers have made a commitment to the wash, Kantelis makes a commitment to customers to attend to their vehicles with scrutiny and care, and most customers are more than willing to pay the wash's subscription prices not to have to worry about that.

The choice is yours

When choosing what program is right for your wash there are many variables and factors to consider. Older washes may want to work on enhancing their offerings and building customer relations.

Newer washes may not be ready to jump into the most elaborate program. Customers visiting a new wash may be hesitant to commit to that site immediately. Ultimately it's your customers who will choose what program will work best at your wash, so listen carefully.