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Business Operations

Marketing automation

October 11, 2010
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Carwash operators today must follow market trends closely to adapt to changes in consumer buying patterns and take advantage of new products. Operators need to identify a set of targets to improve efficiency and increase sales. This means working closely with advisors, manufacturers and vendors to gain input and assistance while making needed changes.

Revenue enhancement
Traditionally, carwash operators have focused on loyalty (frequency) programs to attract and retain customers with the most actual and potential value. These programs range from simple punch cards to sophisticated accrual programs that rely on vehicle identification devices, point-of-sale systems and customer tracking software.

Loyalty programs work because they satisfy the customer’s need for reward and recognition. For example, buy eight washes and get one free or join our wash-club and earn more rewards. These benefits make a strong statement because they make customers feel important and the redemption is free (I’m getting my money’s worth).

What about customers that don’t want punch cards or share their personal information and belong to a club? This means having responsive and knowledgeable sales people who are capable of increasing sales. Consequently, operators must continually train and coach people to build and improve customer relations. Another way operators can improve store efficiency is by leveraging technology.

Trends and product development
Customer buying habits are continually changing and customers are increasingly demanding more conveniences. Carwash equipment and chemical manufacturers have responded to these demands by improving the efficiency and impact of products beyond traditional mainstays such as on-line triple foam, spot-free water and off-line express wax.

Over the last several years, OEM’s have developed new and improved products that are aimed at consumers who want clean, shine and protect, right now. This includes wheel brite with dust blocker, triple foam with UV, automated tire shine, windshield treatment, and paint sealant that comes with a written guarantee. Not only do these products work well, they are applied within the length of the wash-bay with no manual labor.

Merchandising technology
Packaged together as a mini or express detail, these services add comfort (from inside their car); convenience (fast, no waiting); and ease (do it for me). This represents a powerful value proposition that appeals to the customer’s need for reward (guarantee) and recognition (I’m important without a punch card or club membership).

Technology such as wireless vehicle identification, gated auto-sentry, video surveillance and internet connectivity are making carwash sales transactions easier, faster and more of a customer experience. Technology allows operators to replace sales people with automated pay stations that accept cash, credit/debit cards and club cards and have touch-screens that can advertise products, up-sell and provide videos and sounds (entertainment) as the purchase takes place.

Merchandising technology can also reduce the carwash operator’s reliance on price discounts which can diminish perceived value and erode profit margins. Unlike the accrued benefits of a club membership or a product guarantee where the redemption is free, coupons and other forms of discounts do not provide hard benefits because customers must purchase something to obtain them.

Bob Roman is a former carwash, express lube and detail shop operator and is president of RJR Enterprises (, a leading consultant to the carwash industry. Robert is a member of International Carwash Association and PC&D’s Honorary Advisory Board. He can be contacted at

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