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Business Operations

Giving back during tough times

October 11, 2010
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Sudsy’s Car Wash, based in Murfreesboro, TN, does more than wash cars — it also gives back to various local charities on a constant basis, an impressive fete considering the challenging economic climate.

In 2009 the family-owned Sudsy’s raised $2,000 for Special Kids, a therapeutic rehabilitation program, as well as $3,000 to help those affected by a tornado that tore through the area. In August it helped with the 10th annual “Shoes for Orphan Souls” shoe drive, a program benefiting orphans from throughout the world.

Co-owner Troy VanLiere said he wouldn’t have it any other way. He spoke with Professional Carwashing & Detailing and explained how the business is able to give back, stay afloat and not sacrifice one for the other.

Professional Carwashing & Detailing: What is the motivation behind your wash’s altruism?

Troy VanLiere: At the risk of sounding somewhat pious, the reality is that we genuinely feel a call to ‘give ourselves away.’ For us, there’s a very real spiritual component to our business. Like so many others, we have been blessed beyond measure and take so much for granted and we find that when we are sacrificing for a good cause and giving something back to the community, that we don’t get quite so self absorbed or caught up in the things that really don’t matter that much. It really is all about people and helping those in need.

Now, from a strictly business and marketing standpoint, the ‘fringe benefits’ just make sense as well! We have discovered as a by-product that being charitable has been an extremely effective marketing strategy for us. So many of the community’s influential business leaders and what we call “the talkers” serve on local charity boards or as volunteers for causes close to their hearts. So as we have helped these organizations, we have found the goodwill that accompanies it is a great motivator for these folks to become loyal fans of our carwash. But not only do they become customers — they become the best customers because they talk about Sudsy’s and tell people that they really need to use our wash.

Besides just offering a consistent, quality product, our charity program has generated the best word of mouth advertising for us. A word of caution though: People are very discerning and they can tell if you really do care or are just looking to ‘get’ something. You need to be charitable because it is the right thing to do and because you care.

PC&D: How and why were those specific causes chosen?

TV: Because this has been such a critical part of our business model, it hasn’t taken long for word to spread in the community. In the first few months of operation, we were very diligent to seek out some charity partnerships. We approached charities and asked if we could help — and if you know anything about non-profits, you know they always need help. So it only took working with a few charities before they started to seek us out. As far as choosing specific causes, we really don’t discriminate that much. As long as the cause is building positively into the community, we usually can find a way to help. We don’t do the same thing for every charity, but try to customize a promotion or package that works for them. We have different programs depending on the size of the charity and what they want to accomplish.

PC&D: In today’s economy, how does Sudsy’s both give back and stay afloat?

TV: Ah, the million dollar question. It is certainly a sacrifice to be committed to a charitable strategy, but for us it is a commitment we made before ever opening our tunnel doors. We consider it a cost of doing business and as essential as our water and electric bill. We also try to structure our giving in a way that creates benefit for both the charity and for Sudsy’s. That can be in the form of just a greater awareness in the community or in a way that helps generate revenue for both entities, but your charity strategy doesn’t just have to be about giving, it really can be a mutual benefit for all involved.

PC&D: How is your carwash fairing in this economic climate?

TV: It has been no doubt tough. We have only been open for seven months, so we don’t have a lot of context for comparing previous years, etc. But in our market (middle Tennessee) it has been one of the wettest springs and summers on record plus the downturn of the economy has made it tough for everyone. We have experienced growth in almost every month since we have opened so we are hopeful that this fall and moving forward that our volumes will continue to increase. We consider ourselves fortunate to be on the bubble of being profitable in less than a year of operation and in the current economic and weather environments. The future looks very bright.

PC&D: What advice do you have for other owners and operators who are looking to give back?

TV: I would say two things: First make giving a priority and a critical part of your business. You have to commit to it and make it part of the fiber of your business. We did a promotion in August where we collected shoes for orphans through the “Shoes for Orphan Souls” program and one of their taglines was “giving shoes is good for their souls (referring to the orphans)…and yours.” I think we’ve experienced the same principle in our business; it is truly more blessed to give that to receive.

Secondly, we frankly have had a few charities that thought all they had to do was sign-up and they would get some money — but that just doesn’t work. The charity must be willing to put sweat equity in to get something out. We have found that their success is almost always directly proportionate to the work they put in. You need to make this very clear to the charity and make sure they have realistic expectations.