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When image is everything

July 22, 2009
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From the July 2009 issue of Professional Carwashing & Detailing.

Picture this: A shiny clean car gleaming in the sunlight as it emerges from your conveyor tunnel or detail bay. Now picture this: A messy lobby. An unkempt bathroom. Mildew on a carwash wall. The images invoke two completely different emotions and responses.

Unfortunately for some operators, negative experiences often trump positive ones. So even if you have produced that shiny clean car, your messy bathroom could be ruining the effect. In order to keep up with today’s competition, a carwash has to be clean, the equipment has to be stalwart and the place cannot look like it’s stuck in the 1980s.

Scott Bowen, owner of Moore Clean Cars Fast!!! of Moore, OK, has been cleaning cars for 15 years and understands the importance of first impressions. “Image is everything,” he said. “We are selling image. A customer’s perception is a customer’s reality.” Moore also said it is vital that you be consistent in how you present your image, because customers expect a clean lobby, bathroom and carwash facility at every visit.

Keep it modern

Bowen’s carwash was built in 1999, opened in 2000 and is still going strong. It includes a 135’ exterior express, two touchless automatics, and four self-serve bays.

To keep up with the competition, Bowen pays careful attention to the wash’s cleanliness and appearance. After purchasing the wash in 2006, he immediately invested in a complete facelift of the business. He acid washed the entire facility, replaced the exterior plumping, hoses, guns, wands and brushes with new and different colors, re-decaled the vacuums and their face plates, and added digital read outs and voice service confirmation with time and amount information to the in-bays.

Bowen also added credit card payment options and air wand dryers to his in-bay services. He changed the chemistry delivery to secure the perceived value to his customers with color, fragrance and show and last but not least, he put banners in every bay and signs all over our site and street side announcing that a ‘change was coming.’

“It’s not so much to stay ahead of the competition,” he said, “but to ‘do what you do’ and be the best at it.”

Make the lobby a nice place to hang

A lobby not only presents a place for more selling opportunities (think coffee bars, food marts and even book shops) it’s also a reflection of the carwash owner. A relaxing and friendly atmosphere encourages sales and comfort.

Anthony Pezzo is the co-owner of Minute Car Wash, based in Newburgh, NY, which is a full-service carwash, detail center and has an auto accessory boutique. The business originally opened in 1956, but was completely renovated in 2008. According to Pezzo, the lobby and retail area are components to their success. “The carwash lobby/retail store is very important to my business,” he said. “When I build a carwash I have the way the customer perceives my business and its professionalism always in my mind. I want the customer to have a pleasurable experience from start to finish.”

A combination of automotive accessories, store items, greeting cards and a Green Mountain self serve coffee bar are offered at Pezzo’s wash. “The feedback I get from customers is that it is absolutely gorgeous, tastefully colorful, appealing, and professionally different.” Pezzo said it also separates his carwash from the competition.

As he is currently designing a new carwash, he is paying close attention to the lobby area. “I am wrapping the steel support column in the store with LED back-lit frosted glass creating a glow effect when the customers enter the stores,” Pezzo said.

Pezzo is also incorporating high-end granite into the new lobby. “The slate wall is multi- colored and the cashier counter is absolute black granite. This successful combination adds to my dollar per car and generates foot traffic,” he added, as it encourages the customer to come indoors and enjoy the modernity and look of the lobby area.

Be a little unique

Every operator we spoke to suggested that carwash businesses need to stand apart from the competition in order to ensure the customer remembers and returns to the wash.

For instance, Moore Clean Cars Fast!!! has a customized radio station that plays onsite which customers can also tune in to in their cars. It plays a variety of music and educational advertisements solely pertaining to the benefits of the facility and onsite services for the customers. The station broadcasts information on the environmental benefits of professional carwashing, as well as instructions for purchasing gift cards or contacting the wash to help in fundraising events.

The lobby at Elliot Auto Spa in Middletown, OH, which offers a touchless conveyor and full-serve tunnel, has a 1960s theme to entertain customers. A ‘60s music radio station plays, car-related logos are plastered all over the walls, and nostalgic prints of the community’s popular spots in the ‘60s an ‘70s are displayed.

Another good example of capturing a niche market can be found in Spring Lake Park, MN, at the Perfect 10 Car Wash. Here unique cars are displayed in the wash’s showroom. The vehicles give customers a reason to return to the carwash as well as recommend it to friends and family.

Be nice

Even with the fanciest equipment and the most impressive lobby, it all won’t matter if you’re not dedicated to making your customer’s experience topnotch.

According to Bowen, there are two major driving forces in business. One is profit and the other is service, where profit becomes the byproduct. “Eventually, your customer will experience (knowingly or unknowingly) what is driving your business: Service or profit. If your customer finds or suspects you are profit driven, I think that can be dangerous territory, but if they realize you are service driven then I believe you have a much greater opportunity to earn those customers’ loyalty.”

Debra Gorgos is the managing editor of Professional Carwashing & Detailing.