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Writing for free vacs

October 11, 2006
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Writing for free vacs
Mike Balboni

Regardless of what type of business you are in, offering a free product or service will attract new customers. We offer free self-serve vacuums for any carwash customer to use after the wash process. We are a flex-serve operation (the only one in our area), which has given us an edge over our surrounding exterior-only competitors. By catering to both full-serve and exterior-only customers with free vacuums, we have an even greater edge.

Boosting Sales

In 2004, we had not yet started our free vacuum service. Our yearly wash total was about 50,000 full-service washes and around 30,000 exterior-only washes. The next year, we started heavily promoting our free vacuum service. We made sure that our existing customers knew we offered free vacuums and marketed the word "free" to everyone that didn't.

In just the one year, our yearly wash totals increased by 17,000. We did 45,000 full-serve washes and 52,000 exterior-only washes in 2005. We decreased our flex-serve numbers, taking stress off our interior service line and we no longer worried about finding enough employees to handle large numbers of vehicles each day.

From starting this free service, our numbers continued to rise — especially on the exterior-only side of our business. We have since picked up many different accounts, such as rental cars, couriers and funeral homes, which take advantage of the free vacuums. Business which wash high volumes of cars will accept a savings anywhere they can receive it.

Many people everyday take advantage of the free vacuums and, since they are given a free token for our coin-operated vacuums, they may come back at there own convenience, 24 hours a day. They may be more willing to drive to us on their lunch break or before picking up the kids if they know they can come back to use the free vacuums and glass cleaner in the future.

How to make your vacuums free

Without investing too much initially, you can simply retrofit your coin-operated vacuums to accept a certain size token given to the customer when they pay an attendant. By doing this you can easily offer free vacuums using pre-existing vacuums without spending a lot of money. This solves the problem by not spending a lot to offer a free service to your customers, an easy and inexpensive test to see if customers will take advantage of this free service.

In turn, you can offer courtesy towels and glass cleaner for the customer to use, as well.

In a business where basic exterior washes range from $3-$9, depending on the area, you might believe that offering free vacuums would not benefit your wash. But being priced accordingly and offering free vacuums may be offering something your competitors are not: a clean dry car with a free service that could be saving them $1-2 in vacuuming time.

Free vacuums may not seem like much to a carwash operator, but with the right marketing, you can really put a strong positive spin on it, appealing to a carwash customer. "Wash your car here- and do the inside for Free!!!"

Marketing power

Marketing is the key to offering free vacuums. At our location, we promote our full-serve, but also offer free vacuums in huge lettering. The word "free" will appeal to anybody driving down the road.

Once you get customers on the lot, you can remind them why they are there — with more signage promoting the free service. With them on the lot, you can offer savings coupons on the bottom of the receipt. By getting them there with the idea of free vacuums, you have now given them a second reason to return to your carwash over a competitor.

In the end, by offering free vacuums, you have opened many more doors to your business. The customers who may have never stopped to try your carwash without the incentive of free vacuums, are now taking pride in their vehicles and purchasing Armor-All Wipes, air fresheners, etc. Your multi-profit center incomes will rise by offering this free service to customers.

All it takes is to offer a clean, dry car to the customer with the special value of free vacuums. Customers will leave your carwash excited by the end product of your carwash process and believing they have definitely received their money's worth.

You may have now won customers for life who will travel past another carwash to your place. This will also keep your customers from trying other local competitors.

The key argument is not just free vacuums, but offering a clean car with it. This is the only way it will work. Combine both of these and you will be one of the elite carwashes in your area.

Mike Balboni Jr. is the owner/operator of Manchester Auto Wash, Inc. in Manchester, NH. The carwash opened 53 years ago and his family has owned the wash for the past 13 years. He can be reached at