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Hit the bull's-eye with creative marketing

October 11, 2010
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What does your advertising budget look like this year? If you’re like most carwash and car care business owners and operators, it probably resembles a dart board with a couple of near-hits, a few misses and maybe a bull’s-eye or two.

Lately, it seems that the darts to throw at TV, radio, print and direct-mail advertising are getting more expensive, and seeing less return on the dollar.

There is one dart, however, that’s sure to hit right on target and won’t cost you more than a couple of pennies to throw: untraditional marketing.

That is to say, branching out into the community and letting your business’s heart and good humor do the talking for you.

It’s all about the laughs
According to Patrick Crowe, owner and operator of Wonderful Waldo’s Car Wash, Kansas City, MO, good marketing means being creative, having fun and giving back to the community.

“The notion is that publicity is free or almost free, while ads often cost more than a small self-serve operator can afford,” Crowe said. “I get lots of smiles and genuine satisfaction out of it. For me, promotion is fun.”

Hosting charity campaigns, holding holiday-themed wash promotions, and supporting youth sport teams in your community are all excellent examples of untraditional marketing techniques that garnish free publicity with little cost to the operator.

Throughout the years, Crowe has marketed his wash with a number of fun, charity-themed promotions.

He’s helped the American Red Cross by matching blood donations with free carwashes, he’s sent out free tokens and hand-written invitations to the wash through his neighborhood association, and he’s even used politics to get the public enthused about carwashing.

All of these promotions have made the local public aware of Wonderful Waldo’s Car Wash and the wash’s active role in the community.

Run, Oprah, run
During the 1996 presidential race, Crowe offered the two bays at Wonderful Waldo’s as a voting forum: he put up a 75’ banner letting those in support of Clinton know that they should wash their cars in the left tunnel, and Dole campaigners should use the right.

The campaign generated plenty of local media attention, lots of consumer interest and a couple of Ross Perot jokes.

All of this publicity came at practically no cost to Crowe, who expanded his political horizons in 2003, when he began a campaign at his wash to nominate Oprah for president.

The campaign manifested itself in several different ways, including a promotion that gave out free washes to individuals willing to sign a petition or write letters pleading with Oprah to run.

The Oprah campaign, led Crowe and his carwash to the national spotlight, including appearances on FOX news and ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

By now, the infamous campaign has taken on a life of its own, but Crowe says the most important lesson learned is that marketing can be free and fun!

Crowe suggested that carwash owners looking to emulate his strategy do the following:

  • Attend regional conventions with their ears open. Read industry magazines with their eyes open. Ask how they can have fun and promote their business, and ask who might need help. These will all lead to fruitful ideas for the wash.
  • Don’t take things too seriously. “My ’95 (Presidential Race) Promo was all a joke, not even close to serious political science,” Crowe said. But everyone had a good time and Wonderful Waldo’s washed a lot of cars.
  • Never miss a promotional opportunity.

Going for the win
Buckmans Car Wash in Rochester, NY, hit a homerun with their hometown sports promotion, Win-By-One, according to Christine Kretchmer, director of marketing for the wash. Kretchmer said the program has been in operation for nearly 15 years.

“We first started it with just our local baseball team,” Kretchmer said. “Customers could redeem their ticket stub if the team won by one run for a free wash.”

The promotion is announced over the loudspeaker at the game, and the company logo is flashed on the video screen at the stadium.

“They play the theme song from the movie ‘Carwash,’ and the cheerleaders even do a little dance,” Kretchmer said.

Nowadays, Kretchmer said Buchmans includes local hockey, soccer and baseball teams in the promotion.

“We could do the promotion with bigger teams, like the Buffalo Bills for example, but we like to stick with our hometown, really push our hometown sport teams.”

A charitable contribution
Being involved with charities in the community is another great way to market your business without relying on direct-mail or radio advertising.

Crowe partners with local food bank charities to offer free washes to those that donate a sack of canned goods. His partnership with blood banks is also a charitable cause that generates awareness for his wash while he gives back to the community.

When working with charities, Crowe finds an easy way to avoid problems is to donate tokens for his self-serve wash for a needy association to sell for profit.

Crowe said this form of charity washing has proven successful for both the charity he’s working with and his carwash.

Jeff Paul, manager of Valencia Car Wash, Valencia, CA, said his wash offers three different ways to give to charity.

“First off, every customer that comes in, we give them a little card and they can choose the charity of their choice to direct part of our profits to,” Paul said.

The most popular charity is the American Cancer Society, “but they (the customer) could even write in one of their own if they wanted,” he added.

Local high school, church and temples can use Valencia’s second charity wash program to arrange a wash-date and raise money.

Paul said the wash prints coupons for the group to hand out, lets the charity do the promoting and gives them $4 for every coupon returned.

No matter the amount of participation, Paul said the washes are easy to coordinate and plan. “On a good one, we could see a hundred cars. And they’re easy to throw together.”

Finally, Paul said Valencia Car Wash arranges with several local charities to wash their vehicles for free, as a way for the charity to raise participation for events. The local Relay for Life team, food bank and ride-share charity all take part in this program.

“Most of them upgrade,” Paul said. “We give them the basic carwash for free, and usually they upgrade to a better wash. So it works out well for us.”

Alerting the media
Susan Weiss, coordinator of marketing for the ICA, suggests identifying key local reporters in your area that cover the automotive industry.

“Call them once every three months to suggest appropriate seasonal car care stories,” Weiss suggested. “Such as the importance of a hard wax before the attack of winter slush, salt and road grime.”

Also, be sure to alert the media of upcoming charity events at your wash, and of any community promotions.

This can be as simple as putting together the date, time, and location on company letterhead and sending it with a summary of the event to local newspapers and community bulletins.

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