Professional Carwashing & Detailing

8 steps to green marketing success

October 11, 2010
All right, I’ll make you a promise: No lecturing in this article. At this point, you’re either going to commit to being an environmentally friendly business or you’re not. The benefits and challenges of going green should be obvious, and even if you’re not interested in making the extra effort, simply by existing you are providing an environmentally friendly alternative to home washing.

The difficulty we are going to address in this article is marketing your “greenness” — not only appealing to those eco-junkies who bleed green, but also to regular consumers. Also, we’ll discuss different methods for advertising your business and educating customers without shoving your message down anyone’s throat or turning them off with your color superiority.

It takes all types
To begin, let’s recognize there is a wide range in consumer enthusiasm for the environment. According to an Ipsos survey conducted last year, 70 percent of Americans believe that when companies call a product or service “green” it is usually just a marketing tactic. Among those are some consumers who just don’t give a hoot about the environment, and others who do care but are cynical about corporate America’s commitment.

Understanding the different types of customers means understanding that your green marketing campaign will become just one part of your overall message. You will also continue to advertise other unique features of your carwash; whether its pricing, location or a wide range of services.

But don’t worry, marketing a green carwash doesn’t have to be complicated or add extra work to your already existing campaign. Professional Carwashing & Detailing talked to several operators and industry leading suppliers to develop an eight step program you can use at your carwash starting today!

1. Tell the truth
In creating your green campaign, it’s important that you don’t exaggerate or inflate your claims — for legal reasons as well as to establish customer trust.

“The market is full of green claims, many of which are false, misleading or exaggerated,” explained Jim Wurm, director of marketing for Cleaning Systems, Inc., a supplier of chemicals for the carwash industry. “The consumer is quickly becoming leery of green marketing.”

Wurm also pointed out that being honest has legal advantages as well. “Federal Trade Comission regulations require that all green claims include a description of the claim and the claiming entity have the data to back it up,” Wurm said. The last thing you want is someone doubting the veracity of your marketing and then a lawsuit.

Wurm said the easiest way to stay honest in your marketing is to include verbiage about what specifically makes the claim true. For example, if you claim you are saving water, tell them how you are doing it. If you are saying your chemical products are green, be specific: Are they non-toxic? Ozone safe? Free of hydrofluoric acid and Nonylphenol Ethoxylates?

Wurm advised operators to display these statements on the same signage as the claims or easily within view of the consumer when they are reading the green signage.

“Above all, you have to be credible,” explained Mark Miller, vice president of marketing for Ecolab Vehicle Care, a chemical supplier whose line includes Blue Coral and Rain-X. “If they don’t believe you, your whole program will backfire.”

2. Tell the local media
Jim Sperlazza, owner of Five Star Auto Care in Rocklin, CA, knows a thing about being green; after all he is in the process of installing a 104-kilowatt photovoltaic solar system to make Five Star the first Sacramento-area carwash powered almost completely by solar energy. When it comes to advertising his business, Sperlazza doesn’t have to do too much; he lets his actions speak for themselves.

But where do his actions conduct all of their speaking engagements? Why in the local media, of course. Shortly after Sperlazza began construction on his solar panels, his hometown newspaper, The Placer Herald, was eager to put his story in print.

That’s not all. “A significant business journal is waiting for us to finish the project before doing a piece on our conversion to solar,” Sperlazza added.

Through media exposure, Sperlazza has been able to reach customers in a place and a way that ordinary advertising couldn’t do. Customers now consider him an expert in “going green.”

“We have customers looking to us for information on converting their homes to solar, so our project has created an awareness in the community which will increase our own efforts dramatically,” Sperlazza explained.

Educating customers has also breached other difficulties. When Five Star was told to change its entrance in a manner that would make it inconvenience for customers, Sperlazza worried about a potential loss of volume. The company’s environmental focus saved the day, though. “The reaction has been very positive and complimentary,” Sperlazza recalled. “They say no problem [about the inconvenient entrance], we love the fact that you are doing this [for the environment].”

3. Tell your employees
If you want to make sure your customers are educated, you had better start with your employees, according to Dave Hart, director of vehicle wash at Zep, Inc., an Atlanta-based manufacturer of cleaning solutions for the carwash industry.

“Every person on your staff needs to be able to rattle off what makes your wash green,” Hart suggested. “It needs to be easy enough for the employee to remember and for the customer to understand.”

In its quest to help operators better market their carwashes, Zep has created several training videos for carwash employees. Hart said cashiers, greeters and even prep-workers can benefit from understanding the science behind green cleaning.

Oh — one final note from Hart: Don’t worry about your employees being experts. “They don’t need to know it all, you can be the expert,” Hart explained. “Instead, just make sure they can deliver your company’s message in a consistent manner.”

4. Tell the Internet
If you’re going to go to all of the trouble of creating an entire marketing campaign to pronounce your dedication to environmental efforts, you had better make sure your website follows suit. Kaady Car Washes, based in Portland, OR, and its sister company, Kaady Chemical, have not only made a commitment to the environment, but also to bringing that message to the Internet (

Don Flowers, marketing coordinator for Kaady Car Washes and Kaady Chemical Company, said there are three important points to communication on your webpage:
  • The benefits of professional carwashing versus home washing;

  • The unique systems in place at your carwash that make it environmentally friendly; and

  • Resources for continued education, like links to the local water district or an environmental group.
According to Flowers, an Internet presence is one of the most important aspects of your marketing campaign. “If you’re going to do this right, you’ve got to be online. We make it fun and interactive for our customers, but just having a simple paragraph or two will really boost your efforts,” he explained.

5. Keep it simple
“Being straightforward is perhaps the most critical component of this marketing message,” explained Miller of St. Paul, MN-based Ecolab. “Once you’re into this sustainability movement, it’s easy to think that everyone is as enthusiastic and knowledgeable as you are, but the reality is most people aren’t.”

Miller said most customers can remember two or three key messages. Emphasize easy-to-understand benefits, like water conservation or reduced energy usage, and stick to one or two tag lines that each and every employee can use. Just like steps for thanking the customer and directing them onto the conveyor, the key is simplicity and repetition.

6. Try mouth-to-mouth resuscitation
If possible, try conversing with customers directly. They will note your sincerity, and hopefully it will lead to word-of-mouth advertising, which is still the most trustworthy and effective form of advertising, according to Wurm.
Wurm said this also extends to communicating with community leaders, politicians, organizations and media representatives.

‘We all know that in many areas of the country water conservation and water pollution are hot topics. Carwashes are often mistakenly caught in the middle,” stated Wurm. “By working with your local government officials you can work to correct this misinformation, sometimes before it gets to the general public.”

7. Brand for success
When it comes to marketing, using a brand or theme to relay your message across several different mediums is the smartest and easiest way to reach out the consumer.

With your carwash’s logo and theme already in mind, develop a continuation of this program in your green campaign. Use this branding on everything you can think of: ffrom business cards to letterhead, newspaper advertisements to employee uniforms.

8. Attack from all sides
Four out of four chemical suppliers agreed: When it comes to marketing, presence is everything. That means using posters, flyers, on-site signage, menus, wind master signs, posters, pump toppers, change mats, banners, and even flyers in your bathrooms to relay the same message in similar words, theme and colors.

Also, drive the point home in your lobby, where you already have a captive audience — your customers.

Sperlazza, the green operator in California, is planning to use a kiosk with a separate TV monitor to update the solar production on site in real time. “It will be a very visible means of showing what we are accomplishing,” Sperlazza pointed out.

Commit yourself
No matter what aspects of your carwash are green (do you recycle? Use energy efficient lighting? Reclaim water?), the important thing is to market these benefits to your customers and to believe in the good you are doing. Your enthusiasm for the environment will come across to your customers, your employees and your community if it is genuine and the benefits will be more green for you.

Kate Carr is the editor in chief of Professional Carwashing & Detailing® Magazine. Carr can be reached