There it hangs, the same as always. The criss-crossed cobwebs and thick coating of dust bear witness to the fact that this carwash's menu has not changed in quite a long time. Yet, as that menu has hung dingy and ignored, carwashing costs and the number of competing washes have climbed exponentially.
Owners in the down market of today must capture additional dollars from every carwash customer. A dingy dinosaur of a menu allows customers to roll through the regular purchase routine on autopilot. But, a new and up-to-date menu, presented correctly, will open up customers' eyes and fully engage them in the purchase process. Further, new menu selections that have proven popular at other washes will open up customer wallets as well.
Step 1: Is it time?
Ideally, a carwash's menu would be changed on a regular basis, every three to five years, according to Robert Andre, president of SONNY'S CarWash College. Even if the current menu is still performing and price increases are not needed, updating appearances and offerings will help give the typical menu a fresh, new look.
Andre cited the fast-food industry as an example. "If you look at the fast food people, they're always changing their menu," he said. "Even if it's just a sign added onto the side of existing menus, these restaurants are always presenting customers with something new and exciting. This guarantees that their menus will not get stagnant over a long period of time."
"Changes should be made as often as needed to keep your customers happy and your business profitable," Bobby Willis, vice president of business development for ecoJET Systems and owner of Cool Wave Car Washes, said. "It's time to change your menu offerings when customers request new options and / or they stop buying certain options."
Other signs that indicate it's time to change a carwash's menu include:
Andre stated that these three instances all signal that prices may need to be changed and that the menu may need to be updated.
Step 2: Gather opinions
The most effective ways to learn what changes interest customers would be polls or surveys. Andre said this is an easy way for many customers to let an operator know what they do and do not like about a business.
Willis said some owners offer a free wash in exchange for filling out a simple survey. Also, managers, employees and owners can take the time to talk to every customer that comes on the lot. This can be a good way to learn what customers like and dislike about the wash experience.
After the polls, surveys and questions, an owner can compile the answers and discover what new changes or services are the most needed. Often, the changes can be very simple things that an operator or manager may be missing. The surveys have revealed the smallest changes that will end up making the biggest difference to a wash's customers.
Step 3: Learn from other operators
Another way an owner can gather information about menu updates is by utilizing carwash industry groups and industry events. These resources are "extremely important" to operators — especially attending the different carwash expos and shows, Andre said.
At these events, owners can network and actually learn from other operators that have changed a menu, added a new service or added a new piece of equipment. Andre noted that hearing about successful menu changes and new services first-hand from another operator can be more valuable than hearing it from an equipment designer or equipment salesperson.
"There's no point … in reinventing the wheel if there's an operator that's done something recently that's new, and he's been successful," Andre said. "Talk to him and find out how he did it and what the results were, and kind of give yourself an idea of what to expect before you make the change."
A carwash's local competition will provide more information about pricing than about popular services. While a competing wash may not affect the overall design of a new menu, the need to remain competitive will definitely affect the prices, according to Andre.
"Obviously you want to remain competitive. But I wouldn't [try] to under price," Andre explained. "I think oftentimes when you get in a competitive situation … people get into price wars [that don't] benefit anybody. So I think staying competitive on your pricing is important."
Step 4: Subtract and add
Once an owner has gathered information from the sources above, the addition and subtraction of services should be straight-forward. Willis summed the process up by saying new services should be added:
Services that should be discontinued are the ones that are no longer profitable and that customers have stopped purchasing.
Also, the internal evaluation of the services a wash offers allows an operator to see what their menu weaknesses are. Often it is not just a matter of pricing; consideration should be given to how much a wash is spending to perform a service. Andre noted, "I think obviously the services that you would look at getting rid of would be the services that are low-performing, or services that are costing you as close to perform as what you're charging for them."
Andre provided the example of high-end detail services. A wash may charge $300 for a detail service, but at the end of the day there is only $100 in profit due to the excessive labor required. The owner here should take into account the time it took to complete the service, as well as the slim profits, then decide whether the business would be better off with express detail services. Express detailing may allow the wash to complete more services in the same amount of time with the added benefit of higher profit margins.
Popular services that many washes are adding and finding success with today are "instant gratification" type products. "What we find is people don't mind paying a little more for something if they're getting a tangible benefit that they can see out of the process," Andre said. "And I think that's one of the difficult things is often we offer so many services in our menu packages, but a lot of them don't provide instant gratification for the customer."
While some services may offer items that customers do not see instantly, such as window treatments or sealer wax applications, other services include a visual aspect or an additional scent. These are cues that touch the customers' senses and let them know that they are actually receiving an additional and different service.
Step 5: Rebuild the base
With the new services decided upon and ready to go, now it's time to improve the base wash package. Here, the offerings of your competitor can prove important. Andre recommended looking at what your competition is offering, and then putting together a base package that a wash is "proud to offer but not giving everything away."
"I think too often a lot of the carwashes will have very low base prices and then they don't really provide a good service for it. And, you know, they tell the customers, 'Well, yeah it is just our base wash.' Even though it is your base wash, I think you still need to be mindful that you need to provide a good service for the base wash," Andre explained.
Willis also suggested starting with an analysis of the competition. The information gathered during the analysis will provide a baseline of offerings; then a new base wash can be created using the new menu. In his chain of carwashes, Willis put together a basic wash which is value priced but still delivers a clean car.
Step 6: 'We proudly introduce…'
Before finalization and introduction, it is a good idea to gather input from people outside of the industry, Andre said. An owner should take the menu that he or she is thinking about releasing and pass them out to friends and family. This allows individuals that are not necessarily familiar with the carwash business to provide their feedback.
"I think often times in the carwash industry, we find ourselves using terms and phrases in our menu design that the retail customers don't really connect with," Andre revealed. "For instance, we may use terms like 'wheel brights' and the [customers] don't really understand too much what that is." Instead of telling the customer what the chemical is, menus should instead communicate the benefits of the service.
If a new menu will include price increases, Andre stated it is important to let customers know in advance. "Give them some fair warning," he said. "And I think one of the things you can kind of do to blunt the edges, if you will, is offer … your current customers the opportunity to purchase washes at the current pricing."
For instance, if an express wash is going from $3 to $5 for the base package, let customers that like your $3 wash know that they can buy as many of the washes as they want in advance using gift cards or prepaid wash cards. This opportunity can "take the sting off" for loyal customers before price increases.
Finally, the marketing of the new menu should begin before it is officially introduced, according to Willis. "Pump up the new services with marketing before they are released," he said. "Build the desire before the changes are made."