Charting a profitable path
"Which road do I take?" Alice asked the Cheshire Cat in Lewis Carroll's famous novel, "Alice in Wonderland."
"Where do you want to go?" the cat responded.
"I don't know," Alice answered.
"Then," the cat said, "it doesn't matter."
For carwash operators who continue to press on in this damnable, sluggish economy, having a well-defined path going forward is a vital necessity now. Alice may have been in a fantasyland, but not you.
For the best results, your road must be especially well-lit and clearly-marked. With four months remaining in 2011, the best carwash operators will evaluate their businesses year-to-date, and many will be wise to take corrective action now.
Four specific actions will enable operators to build a bigger customer base and improve their wash counts, revenues and profitability.
Moving smartly, savvy operators can begin today to make 2012 their best year yet.
1. Sponsor a local high school sports team: The most successful washes have an active community outreach program. With few exceptions, the majority of your new and repeat customers will come from a 3-mile radius of your wash. Within your market area, make it a stated company goal to become the carwash of popular choice and empower your employees to embrace this challenge too.
In states like Florida, Alabama, Tennessee, Texas, California, Georgia, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Oklahoma, Indiana, North Carolina and Virginia, it is a "no brainer" for an operator to run a fall promotion around a local football team.
To start this promotion, begin with this question: How can our wash celebrate the success of the football team? For instance, following a win on the weekend, could you offer a [Team name] Wash Special on Mondays and Tuesdays for all students, teachers and staff members of the school?
Have fun with this promotion. You will see that after three or four weekends, it will likely gain a life of its own. Don't be surprised if your employees, or better yet, your customers, come up with other ideas that you could use and integrate into your marketing plan for 2012. Keep in mind, "word of mouth" marketing is still the most effective way to promote your wash.
2. Begin a birthday promotion: Recently, my son turned 21. Three different restaurants sent him birthday specials, as did a local Goodyear dealer, and he received a birthday card from an insurance agent and, surprisingly, a local community college. But he heard nothing from the eight carwashes in East Cobb, GA. I fully understand that operators have both limited time and resources, but in today's economy, shopping habits and patterns have changed dramatically.
Carwash owners, quite simply, can no longer rely on impulse purchases to keep their businesses afloat. More than ever, operators must be creative, comprehensive, persistent and authentic in their concerted efforts to bring new and repeat customers into their washes. A special birthday offer to every consumer in your area will become an important new tool in every growth-oriented marketing plan.
Treating every motorist on his birthday (with a valid ID, of course, and the driver of the vehicle only) is a sure way to begin a new shopping pattern or solidify an existing one. And your employees, again, will help breathe life into this popular promo. Who doesn't like to wish someone a "Happy Birthday" as their car pulls into the bay or tunnel?
3. Capture the newly moved: These people include those who have moved to the area or simply moved into a different residence. This is a very rich target market. Inviting these people into your wash accomplishes three important tasks. First, it helps you capture new customers and build wash counts. Second, it affords you a unique opportunity to greet and carefully treat a new customer. They will be thoroughly impressed with their wash and your exceptional customer service. Finally, we know customers who receive the royal treatment at your wash will intentionally tell four to seven other people how delighted they were with your business.
Readers of Professional Carwashing and Detailing may already be familiar with Moving Targets, a regular advertiser. Moving Targets specializes in helping business owners create new and profitable relationships with hundreds of new motorists who will enter your market each year. Moving Targets has an informative website too: www.movingtargets.com. They understand that carwashes are like other retail businesses, which are steadfastly competing each day for scarce discretionary dollars. Carwashes are really store front businesses, and they too must create specific reasons and offer different promotions for shoppers to visit them.
4. Finally, don't forget your best customers: Many business owners believe in the 80/20 principle, also known as Pareto's Law. They believe that 80 percent of their revenue comes from only 20 percent of their customers. For some operators, having so much at risk with such a small group could be a very sobering thought. Regardless of the age and location of your carwash, your established customer base always merits special attention. Through natural attrition, you will lose some 3-8 percent of your loyal customers each year, and you should also anticipate that others will have occasional glitches in their normal shopping habits.
If you are not fully conscious of these subtle shifts, you could suddenly find that after any eight or 10 month period, a substantial portion of your once-solid customer base has evaporated.
Communicating effectively with these high-value customers has other challenges too. For instance, as the quick lube franchises have learned, trying to increase frequency among core customers can be a well-intentioned but flawed marketing task which yields disappointing results. How often can you change your oil if you already do so every 3,000 or 5,000 miles? Regular visitors of your wash will be most responsive to two activities which will strongly validate for these VIPs the reason why they will continue to do business with you.
First, thank them always for their continued patronage. Be certain your employees express their genuine appreciation too. You can never fail to impress a customer when every transaction ends with a sincere and heart-felt "thank you for your business."
Also, solicit their unvarnished feedback. Your best customers want you to be successful too, and they will not be at all reluctant to help you improve your business. "What could we do to improve your wash experience here?" Another question which could lead to a productive discussion and yield a valuable response: "Do you think we should open early a couple of days a week?"
Embrace new and innovative ideas. Become intensely interested to learn how else you can completely satisfy your core customers.
Finally, be creative and package a carwash purchase with other products and services. The smartest retailers in every type of business anticipate their customers' needs and offer them add-on or cross-sales opportunities which also allow you to build a higher average ticket price. Your best customers will appreciate this value-added effort.
Mike Perry has more than 30 years of experience in business-to-business sales and in retail marketing. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or at 770-330-2490.