Professional Carwashing & Detailing

Make your self-serve in-bay inviting

October 11, 2010

According to Professional Carwashing & Detailing’s 2005 Self-Serve Carwashing Benchmarking Survey, more than half of all self-serve operators in each region of the country also operate at least one in-bay automatic on site.

In addition to this, the average amount of money that these operators rake in from this in-bay is just below $5,500 a month.

If you are thinking of joining the majority of self-serve wash owners and adding an in-bay to your location, or if you have an in-bay but haven’t been seeing such tremendous results, PC&D spoke with five successful self-serve operators to see what methods they’ve used in the past to market their in-bay automatics.

Shell Spivey, CEO of Happy Bays Carwash, Bentonville, AK; Ryan Davis, president of Lynn’s Car Wash, Ames, IA; Fred Zillich, owner of Happy Trails Car Care, Chattanooga, TN; Deborah Seyller, owner of 1 GR8 Car Wash, West Dundee, IL; and Allen Hansen, owner of Spotfree Car Wash, Des Moines, IA, all offered their ideas and opinions about successful in-bay marketing.

Professional Carwashing & Detailing: Were your in-bays part of your original set of offerings, or were they added to your site(s)?

Shell Spivey: In-bay automatics were built into the original plans for each of my sites.

If I don’t think a site will support two automatics, I don’t build the wash.

Ryan Davis: We’re a 30-year-old company with two in-bays and nine self-service bays. We installed our first in-bay in 1993, and added another in 1998.

Fred Zillich: Our carwash is a five-in-one and it was part of our original plan. Our second location is only a stand alone in-bay automatic.

Deborah Seyller: The in-bays were part of our original service. Both automatic bays that we have are touch-free, and we have four self-serves on the same site.

Allen Hansen: One of my locations was an eight bay self-serve. When we acquired it, it had separate land on it so we added the two automatics.

The second property was a five bay self-serve with two automatic bays. It was rundown and needed to be rebuilt with updates on all equipment before we could have things running.

PC&D: What types of marketing and advertising drew attention to your in-bays when you first started offering the service?

SS: We do a lot of work with our website, and we spent a lot of money up-front on property work.

I’ll spend $25,000 on signage alone because we have a marquee with changeable lettering, so I need to keep other advertising costs down.

One big marketing initiative we’re trying now is allowing customers to buy gift certificates on our website and email them to a friend.

You can go online and use your credit card to purchase the certificate, which can be used at any of our sites — it gives customers more convenience.

RD: We don’t do too much advertising aside from newspaper ads.

In fact, I’ll only buy an ad that’s at least a 3”x5” placement in the paper so I know people will see our name.

FZ: I’ll promote our ExpressKEY cashless system and we have token notes for customers that we sometimes giveaway.

We’ve used ExpressKEY from the beginning and it seems to be easy for customers to use when returning for business.

DS: When we first opened, we did a direct mailing with a free wash.

We have commercials on the radio, and two different cable commercials that are about 30 seconds long.

We’re using the winter commercial spot now, which focuses on the in-bay.

AH: For the first site, we were able to capitalize on the fact that we already had an audience, and we could convert some of them to become in-bay customers.

For the first two years, we did a fair amount of advertising via radio, cable T.V. and we also used the value-pack coupon mailings.

PC&D: How would you compare the revenue you receive from your in-bays compared to your self-serve business?

SS: Typically, we see about 65 percent of our total revenue comes from the in-bays. Our in-bays range from $4 to $7, and the self-serves are $2 for four minutes.

RD: I’d say about 55 percent of revenue overall is from the in-bay, and 45 percent for the self-serve.

FZ: Our automatic is $5 at the lowest wash selection, and the top price is $8.50 and the self-service is $1.75 startup for four minutes.

But business is pretty even when you compare customers to dollars coming in.

AH: We’re $2 for four and a half minutes with the self-serve, and our automatics run from $8 to $5.

From a dollar standpoint, we’re probably 50:50 as far as business done from both types of carwashing.

PC&D: Did you see a significant rise in business after exclusively promoting the in-bay?

SS: So far, since December, we’ve been selling a lot of gift certificates through the website, and it seems to translate into more business.

RD: We’ve done a lot with the university’s paper in town, and we’ve seen a lot of college kids come to us recently.

However, it has been hard to measure advertising return.

FZ: Overall, our self-serve outdoes the automatics because of the location and what people want, but the self-serve is still up about 15 percent for us for business return.

DS: The direct mailing targeted the village that we were in and people around us, so we were able to know where new business was coming from.

AH: We’ve always found that the best advertising we can have is word of mouth.

I think that if you can do something unique to separate yourself, you can get the attention you want and save yourself the advertising costs.