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Self-serve

Raising revenue with radio advertising

October 11, 2010
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When I was in the electrical construction industry the president of the firm asked me to handle the advertising in addition to my estimating and project manager duties.

It was an old firm and had tried advertising in the past without much success.

Things were a little slow in the service department and they thought that maybe some advertising could pick it up. No one in the firm had any advertising experience; putting me in charge of the inexperience.

Over the next couple of years I found out a few things about advertising that didn’t really help the electrical contractor much at the time, but would help me years later when we bought our first carwash.

Lessons learned:

  • All mediums will take your advertising dollars for as long as you’re willing to give it to them.
  • You should check to see if the ads are effective or if they reach the right people. I was never told by the ad people how much this matters.
  • The newspaper, radio or TV station will be quick to tell you it will write the ad for you and you don’t need any experience, just sign on the dotted line. This isn’t always the best option.
  • They’ll show you all the statistics and demographics on why you should use the paper, the radio or TV. Their medium is always better than the others and they can prove it. You need to find what works for you and your wash.
  • The saleslady (in the last 25 years, I’ve only had one gentleman) usually is just that, a “sales” person. The sales person might only have been on the job for a few months or less than a year (little experience) and remember, she is in “sales,” not advertising.
  • They are all proud of their production departments. “Production” will sell your product, choose carefully.

What they don’t tell you:

  • More dollars spent is not necessarily a sign of success.
  • You need to have some way of checking the effectiveness of your ad campaign.
  • The person writing the ad must have experience in what they are writing about. Most production people are good at writing, computer graphics or production video, but they don’t know the electrical contracting or carwashing business.
  • Sometimes one medium works better than another. Sometimes a little of everything is better — if you can afford it.
  • There is no guarantee. If your ad gets zero results, they will not give your money back.
  • Experience is needed; in both the business being advertised and in advertising. You have the experience in your business; production has the experience (or should have the experience) in advertising.
  • You are the key. Production cannot work without you. You are the experience in carwashing.

I’ll guarantee you that the guy in production knows absolutely nothing about the carwashing industry and what might help you gain the edge over your competition. Be involved.

If you advertise it, they will come
Fortunately, the service department at my old firm did pick up, so I was in charge of inexperience for only a couple of years.

During those two years, I kept hearing that you cannot effectively advertise a service company. I found that you can advertise by building an image.

So five or six years after my first lesson in advertising, we bought our first carwash. I was then, and still am, a firm believer in advertising.

I tried the newspaper a few times, but it seemed expensive for the results I got.

The TV pricing was exorbitant; I could never agree to pay the fees. It must work for some people, but I’ll never know personally.

Radio was the medium that worked for me. I wrote and narrated all my commercials.

On the air waves
We averaged a 10 percent increase in sales per year from 1988 to 2001, when we added the additional six bays.

From 1996 to 2001, we averaged 1.55 percent of gross sales for advertising.

From 1988 to 1995, I did not split out the individual expenses like I should have, so I could not dig up what we spent.

I think I read somewhere that someone recommended five percent of gross sales should go to advertising. Was that an advertising firm’s recommendation?

We did spend almost five percent in 2005 because we had road construction along the main road in front of us. We spent more than usual, but sales were down, so that skews the percent figure.

A lesson from experience
If you’re going to advertise on radio, my humble recommendations are:

  • Build an image. When people think of a carwash, you want them to think of your carwash.
  • Know your strengths and sell them; i.e. mention your 12 large bays with bill and credit card acceptors in the bay.
  • Do not use negative ads. Don’t point out the competition’s weaknesses: imply them by stressing your strengths.
  • If your voice is not obnoxious, narrate the ad yourself. People like to hear from the owner.
  • Tell them you are the owner and tell them your name; i.e., “This is Mr. Carwash, Dennis Ryan.” People like to know that the owner and the owner’s reputation back up the product.
  • Don’t just read the ad, act it out. At the very least make it sound like a normal conversation with the person listening and try to connect with that one person.
  • Vary the inflection in your voice. Also, a pause can be important; it gives the listener time to think (paint the picture).
  • A picture is worth a thousand words. Try to paint that picture in the mind’s eye.
  • A little humor is good. A lot of humor is better. Subtle humor is the best. Let them think about it for a while, hopefully it takes three or four times to dawn on them. Then they’ll remember it forever and they’ll talk to their neighbors about it.
  • When you go to the radio station, ask for the most experienced people they have. If it’s your first trip there, they might try to give you to the person with the least amount of clients (most inexperienced).

Painting the picture
Next month I’ll write about the most successful radio ads I’ve had. For now, I’ll leave you with an ad that “paints a picture in the mind’s eye”.

At the time we had an in-bay automatic:

“No Touch Auto Wash is the best, most convenient automatic carwash in the state. It’s perfect for everyone. My gray-haired mother, 85 years old, loves it. She runs through it once a week - and she doesn’t have a car. Ohhhh…she gets sooooo wet.”


Dennis Ryan has been in the carwash business since 1988 and the construction business for 40 years. At one time he owned and operated five self-service carwashes. Currently he owns and operates American Pride Carwash in Casper/Evansville, WY. He can be contacted at nayrsinned@msn.com.

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