Like all business owners, carwash owners and operators around the globe constantly ponder enticing ways to secure additional customers to keep profit margins steadily rising. Of all the carwash owners in the industry, perhaps it is the self-serve operators who face the most difficult challenge of offering effective loyalty programs to their customers.
Several questions arise when considering loyalty programs, such as: What program will be used to collect the customer information? How can it be integrated with current systems?
Can real-time recognition and rewards be provided? How can the program be structured so that it’s cost effective yet exciting enough to move the needle? What do we do with the information we collect? How do we keep the program fresh and exciting for years to come?
From tokens to cards
In years past, many operators instituted the use of tokens at their self-serve carwashes as both a marketing tool and a rewards program. But using tokens as a proper loyalty program was difficult because operators were unable to track what customer used the tokens and when.
“We had used tokens in the past, but it was too hard to keep track of the usage,” explained Gary Baright, co-owner of Foam and Wash Dog & Car Wash in Redhook, NY.
For that reason, self-serve carwash owner/operators are turning to the loyalty card to solve their loyalty program needs. Tokens can still be used and marketed, but loyalty cards now provide operators a way to track usage, provide real-time recognition and give customers a fresh and exciting promotional tool.
Most loyalty cards follow the same format: buy a card, load it, and get a discount or bonus service with the purchase of the card or when it is fully loaded.
Sam Underwood, owner of Wash-A-Roo, a self-serve location in Weatherford, TX, reports this type of loyalty program is very popular at his wash. Patrons who purchase a card obtain 25-cent vacuum use, plus a 10 percent bonus — or four additional uses for free.
“Customers who are celebrating their birthday also get a free wash if they register their cards online,” said Underwood.
The implementation of a loyalty card program produces valuable results a carwash owner or operator can use to their advantage. With the use of the card, carwash owners and operators can track the frequency and usage of each carwash patron, providing valuable information on target markets.
Similar to Underwood, Baright’s loyalty card provides patrons with complimentary services with the purchase of the card.
“Users who purchase a $30 card get a card valued at $45. The cards allow patrons use of any services at the wash,” said Gary, adding, “at one location, they [patrons] use the dog wash, vacuums, self-serve and a week later, the automatic. They can choose what and when they want to use it.”
Offering loyalty cards has its share of financial advantages. Similar to selling gift cards, carwash owners and operators reap the rewards immediately, independent of whether or not the card is used.
“I currently have 3,000 cards out there, with 10 percent of my business consisting of pre-paid washes,” said Baright. In-bay loyalty card purchases currently consist of 30 percent of his business, with a significant and measurable increase every year.
“The first year, it was 12 percent, followed by 20 percent, 30 percent and four years from now, I anticipate 50 percent,” said Baright.
Advertising loyalty card service is usually an inexpensive investment. Many successful carwash owners and operators like Baright have advertised at their site in multiple locations: near the change and vending machines, ATM, and locations in and around the bays with great success. Multi-site operators who offer different services at various locations have the advertising advantage to capture a wide variety of customers for each location.
Before implementing any loyalty program, it is important to do your research and develop a plan of attack. Many companies offer enticing programs, but keep your options open before making any decision. Sometimes, you may be able to develop a better loyalty program than one that’s for sale.
If you are not sure if a loyalty program is right for you, ask around the industry. Veteran carwash operators and owners can be an invaluable source of information.