Darryl Hall, president of BigInnovations.com, a marketing and business growth consulting firm serving clients worldwide, gave the following tips for you to consider to make sure your car care business is at the top of its game and beating out the competition.
1. Revamp your marketing plan
Marketing is mostly about building awareness, more qualified lead generation, brand building and bonding. Large carwash chains leverage marketing to fuel growth and build trust. A diverse stream of messaging is used to maintain the link between customers and their local carwash. Halt marketing and you are inviting your market to forget about you (and encouraging your competition to take share from you). Your market invisibility is also begging for reluctance in new prospects to trust an unknown brand as opposed to the other guy who is using marketing to keep themselves in the public eye. Familiarity breeds trust. Marketing helps you buy some market familiarity.
2. Are you focused on creating loyalty?
Loyalty campaigns move customers to become repeat customers and awareness campaigns motivate new prospects to try the company. As the wash chain breaks into a new geographic area, it typically has little-to-no advantage over the washes that might already be there. But it does come into the market with the might of its brand, backed by the breadth of its success. In other words, the chain has the cash flow of its established washes to fuel the initial losses of wooing a brand new market. Success begets success.
Database mining leverages technology to develop profiles of carwash customers. This has all kinds of applications from better targeting of marketing campaigns to discovering new sources of profitable customers. Mining often leads to trying to go even further. Some will use surveys, focus groups, etc to add data to their profiles that are otherwise difficult to develop. Some will use what is called data appending to buy data from large national consumer databases and append it onto the records of their own customers. All of this profiling can lead to recognizing opportunities otherwise invisible and better connecting what you can provide to what buyers want to buy.
The larger chains naturally develop some infrastructure that cannot be pulled into the day-to-day. These people can spend all of their time on strategic work to help the business grow. Instead of putting fires out, they are free to proactively work on mitigating chances of new fires. Instead of being lost in the details of the immediate, they can leverage marketing disciplines like customer and competitor research to the fullest and bring "best of" innovations into the chain with great agility. This financial flexibility to dedicate some human resources to the 10,000 foot views yields marketing innovations otherwise difficult to notice when the lone wolf in putting all of his or her efforts into making today's numbers.
3. Go “undercover”
Have you seen the television show "Undercover Boss?" It usually presents a scenario in which the CEO of a big company covertly takes a low-level job at his or her company for a few days. Their fellow employees and customers have no idea that this new hire is CEO. The consistent outcome of their experiment is that they often see their company and customers from an entirely new perspective and it often leads to meaningful — even profound — changes at their companies. What they don't often admit — but what is obvious in each episode — is how easy it is for "the boss" to lose touch with the nitty gritty, especially where it comes to vitally —important concepts like understanding customer's evolving wants and needs, how to best serve, satisfy and delight them, etc. While the typical carwash business may not be big enough for the same undercover scenario, "the boss" could still take a few days from time and time and insert themselves into the various customer-facing roles of the company. It's an easy way to stay intimately connected with your lifeblood.
4. Listen to your customers
Nowadays, customers are probably staring at a tiny little screen in their hands. What can you do with that? How can you inject opportunities to woo them out of their hypnotized state? It's likely there will be more of these consumer "zombies" walking through your wash in the future than there are today.
Aggressively and attentively listen. You should know the answer to the old question: "Why did our creator give us two ears but only one mouth?" Listen to your customers (and first-hand is far superior to chain-of-command second or third-hand). Listen to the employees that interface with your customers (they're hearing customer-driven ideas and gripes every week). Get skilled at both of those and you can detect "next big things" for the car wash industry in almost real-time.
5. Check out other industries
Look at any industry that has dependencies on serving individuals one-on-one. It doesn't even need to be a similar industry. In fact, looking at very different industries can yield marketing ideas that drive an original innovation within the carwash industry.
For example, where did carwash clubs come from? How did the first carwash to offer a club get that idea? Maybe they linked the perceived value benefit of unlimited washes, the cash flow smoothing nature of a subscription model and the sometimes roller-coaster nature of their car wash revenues? How can I get off of that roller coaster? Hmmm.
If you hop back in time to 1998, there was no such thing as Netflix. Blockbuster and clones with physical retail spaces ruled the video rental market. Netflix looked at the value proposition of that industry and the expensive flaw. They also carefully listened to the negative market wave against aggravating service policies like late fees, etc. Then they imagined a new kind of business that delivered the principle benefit while overcoming the various flaws and negativity. In less than 10 years, Netflix was a billion dollar business and the old guard who clung to the old way of doing things paid a great price.
The point? The car ash industry provides a valuable service to individuals one-to-one. There are many other business that provide services in the same, intimate way. By paying attention to what they are doing to delight and disappoint their customers, an entrepreneur can sometimes recognize brand new opportunities within their own industry. In the Netflix example, Blockbuster and others hung on to the old way for too long. They did eventually relent but they had made two mistakes:
1) They allowed an upstart to be first with a novel new innovation for a hungry marketplace; and
2) They allowed that upstart to build on that advantage for a very long time before finally coming up with a direct competitive response.
Industries working hard to delight and, unfortunately, disappoint their customers include: Banks, airlines, consumer product rental, phone, cable/satellite, utilities, professional (dentists, doctors), health clubs, all retail, and on and on. Pick a few. Watch them. Scrutinize them. What are they doing to delight and disappoint? How can we similarly delight? How can we avoid their customer-service mistakes?
Darryl Hall, president of BigInnovations.com, a marketing and business growth consulting firm serving clients worldwide. Hall spoke at the 2012 Car Wash Show™ on the topic of Evaluating the Business Case for Unlimited Wash Clubs. To reach Hall, visit biginnovations.com or call 772-546-7002.