How can a carwash find and keep customers engaged beyond the wash? The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has not only caused a shift in how carwash operators manage their businesses, but it has also provided insight into marketing trends on how to best engage, retain and generate more customers. For many of us, the pandemic and lessons learned have taught us to re-evaluate our marketing plans and, moving forward, prioritize and integrate marketing tactics from a different angle.
This article will cover marketing trends to consider for 2021, combining the power of positive team members with digital marketing tactics to help drive traffic and keep customers engaged.
Team member engagement
Your marketing department is actually quite large and robust, and it does not matter if you have one location or more than 50 locations. Successful marketing strategies truly begin with the people who make your brand come alive: your team members. Engaging team members begins by clearly communicating your organization’s vision, mission and values. Invest in a comprehensive onboarding program to set team members up for success, and offer ongoing training and professional development opportunities, which will discourage stagnation.
Furthermore, encourage and highlight team members who have excellent rapport with customers, and never pass on the opportunity to show company-wide appreciation to team members who receive customer accolades.
Seeking your team member’s marketing ideas and choosing several to implement throughout the year will go a long way in fostering a positive workplace, and your wash customers will take note. This can be as simple as encouraging team members to submit non-profit organizations they’re passionate about for a fundraising campaign; inviting a social media-savvy employee to take over your wash’s Instagram account for the day; and empowering teams to select a special, “regular” wash customer to present with a gift of branded swag and a note of appreciation.
Engaged, motivated team members are your best marketing ambassadors and can positively promote your brand’s message more effectively than any high-dollar marketing campaign.
Online business listings and reviews
Due to the pandemic, the amount of time people spend online has increased dramatically. This puts companies under a greater microscope, as consumers are taking time to research products, brands and organizations before making a purchasing decision. One of the most important digital marketing tactics you can do is ensure that your local, online listings, such as Google My Business, are verified and maintained with current hours, service offerings, pictures and promotions.
Google My Business reviews are also extremely important. According to a recent Qualtrics XM study, 93% of customers read online reviews before making a purchasing decision. A review response strategy should be implemented to respond to every review — and as quickly as possible.
Brainstorm typical review topics, and then develop a script that can help guide responses. Be careful not to be too canned in your responses — customers appreciate sincere, personalized replies. For multi-site operators, Google My Business now offers the capability to manage reviews and sort by date as well as by highest or lowest rating, which can help with overall response efficiency.
Since the more a business responds to reviews the higher it will rank in Google searches, you may need to boost the number of organic reviews that come in with a proactive review outreach strategy. Creating a customized, location-based Google Review link cannot be any simpler. Page admins can select the “Get More Reviews” section on their Google My Business page and easily select the “Share Review Form” in order to generate a customized review link to share to social media accounts or use in other campaigns.
Print business card-sized “Review Us” pieces with a directed QR code that customers can scan with their smartphones to leave a review. This can be handed out by team members in the vacuum lot, for example, after the team member asks about the customer’s wash experience and alleviates any potential wash quality issues. Review links can also be easily distributed via a text message or email campaign for companies with more comprehensive customer data.
Digital customer apps and management portals
In normal circumstances, consumer interests and behaviors can be hard to predict. With the onset of COVID-19 and mandatory stay-at-home orders — followed by many businesses pivoting their workforces to full-time work-from-home — one thing is definitely apparent: consumers want 24/7, easily manageable access to information.
For unlimited wash club members and even single retail wash customers, an online wash portal is a great way to empower customers to easily access wash information, purchase an unlimited wash club membership and manage that club membership.
Last summer, our company, Express Wash Concepts, released its wash portal. After creating an account, unlimited wash club customers can easily manage their accounts, such as updating payment and contact info, changing wash packages, gifting a wash or purchasing a gift card. Retail wash customers can also easily purchase an unlimited wash club membership and purchase gift cards and single washes, which are sent electronically.
In addition to customer portals, mobile apps are also continuing to be fine-tuned and are an extremely popular offering from carwash operators. Mr. Shine, a flex service carwash located in Peoria, Arizona, is using its mobile app to gain a following of loyal customers, to whom they can then effortlessly present the rest of the company’s marketing campaigns, such as unlimited club and other offers.
“In 2021 we will be focusing on continuing to get customers to sign up for our mobile app through our geofence campaign, social media marketing efforts, on-site signage and print. We offer a free wash with download of the app and feel this is an enticing offer and is the best way to get customers to become loyal Mr. Shine customers,” says Alivia Gleason, Mr. Shine’s business manager. “We gather their info, can send push notifications to the app for our specials, and we can send mass emails and texts to them. We like this approach because we gain a following of loyal customers rather than one-time customers.”
One silver lining of the COVID-19 pandemic is that communities and local businesses banded together like never before to take care of each other. “Support Local” campaigns will continue to be prominent moving forward, and carwash operators have a unique opportunity to give back to their communities and strengthen their customer bases. Investing marketing dollars back into community-based initiatives is one of the best ways to raise awareness and strengthen a loyal customer following.
Nicholas Lopez, president of San Antonio-based Bubble Bath Car Wash, is placing a strong emphasis on community relations in 2021. “Being more than a carwash but a business that cares about its community is extremely important, especially now,” explains Lopez. “Working with non-profits, hosting fundraisers, bringing customers in for activity days and sending our staff out to help within the community are a few of the things we do to show our commitment to our city.”
Like Bubble Bath Car Wash, Express Wash Concepts will continue to emphasize community involvement with quarterly “Free Wash Weekend” fundraising initiatives and donation campaigns surrounding new location grand openings. Express Wash Concepts also assigns site managers at each of our 31-plus locations with a local marketing budget to be used for community-based sponsorships, such as youth sports teams, arts outreach and local events.
Our company receives on average more than 500 donation requests each year from local non-profits and organizations via an online donation form and responds with a branded pail that includes a gift card, air fresheners, drying towels and car cleaning supplies. Acts of community service from team members are encouraged, ranging from environmental cleanups and delivering meals to local families in need to making blankets for a local Ronald McDonald House.
Social media presence
Your social media pages can and should be more than just a platform for communicating company messages. Attract new and keep existing customers engaged with regular, fresh content that includes team member and customer spotlights, pet photo contests, wash-related trivia, community partner highlights and periodic customer contests, such as #FreeWashFriday campaigns.
Develop a content calendar in advance surrounding the plethora of holidays and designated “national” theme days, and be well on your way to having enough content to post the recommended two to five times a week. Set aside a budget to periodically boost more engaging content, and watch your followers grow. Facebook ads, for example, offer some of the highest ROI of social media ads and can be an extremely economical way to grow your business as you increase loyal followers.
Think you do not have the time to regularly post social media content?
“Find a social media manager. This can be an entry-level individual with a knack for social media,” asserts Lopez. “You’re going to have to do some training to familiarize them with your brand, but social media is wide-ranging, popular and one of the most inexpensive ways to reach new audiences and level up your marketing game.”
Another benefit to a strong social media strategy is the ability to offer customers access to information 24/7. Facebook Messenger’s Chat plugin, for example, can be loaded onto your website and pre-populated with a select number of responses to your customers’ most frequently asked questions. The chat history is archived, meaning you can continue the conversation in Messenger after the customer has left your webpage.
A new year presents the opportunity to focus on generating more leads, increasing site traffic, growing sales and retaining your customer base. By leveraging digital marketing initiatives and involving your valued team members, you should be well on your way to a successful 2021 and beyond.
Beth Martin is the marketing director of Express Wash Concepts, the 31-plus location parent company of Dayton, Ohio-based Flying Ace Express Car Wash, Central Ohio-based Moo Moo Express Car Wash and greater Cleveland-based CLEan Express Auto Wash.