Signage, coupons and loyalty programs can be effective ways to increase customer traffic, but other opportunities exist that can expand a carwash’s customer base even more. Cross-marketing allows a carwash or detail business to team up "with other compatible businesses to share promotional expenses or develop promotional programs,” says Jeff Dyson, vice president of Kooler Ice. Secondary income streams also allow other products to be marketed with a carwash business, he says.

This exposure can increase customer reach tremendously. Employing these two techniques effectively can make your carwash more of a destination for locals in the community.

Look for compatibility

“The most important key to being successful with cross-marketing is to [add] a compatible product or service to your existing business that you can partner with that will attract customers to your location independently and will raise consumer awareness of your business and location,” explains Dyson.

Steve Palmer, CFO and marketing director for Brown Bear Car Wash, says cross-marketing expands your reach to customers that might not normally be introduced to your company.

“Be aware of the organizations that are in your community. Look for partners that would have a mutually beneficial relationship, so the ones that you could benefit and the ones that would benefit you.”

Palmer says his company has had great success cross-marketing initiatives with car dealerships.

“We do a fair amount with dealerships, and so not only does it introduce our brand and our services to another subset of customers, but it can in some respects act as a quasi-endorsement, particularly if those cross-promotional partners are in an industry that deals with similar customers as those that you do,” explains Palmer.

“The auto industry sells cars obviously, and so to have a partnership with them acts as kind of a quasi-endorsement … which is a big bonus to the carwash,” Palmer adds.

Dyson notes that cross-marketing is a less expensive way for carwashes to promote their services as well, especially since equipment and other costs are high.

“Carwash owners have typically paid a premium to locate their washes in areas with high visibility and high traffic counts,” he says. “By using their existing business to promote additional product offerings, or establish a secondary income stream that utilizes the resources that they have readily available, carwashes can broaden their customer base, increase their exposure and save money.”

Cross-promote services

Cross-marketing initiatives do not have to be expensive or complicated. The businesses involved share expenses, and both can promote the program as well.

“An example of a cross-marketing program might be, for example, becoming involved with a nearby gas station and offer reciprocal incentive programs to boost business,” Dyson shares. “The gas station may offer a ‘free’ basic wash with 10 fill-ups. The carwash may offer a $5 discount on an oil change from the gas station by showing a receipt from the carwash.”

Brown Bear gets involved with nonprofits in its community as well, which is also known as cause marketing.

“We do quite a bit with environmental organizations, which is a good tie-in for us in terms of our positioning in the market,” says Palmer.

“And then our charity carwash program has been very beneficial in also securing that kind of goodwill with the community in dealing with a lot of nonprofit organizations,” he adds.

Getting involved with a charity can do more than increase sales. It can establish your wash as a significant part of the community.

“Being a good steward of the community and making sure that you have relationships with various organizations helps to position you as someone that’s not just there to do business, but as a long-term part of the community, and that helps strengthen your position with the consumer,” states Palmer.

Add a secondary income stream

Dyson says establishing a second income stream can also be a good opportunity to carwashes, and it shows customers you are concerned about their wants and needs.

“Offering customers a product or service that is new and meets a need that they have is a way of demonstrating that you are aware of their needs and want to improve their satisfaction and can help strengthen their loyalty to your business,” notes Dyson.

Customers will know they can do more than just get their cars cleaned when they visit your wash. Adding convenience services like water/ice vending or snack/drink vending are all viable options to give customers more options.

“The wash already has water, electric, coin exchangers and easy access going in and out of the wash, so most are ideal for a drive-up convenience with no waiting in line,” explains Dyson. “You could also use these convenience services as part of a marketing plan for the wash to incentivize and bring business to the wash by offering a ‘free’ item with purchase.”

Dyson also notes that advertising these additional profit options may increase the number of customers using the carwash equipment as well.

“As you advertise the additional convenience items at your location, or your relationship with the other business and the added incentive, you raise the awareness of your business location for services other than just the carwash,” he states.

Palmer shares that these extra items can boost business when the wash may not be as popular.

“Convenience offerings tend to be viable businesses year round and can help support the carwash and bring in income during periods that the carwash business may be slower,” says Palmer. 

Be choosy

Because your carwash will be associated with the partnering organization, Palmer says to be careful when it comes to choosing who you connect with.

“It’s important to make sure that you’re selective because any time you do any kind of cross-promotion or you partner with another organization, by association your brand is influenced either positively or negatively,” explains Palmer.

Palmer says carwash owners should make sure their customers will not have a negative experience with the business they partner with.

“There’s that halo effect that occurs with any cross-promotion,” shares Palmer. “So if [the organization] has poor customer service and you partner with them just because they have good deals, it can actually have a negative effect.”

Even though it may take time and research, being meticulous about cross-marketing can pay off, especially when it comes to the perception others have of your business.

“It’s important to select those partners carefully. Make sure that they fit within your ideals and within your culture, so that it doesn’t tarnish the reputation that you may have built over time,” he continues.

Use the influence of social media

Palmer says that cross-marketing can now be even more effective because of social media.

“There aren’t just the traditional forms of marketing in print and regular advertising, but social media I think compounds the effect of cross-promotion,” he explains.

Through media like Facebook and Twitter, carwash owners have access to fans and contacts, so cross-promotion benefits can be leveraged even more, Palmer notes.