While you cannot put a price on a job well done and a satisfied customer, the majority of owners get into this business likely for one reason: to make money. And, while the traditional carwashing industry is enjoying new business and attention at the moment, some veteran owners have decided to expand on that business goal and aim to make more money with additional profit centers. However, as Bloomberg reminded us several years ago, it’s not that easy to start a new carwash business or make significant profits from a new service.
According to the analytics, data and news outlet, 80 percent of startups fail; of course, many of these startups did not have the luxury of an existing location with an established, or developing, customer base for additional profits. Starting up a new profit center can be both seamless and practical at your new or longstanding wash if you follow the right steps and know which path to follow from the beginning.
Standing out in the crowd
The popularity of carwashes has drawn the attention and investments of businesses and entrepreneurs. Whether starting a new carwash or offering a new service, the first few years are important for long-term stability. In these startup years, obviously nothing is more important than customers.
“Obtaining new customers can be a challenge for any small business. Your goal is not only to attract as many new customers as possible, but to keep them coming back. To accomplish the latter it is essential customers have a positive first experience,” asserts Ed Newman, advertising manager for AMSOIL Inc.
However getting customers in the door of your new carwash can be more challenging than new owners might originally anticipate. The average consumer, says Megan Loch, vice president of marketing for Zep Vehicle Care, is exposed to “as many as 5,000 advertising messages a day, according to the President of the marketing firm Yankelovich Jay Walker-Smith. That means capturing the attention of your customer is very difficult and new carwash owners are challenged with finding ways to break through the clutter in order to grab their customer’s attention.”
In order to effectively stand out from the crowd, Loch recommends that owners create a unique brand identity based on the experience they would like the customer to have while using their carwash or new service. “Once you’ve determined your unique identity, every touchpoint within your wash and your marketing efforts should support your brand promise. The key is consistency and a singular focus on creating the experience you want at your carwash,” she adds.
Evolving over the past decade, new carwash and current owners offering additional profit centers not only have to create a perfect customer experience on-site, but considering the influence of the internet, you better leave a last impression with any and all services you offer.
Word of mouths advertising
On average, according to SocialTimes (adweek.com), Americans spend 28 percent of their time online on social networking. As a result, “today with the viral nature of social media, word of mouth is now word of hundreds of thousands of mouths. Owners have to be concerned about the velocity at which information travels these days,” explains Gary M. Sherman, CEO and founder of Evolution Dog Wash Company.
While the trials and tribulations of developing successful content marketing, social media and other digital marketing campaigns can be left for another article, what can be stated about the past decade-plus movement toward digital communities is that they can influence your new business potential. Since many customers now visit the internet for information on a business before visiting the actual site, your online reputation and image can be a source of free, effective advertising.
“Social media is by far the loudest voice in the industry today. Sites such as Facebook and Instagram have garnered much success for carwash owners,” adds Keith Caldwell, vice president of New Horizons Car Wash and All Paws Pet Wash.
While the internet has become a significant part of our daily lives and the choices we make, it is not the only means to grow and retain a customer base for your new carwash or additional profit center. Industry professionals still recommend that you take care of the customer while on-site and build relationships within the local community.
By building relationships and partnering with neighboring businesses that can recommend and cross-promote your business or new service, you are practically doubling your target audience. So it’s recommended to use your local resources wisely.
“The Chamber of Commerce has many programs designed to help small businesses get the word out on their behalf. Many communities have good Rotary Clubs that also serve a similar function,” explains Newman. “A big Grand Opening can do a lot to put your new business on peoples’ mental maps. Make it a great event that draws coverage from the local media. Host a local celebrity or high-profile community leader [to draw more attention to the event].”
Caldwell adds face-to-face interaction with members and organizations within your community, hosting fundraisers for youth groups, churches, non-for-profits, etc., are also excellent ways to garner local positive news, increase referrals and draw attention to your new carwash or additional profit center.
Be a 20 percenter
With only an estimated 20 percent of small businesses making through the initial startup years, there are plenty of mistakes to avoid when operating a new carwash or additional profit center. For example, a poor menu design can be a costly mistake and unfortunately, poor carwash menu designs are common.
“Some typical problem areas with carwash menus are package order, quantity, color, size, pricing and naming. Effective menus are designed to increase revenue by guiding customers to the package that gives you the most revenue,” says Loch, adding the following best practices in menu design:
- Place your best package where it will be seen first, which is on the left-hand side of a horizontal layout and at the top of a vertical layout.
- Make your best package the most visible package on your menu by making it bigger and brighter so that it stands out more than any of the other packages.
- Give your best package a descriptive name that indicates the benefit and its unique value.
- Evaluate your pricing and number of packages. Anything more than four packages can become confusing and cause anxiety with customers.
- Make your package pricing consistent with the value of your wash packages. On average, consumers prefer even priced wash packages.
And, in addition to highly attractive menus and signage, be sure to keep up your facility and location’s overall appearance when looking to growing and retain business. The physical presence of your carwash or additional profit center, such as pet wash, quick lube or c-store, will influence current and future spending.
“Just like when using a public restroom; if it’s trashed, you’re walking out,” notes Sherman. “If your business does not have curb appeal and visibility, and you aren’t targeting the right demographics, you can spend as much money as you possibly can on building out your infrastructure but you won’t be successful.”
Many customers are entertained at the carwash so don’t be afraid to promote your show experience with a new service. Theater and show, says Loch, create a more inviting and engaging customer experience as well as demonstrate the value of the products and packages consumers receive at your wash. “Consider a grand entry arch, lighting, high impact chemistry and other programs that offer consumers a great show and validate their purchase,” she adds.
According to Sherman, for carwashes offering a new additional profit center, another effective way to interest visibility of the new service is by cross-promoting, such as buy three carwashes and get a pet wash for free. In addition, make sure to survey and get feedback from new customers of your service so you can fine-tune it for future customers.
Building new business
Depending on location and marketing strategy, your carwash or additional profit centers will draw a diverse customer base. Fortunately there are commonalities among buyers today that carwashes should be aware of. Price will always influence most consumers’ buying decisions, but it’s not the only variable.
“The main factors driving customer purchasing today [are] cost, value and the quality of the end product. Patrons are looking for the value gained for a given service. I would even venture to say that based on the quality of the end product (a great wash), patrons would be willing to pay a more premium price. Excellent carwashes find the equilibrium between cost, value and an excellent end product,” educates Caldwell.
Today’s mobile, multitasking customer also wants a quick, friendly and consistent service. These patrons also desire a one-stop shop, which is why carwashes are a perfect match for certain additional profit centers.
“Convenience and impulse items are a quick way to add profit to the retail footprint. Added value is gained when additional profit centers closely align with and strengthen your brand promise,” adds Loch. “For example, if you’ve identified your brand as a high-end wash, then any additional profit centers or conveniences should align with your high-end brand. If you’ve identified your wash as quick and convenient, then your additional profit centers and services should align with your ability to do it quickly and conveniently.”
There are other ways and messages that resonate with customers and prospective customers, such as practicing social and environmental responsibility. As Newman puts it, “different kinds of lures catch different kinds of fish.” However, in business, just like fishing, you want to make sure you have more keepers than throw backs.