According to a November 2016 article in this publication, the traditional business model of the professional carwash industry in the U.S. is changing.1 More and more new carwashes are deciding to move away from full service, in-bay and self service operations to express exterior and flex-serve carwashes. This shift is partially the result of the 2008 recession, which negatively impacted professional carwash outlets across the country so significantly that quite a few went under.
However, the industry today has made a complete rebound, thanks in part to the new business models and also to more prosperous economic times — consumers now have more spendable income, and many no longer view a carwash as a luxury but instead as a weekend necessity. As reported in the aforementioned article, the professional carwash industry is “currently experiencing staggering growth.”
Even so, this does not mean that professional carwashes have stopped looking for new revenue options and more ways to increase profits. More revenue and profits are always top of mind for every successful carwash owner. So, how can carwash owners make this happen?
One way is to segment your carwash into “marketing zones.” We could also call these “customer zones” because they include every area outside and within the store that your client sees and experiences. These zones have the potential to engender your customers to be more loyal, more regular and also more willing to open up their pocketbooks, including making additional purchases totally unrelated to having their cars washed.
We will concentrate on four of these marketing zones, with the first being the “before zone.”
The before zone
The goal of the before zone is very simply to make sure appropriate signage is installed so that customers can find your carwash. “You’d be amazed at how many operators don’t do that,” says Steve Robinson, marketing director for Mark VII, a manufacturer of carwash tools and equipment. “[You need to] have a sign somewhere pointing to the [carwash] entrance.”
Another important part of the before zone is the appearance of the exterior of the carwash facility. Your customer should see a clean, well-maintained exterior.
From here, the “greeting zone” takes over. This zone has a very high importance, which many carwash owners tend to overlook.
The greeting zone
For many car owners, their cars are part of them, so they want the whole carwash experience to feel personalized and special. To help evoke this feeling in your clients — and to help ensure that they become regular, loyal customers — here are some steps you can take in the greeting zone:
- Customers should be acknowledged and greeted within the first 10 seconds of arriving.
- A greeting with a smile makes for an excellent introduction to your store.
- Give the customer a little space; the “greeter” should stay about three feet away from the customer.
- Make sure your greeter focuses directly on the customer during the greeting; he or she should not be distracted, looking somewhere else or doing something else.
- Get the customer’s name and start using it; this makes the customer feel special and gives him or her a sense of belonging. Mark the customer’s name on any paperwork that follows the car through the carwash so that other staffers will also be able to use it.
- And, most importantly of all, throughout the carwash process, the greeter and all staff working with the customer should be genuine and sincere — this is a must.
The look zone
Have you taken a good look at your store recently? It may need a facelift, including putting a fresh coat of paint on the walls; installing easy-to-clean panels; using LED lights, which are bright, use little energy and are long-lasting; and hanging attractive or “of interest” wall coverings or artwork.2 A simple and inexpensive revamp of your facility can do wonders for your business.
A bit more costly item, but absolutely imperative, is upgrading your electronics and technology. Customers expect facilities to have flat-screen TVs and free Wi-Fi. You may also want to consider some extra customer touches, such as a massage chair.
All of these updates can take an ordinary-looking carwash facility into the wow zone, making a positive impression on customers. The goal of every zone, especially the look zone, is to create an identity or brand for your carwash and to get your customers to keep coming back.
The impulse-purchasing zone
While most customers visit carwash facilities to have their cars washed, this should not be the end of the revenue game for carwash owners. Owners need to create additional profit centers where customers make impulse purchases.
According to some studies, anywhere from 20 to 40 percent of the items purchased in a retail or grocery store are the result of impulse purchasing. With such significant potential revenue on the table, this is an area carwash owners simply cannot ignore.
One way to encourage impulse purchasing is to install vending machines in carwash facilities. Vending machines are proven additional profit centers, and the more car-related the products, the better they are in most cases.
However, one of the most lucrative profit centers to offer your customers is what are referred to as grab-and-go (GNG) pre-packaged food items. Of note, today’s GNG food is not the GNG food of even a few years ago.
At one time, GNG food was viewed as “second-class” food — low quality, unhealthy and not that tasty. However, people today are much more concerned with the quality of the food they eat, and the new GNG food items reflect this. In general, today’s GNG food is healthier, tastier and of higher quality.
To convey this message of higher quality and nutrition in today’s GNG food items, vendors in grocery stores, hotels, convention centers, convenience stores and schools are turning to food labeling systems. And, just as GNG food has changed over the years, so have the labels placed on these food items.
According to Jill Carte, food safety category manager for DayMark Safety Systems, an effective food labeling system should do the following:
- Brand your store. The labels on your GNG food products should maintain the same look and feel as the rest of your store branding. This can be cost-effectively accomplished by using print-on-demand labeling systems.
- Meet all legal requirements. There are specific requirements from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as to what must be listed on the label and how the information is to be presented.3
- Indicate whether the ingredients contain any food allergens. Again, the FDA has requirements on which food allergens must be listed on food labels.
- Display the expiration date of the food item. Note that terms such as “sell by” and “use by” are likely to be universally phased out and replaced with the term “best if used by.” This term indicates peak freshness of the item and reduces the likelihood of fresh food being disposed of prior to its true expiration date.
“Today, people read labels, especially GNG food labels,” says Carte. “View these labels as one more marketing opportunity to provide your customers with friendly and useful information. The results will show up at the cash register along with your customers’ positive thoughts about your store.”
Robert Kravitz is a frequent writer for the food service industry.
1“Carwash industry growth and emerging competition signals profits for existing owners,” by Rich DiPaolo, Professional Carwashing & Detailing, November 2016.
2For example, customers at a carwash in Chicago are welcomed with a large photo exhibit of the city’s long history, including several rarely seen images of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair.