The carwash industry generally requires a low investment to enter, a fact proven by the large presence washes have in big cities and small towns alike. Every carwash claims to get cars clean, and this is the most basic reason why customers visit them. If this is true, how do individual carwashes convince clients to choose their locations over the ones a few minutes away?

Competition causes low prices and good service, but it should also lead to the establishment of a unique identity, or brand, to help customers differentiate between washes.

“Branding is the best tool a carwash owner has to identify with customers, to make them see that particular carwash as the only one that can provide the service they need,” believes Ivan Salazar, marketing manager for NS Wash Systems.

Every customer is different with his or her own specific needs. A carwash with its own brand will attract patrons who relate to its identity because of their own personalities.

“At its best, a brand is the sum of the experiences and perceptions a customer has of you,” continues Salazar. “You can influence some of those perceptions and some you just can’t; advertising, customer service, problem resolutions [and] community involvement all have a role in this battle for the customer’s loyalty.”

Your words matter

For Salazar, “Communication is the key to [involving] the customer in the whole carwash experience and [turning] him/her into a loyal customer.”

Effective communication builds trust with patrons by demonstrating the business is putting effort into understanding the needs and wants of customers. Salazar notes customers may be concerned about certain aspects of the wash, and owners should take time to realize these apprehensions. Some questions owners can ask themselves, Salazar says, are:

  • Does the clientele understand what all the machines that the car goes through actually do?
  • Are they afraid of scratches/damage [or] being taking advantage of?
  • What do they expect?
  • Do they want an adventure when going through the tunnel?

These questions can lead to a better understanding of what customers truly want as opposed to what may be the opinion of the wash owners.

“A surprising number of owners don’t know and just assume customers want quick and cheap washes. In reality carwash customers can have a long and diverse list of expectations,” adds Salazar. “An informed owner can then use that information to better form his/her marketing efforts.”

The use of social media can be a beneficial, cost-effective way to establish communication with customers, reports Salazar. Carwash owners can use Facebook to promote events as well as distribute coupons and other savings. He adds that Instagram and Vine can be utilized to allow happy customers to advertise for the wash.

It’s not just in the name

Catchy names can be great, but they’re not the only part of branding. It’s more than social media, email marketing and fundraising efforts too. Every aspect of a wash can serve to establish a wash’s unique identity.

“Branding relays to the client a certain security that the owner has been attentive to details of his business, and that they have given the same attention in all areas of their business including maintenance of equipment, coordinated colors, complimentary clear signage, plain and simple menu boards, uniforms for employees, etc.,” notes Timothy Hogue, president and senior designer for Modernwash Buildings and Solutions Inc.

“All this [is done] to provide the best possible experience for the client,” continues Hogue. “Branding helps to reinforce the client’s perception of a consistent experience each and every visit, therefore making it easier for the customer to become a client.”

To create consistency, Bobby Jones, art director for TSS Inc., suggests owners ensure all “signage matches from the road sign, wayfinding, menu and tunnel fixtures.”

A good place to start, shares Jones, is the wash entrance. “By placing a custom entrance arch with lights and animations, you set the stage for the show and will also introduce your customer to your brand,” he says.

Hogue hears many clients complain they have trouble navigating carwashes because of poor directional signage. Including many vacuums and other services on the site is important to owners, but they should also be concerned with the layout of the location from the customer’s viewpoint, states Hogue. “Tight radiuses and narrow parking aisles can [be] reasons for the customer to not use your facility, or at least not as often as they might [have otherwise],” he continues.

When it comes to menus, Hogue recommends color coordinating packages to help customers organize the information included on menus. “Colored lighting attached to the equipment as well [as] to adjacent wall surfaces [can be] used creatively to work in conjunction with certain menu packages,” he adds.

Equipment enhances the experience

Many carwash professionals may view equipment as only having maintenance and service needs, but this outlook is not complete. Hogue explains equipment plays a larger role in the customer’s visit since it comes into contact with their vehicle and is marketed throughout the tunnel.

“Remember that even though the client has already paid, they are still being sold through the whole experience in the tunnel,” shares Hogue.

Having a friendly staff with branded uniforms also keeps the wash experience going throughout the customer’s entire visit. Hogue says this can help patrons feel more comfortable. “It also relays a consistent experience to the client,” he notes. “The whole experience should be seamless without any issues to cause the client [to] think negatively.”

Carwashes have also begun to see new trends in building design. Hogue says daylighting helps clients feel more at ease and less claustrophobic. This practice “allows natural light into the tunnel space by use of a clear roof system (i.e., polycarbonate multi-wall roof systems, acrylic systems and framed skylights),” he continues.

Daylighting can be extended to the building’s walls so passers-by and customers can watch vehicles being cleaned inside tunnels, “thereby marketing your product (a clean car) to every person passing by,” Hogue notes. “This is the same reason that car dealerships have large glass windows in their showrooms.”

LED lighting, asserts Hogue, can add to the effect of daylighting, as it provides a bright, white light in the tunnel. It also offers the added benefit of saving money.

Express yourself and earn profits

Salazar reports the “carwash brand can be more valuable than the equipment inside, [so] do not neglect to invest in it.” He notes a properly managed wash should:

  • Deliver your message clearly (whatever your customers have told you is important to them)
  • Confirm your credibility
  • Motivate and connect to your customers emotionally
  • Create loyalty (when finally [customers] don’t see you as another carwash but ‘their’ carwash).

Marketing must be treated as an integral part of every carwash operation. As society evolves, trends will change, but this does not mean owners should give up on creating strong brands. For operators not familiar with how to conduct effective programs, trained professionals are available for hire.

Marketing can be a daunting task for the uninitiated, but just as you would seek a tax expert for tax help, you really will benefit seeking out marketing help,” shares Jones. “Marketing experts will not only help with your branding, but they can also see some different business angles [and] they may help grow your profit. It’s refreshing to have a new perspective on your marketing plan.”

Whether you hire an expert or have your own marketing staff already, the inclusion of a comprehensive marketing program will only benefit your business.

“If you look at the successful carwashes in the industry, you will see a common thread running in all of them, and that’s successful branding,” concludes Jones.