What makes a loyalty program effective? The truth is, establishing a successful loyalty program will require carwash owners and operators to be able to first answer a few key questions, such as “What am I looking to get out of my loyalty program?” and “What are my loyalty goals?” For most owners, these answers lead back to the same general desire: making their businesses more successful.

After these questions have been asked, owners and operators must then consider why a customer would frequent their wash over the competition. This is a critical question that most, if not all, carwashes want the answer to.

Furthermore, owners and operators with current loyalty programs in place must consider a few additional questions and adjust their loyalty programs as needed.

  • Do you know your current customers?
  • Do you know your target customers?
  • Do you offer a diverse set of promotions that appeal to multiple types of buyers?
  • Are you promoting to local businesses and/or charities?
  • Do you use social media?

Keeping in mind all of these questions, we will take a closer look at several ideas that can help make a new or existing loyalty program successful.

Create a plan

The first component of a successful loyalty program is to create a plan. Brainstorm and write down any ideas that you have and would like to try with your loyalty program.

My advice is to start out with a small number of promotions — maybe one or two. For each offering, it is important to set a goal for the results needed to consider it a successful program. Also imperative is to track the results of the program so you will be able to determine its level of success.

Be flexible

Make sure any time you start a new promotion, it is listed as a limited time offer. If it’s popular with the customers and is prosperous for you, then extend the program. If it is not profitable, then reevaluate the promotion and make adjustments as needed.

As you go through the list created for your loyalty program, you should find the promotions that work for your business and for your target customers. Keep the core programs proven to be the most successful, but always be thinking of new ideas to try that may attract a different type of customer to your business.

Remember, just because something did not work in the past does not mean, with new technology or a small change to the original program, it will not work now or in the future.

Know your customer

Every customer frequenting your wash wants a clean car. However, it will benefit your business to find out who is coming to your wash and why he or she chose your location.

Take my past experience, for example; I purchased my first car when I graduated from college. It was a black Mercury Cougar with a red pinstripe. This ride was different than the trainer cars my dad let us previously use because, in my mind, it had style. The car was not new, but it looked great after a carwash. I was on the road four to five days a week, and I spent more time in that car than I did in my apartment. Keeping it clean was important, so I regularly took it to the carwash. After the wash, I would step into a fresh-smelling, good-looking car that made me feel wonderful.

Many years later, I now take my vehicle to the wash because I can no longer stand the coffee stains in my wife’s car or the foot marks on the dash. With three kids, I now come in for the de-crackering treatment.

Yes, I still want the outside to be clean, but it’s a minivan not a sports car. I want this van to go over 200,000 miles like my old van did, before it shows what Minnesota winters can do to cars. The salt/sand used on the roads can erode vehicles from the bottom up.

I have been loyal to the same carwash for the past 11 years. This is because if its customer service, attention to detail and the variety of loyalty programs that fit my shifting needs as a customer.

Focus on the consumer and accept feedback

The newest wash in your area will likely be tested by most of your customers. However, by having a successful loyalty program in place, they will keep coming back to your business. You have a vested interest in making sure your customers feel good about coming to your wash.

Feedback from patrons or employees is critical to improving your programs. Many of the solutions offered by some loyalty product manufacturers will surely come from a creative customer asking for something new.

Study examples of success

I have seen success with special monthly offers made on websites and throughout social media. For instance, one carwash owner recently added a monthly promotion banner advertisement to the company’s website. The business more than tripled its online sales for that month.

In November another carwash owner added a gift box around his card dispensing and recharging stations. He more than doubled the sales from the previous two months. This outside-the-box thinking was successful for this owner because he drew attention and provided value to his customers.

In fact, when this carwash owner opened his second location, he offered a free wash day and advertised that the site was now open under new management. Judging by the lines in the photos he showed me — and a visit by the local authorities asking his plans for traffic management — he certainly got that message across to customers.

Another example is a carwash/laundry operator with locations in Patterson, New Jersey. He has built an effective loyalty program based on his target customer base. His customers use his loyalty cards 100 percent for the laundry services, and he gives a discount at the self-service bays and vacuums for customers with loyalty cards.

This owner also gives discounts to people who recharge their loyalty cards online. He does this because they must register their cards to recharge them, and that gives him their contact information for future targeted marketing campaigns.

Be more involved with large groups

Have you thought about becoming a participant in a program like Grace for Vets? With this program you can find out how many vets frequent your wash and build promotions accordingly. These types of programs build on your carwash’s reputation.

Additionally, consider joining forces with sports teams, churches and charities by hosting fundraisers at your location.

You can also increase business by expanding your target market in other ways. Business-to-business (fleet) accounts, for example, can help boost bottom lines for carwashes and reach a larger audience. You don’t need fleet customers with hundreds of cars to be successful, and you don’t have to discount until you are losing money.

If you provide a good wash, give accountability (reporting) to the fleet manager and have the appropriate equipment for a company to wash all their vehicles — for example, large self-service bays to handle oversized trucks — you will add a consistent revenue stream to your wash.

To enroll new fleet customers, you need to find out what the hot button issues are for fleet operators. Let’s say the fleet manager is concerned that his or her employees are washing their own vehicles with the company card. Some card systems can limit when a card is used so employees may only be allowed to wash their vehicles during business hours, as an example.

If the company has very muddy trucks that fill up your pits, you may suggest a discount on slower days or times of operation, such as Monday through Thursday only; this way your other customers can get a clean wash on your busy days, such as weekends.

Find what works for you

One final thing to keep in mind is in today’s society, simplicity and convenience for the customer will play a major role in making a loyalty program successful.

What does an effective loyalty program look like for your carwash? Follow these key points discussed in this article, and you will be on the right track to creating an effective and profitable loyalty program.

Although you can’t please everyone, with a good plan, some flexibility and customer focus you will find what works for your carwash and your customers.


Craig Kjorlien is a sales representative at WashCard Systems Inc. WashCard Systems is a customer loyalty and credit card specialist for carwashes and coin laundromats. Learn more at www.washcard.com.