Today, more businesses than ever are in the business of selling subscriptions. While every type of media — TV, radio, streaming sites, news services, etc. — requires monthly fees for access and expanded features, now many brick-and-mortar companies are joining the trend as well. In this instance, the car care industries are well ahead of the subscription curve.
Unlimited wash club memberships have long been a part of the accepted carwash business plan. New technologies have developed over the years, and now the implementation and upkeep of these programs is easier than ever. Industry trends have revealed that effectively marketing memberships and expanding the group of wash customers billed monthly is a best practice for all carwash locations.
That said, finding effective techniques and marketing outlets to boost these programs and increase membership buys can be difficult. Thankfully, there are many proven avenues for promoting monthly memberships to local vehicle owners. Further, operators can follow established customer service steps to fully promote the benefits of membership while also ensuring consumer satisfaction and retention.
Flexibility, value and pricing
The ability to manage and analyze a wash’s existing memberships is an important factor to avoid hitting a subscription plateau, according to Chris Moriarity, senior vice president of strategy at Suds Creative™. It does not matter the type of operation; a club program is only as good as the data that is regularly collected.
Using this information, a business can make updates and changes as needed. “This game is fluid, and with increasing competition, you need to be able to adapt and pivot, or someone will come and take what you have,” Moriarity explains.
Remembering this needed flexibility, Moriarity recommends an owner first take a good look at wash prices. Currently, the carwash industry runs on competition-based pricing. While the mechanisms behind a true pricing strategy can get a little too complex for most, one statement remains true: It’s all about profit. Prices should be shaped around the average. For many sites, the right move is to actually lower prices, which will ultimately increase profits by drawing in more members.
Next, an operator should focus on lifetime value. Member counts can be an easy way to track success, but the road to revenue is actually paved by length of membership, Moriarity states. It’s important to know what the average tenure is for each level of a membership plan.
Conventional wisdom might tell a business to push as many people as possible to the highest and most expensive level, Moriarity continues. However, if an owner can tell that $20 members stay on the plan an average of eight months and $40 members only stay on an average of three, it is evident that the lifetime value of lower-tiered members is actually greater — variable costs aside.
Finally, remember that a membership should be a relationship, Moriarity notes. Make sure to collect contact information and stay in touch with members to keep them engaged and loyal. Otherwise, a business can stall growth by continually replacing lost members with new customers. In the industry, this is called the “treadmill of doom.”
Steve Gaudreau, who is the president of Brink Results LLC, says multiple factors can hold washes back from landing more club members. His first suggestion would be staffing the pay station 100% of the time. The majority of washes with club plans do not have employee presence at the pay station. While the express exterior segment started with the concept of using automated pay stations and not employees, locations that have people at the pay stations talking to nonmembers about becoming members see a significant difference.
Related: Unlimited wash club management
Another important step when pushing sales at pay stations is giving the employees training. Gaudreau states that this training is definitely a membership program best practice. Training will enable these workers to inform customers, answer questions and even make suggestions. Again, a carwash will not have professional salespeople in these positions, so the employees will require training and coaching.
“There’s one wash chain that just got sold for the largest sum in the industry,” Gaudreau says. “Basically, when they open a location, they put a whole professional sales team out there for several months to get their memberships up to a high level right away. There’s nobody else I know that’s done that.”
Another area of importance is ensuring that the wash menus are simple, clean and clear, according to Gaudreau. Ideally, a menu will display the important numbers next to each other. A $10 individual price is shown next to the $20 price for the unlimited wash club. Simplicity and clarity in these menu designs allow people to quickly put two and two together and realize the membership price is a better value.
Gaudreau agrees that membership pricing should be an area of emphasis. Previously, membership club pricing would be three to four times the package price. Eventually, the ratio went down to two to three times the price. Currently, a general industry standard is two times the price or less. A wash will often have a $15 individual package, and the unlimited wash club will be $25, for example.
Simple and complex marketing
For membership programs, Gaudreau states that one of the biggest steps to ensure great marketing is making sure all wash messaging is focused on the monthly clubs. This includes promoting membership programs on on-site signage, billboard marketing where applicable, electronic sign messaging, traditional print and radio media, etc.
“Unlimited wash club memberships start at whatever price. You put that everywhere, including on brochures; you make sure on your pay station menus that the information is absolutely crystal clear,” Gaudreau says. “That may seem obvious, but focusing on unlimited wash clubs to the exclusion of almost anything else is what I call a primary marketing focus.”
Another successful tactic washes have used is sending people out to call on businesses and apartment complexes as well as distribute flyers. These programs allow face-to-face promotion for the opening of a new wash or for membership programs, Gaudreau notes. Though few carwashes use this type of promotion currently, it has proven effective.
And, of course, today there is always marketing via social media. Gaudreau explains that a larger percentage of carwash companies are now either hiring someone internally or using a firm to cover their social media pages and marketing plans. Geofencing is an up-to-date social media strategy where drivers who come by a location then get an ad about the carwash. These types of automated ads are effective membership marketing tools.
Moriarity suggests that operators should not assume expensive tools or complex marketing plans are needed. Often, the most important thing is to overcome “frequency blindness.” Think about how many businesses a potential customer drives by every day. How many of the locations can the driver name? Not many, and that is frequency blindness. Simply adding temporary signage, flags or balloons can be enough to make drivers “see” a location again. These tactics can be a low-tech, low-cost way to move the membership dial.
“Once you have cars moving through the site, realistic sales training is the best way to bump up that enrollment rate without spending one more dollar,” Moriarity says. “The conversation can’t be a hard sell, and it needs to happen in less than 15 seconds. It’s important to realize that membership revenue is exponential; the difference between a 3% and a 6% enrollment rate is a beach house — or at least looking at beach houses on a nicer computer.”
Proof of popularity
Now more than ever, membership programs are immensely popular with consumers. Moriarity shares a popularity spoiler alert: It is not because of the savings but the convenience. Not long ago, carwashing was a very “cash-heavy” industry. Notably, as more sites accepted credit and debit card payment options, carwashing became more convenient. Pulling out a wallet is painful, but pulling out a card is less so. With memberships, customers do not even have to roll down their windows, which is ideal.
Moreover, most consumers today suffer from decision fatigue, and it can be exhausting, Moriarity explains. “Should I get my car washed? Which wash? Which package? What price? How long?” and on and on. When someone is a wash club member, that fatigue goes away. The wash is here for a driver whenever he or she wants it — just drive up.
Gaudreau states that our whole culture and society has changed — there are subscriptions for everything. Everyone experiences ads for subscriptions every single day online, on TV or on the radio. The subscription business is experiencing huge growth in every industry, and now it should make sense naturally to almost all carwash customers.
Basically, in the customer’s mind, the clubs provide a low cost per visit. Gaudreau notes that drivers really would like to have their vehicles cleaned more often — especially now, since the process is faster with express exterior locations. Instead of considering the actual wash cost, consumers tend to think, “I pay this monthly subscription, and I wash for free. I can wash as much as I want for free.”
Thinking about the increase in wash visits as well as the construction boom for wash locations, one reason for industry expansion is that consumers are washing their vehicles more due to subscription memberships. “I say it’s radically changed the industry,” Gaudreau concludes.
Michael Rose is a freelance contributor.