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Menus matter

Menus — every carwash has one. But while the wash menu is a basic feature of every carwash, how this list of wash options is designed, positioned and utilized can have a significant impact on the success of your business.

So, how can you ensure that you’re getting the most out of your menu? The truth is, there are many approaches that will deliver excellent results. But there are also some basics that have to be covered when designing and utilizing your menu to drive traffic as well as continued business and revenue growth.

Let’s start with the basics: How many wash packages are optimum, and how should they be organized on the menu? In this area, there has been considerable research and a variety of conclusions. Some have three packages; many have four. Some washes employ a horizontal design; others go with the vertical approach. Where do you position your top wash in that list?

First, how many packages? I’ve worked with customers who have two, three and four packages. They can all work, depending on how they are marketed. Regarding design, opinions vary as to the advantages of a horizontal versus a vertical listing and where your top wash should appear in the list. While I prefer the horizontal approach, I’m not convinced that list orientation or top wash position are the most critical factors in effective menu design. What is essential is that the menu is fresh, professional and easy to understand. Let me expand on those a bit:

  • Fresh: By this I mean that the menu doesn’t look like it’s been there for a decade. The style should be current, the colors bright. If you have a creative person on your team, don’t be afraid to use some catchy package titles to set your wash apart. It shows that you’re taking an active interest in your wash.
  • Professional: From time to time, I still see hand-written menus with items crossed out and others written in. Your menu is a direct reflection of your wash. If customers see a lack of professionalism in the menu, they will transfer that opinion to your wash. Everything associated with your carwash should show that you are going to take excellent care of their vehicle.
  • Easy to understand: In the case of a menu, less is more. You don’t need to put things on the menu just to make the list look impressive. Point out the major features of each package — the things that set that choice apart from the previous option. And, avoid carwash jargon. Use terms that the average vehicle owner will understand.

Some menus are written where each package includes the wording, “Everything in Package 1 plus ….” Everyone has an opinion, and this is just mine, but I believe that approach can be confusing.

Typically, each wash package should provide two more features than the previous level. Overall, the key in menu design is that customers can visually see the difference between the express wash and what they will receive when they choose to invest in the top package.

Match your machine

Of course, menu building starts with your machine. Your menu will naturally be limited to some extent by the options on your equipment. If you don’t have a lot of options, you may have to be more creative with your menu, including some basic features to differentiate your wash levels.

Keep in mind that time is money, both for you and your customer. You don’t want to stack features in your top wash to the point that it takes 10 minutes to get a vehicle through. On the other hand, if the capability of your machine is falling behind what your market is asking for, it may be time for an equipment upgrade.

If your equipment also provides a choice between a soft-touch or touch-free wash, like our ChoiceWash XT®, that feature also needs to hold a prominent place on your menu.

Both your carwash manufacturer and chemical provider should be good resources to draw upon to provide guidance and help answer questions as you develop your menu. For example, we will provide initial wash menus to carwash operators who have a chemical agreement with us.

Menus and marketing

In addition to effective menu development and design, it’s important to consider how your menu will both fit into and be supported by your carwash marketing program.

First, where should your menu be displayed at your location? Ideally, at any point of purchase — the front register, the pumps — and, of course, the entrance to the carwash. With convenience stores, as much as 80% of the carwash business comes from the fuel islands. When fuel customers are asked if they want to purchase a carwash, the options and details should be right in front of them on a pump menu — including your pricing.

Support your carwash with secondary messaging that doesn’t necessarily include the menu. While your primary communication is located at the point of purchase, secondary advertising should be positioned at impulse and destination locations. Exterior signage indicating the fact that you have a carwash and pointing out a particular feature can help visitors make that impulse decision to purchase a wash.

You may also be able to work with some of your vendors to cross-market your carwash. Vendors may be willing to help with the cost of signage promoting your carwash and their products.

Consider the demographics of your carwash area in your marketing and menu design. If you have a significant Hispanic population, for example, strongly consider creating a bilingual menu.

Finally, if you are using “green” products, find a way to let your customers know. It may just be a short phrase that points out the fact that you are committed to protecting our environment.

Pricing strategies

As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, your menu is an important tool in growing both your business volume and revenue. Clearly, pricing your packages plays a major role in both.

If you’re new to the area, do a pricing survey in a three-to-five-mile radius of your location to get a good feel for the pricing in your market. This is an exercise you’ll want to repeat on a regular basis once you’re operational in order to stay on top of the competition and any changes in your trade territory.

When is it time to raise prices? As a rule of thumb, if you have three wash packages, you want at least 40% of your customers to choose the top wash. If four packages, 40% should be choosing the top two. If those numbers are trending higher than 45%, it’s time for a price increase.

Your menu design can also be a strategy for increasing revenue. If you have four packages, consider dropping the bottom wash and go with a three-option menu for a time. Then, bring back the fourth option at a later date and raise your prices.

Concluding thoughts

As I hope you can see, there are a number of successful strategies for effectively developing, designing and employing your carwash menu.

There is one overarching goal to keep in mind in all of this. No matter what package your customer purchases, the goal is always to give that customer a clean, dry and shiny car. If that’s not happening, your customer won’t be back, and no menu design or marketing campaign can overcome that hurdle.


Kelly Maria is vice president of chemical operations and sales for Mark VII Equipment.

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