Mankind has always enjoyed being entertained. Music, dance and theater have been part of our history for millennia, and today, the entertainment industry is larger than ever. While most of us may balk at the salaries and incomes of professional sports stars and Hollywood icons, what those numbers serve to show are that scores of people are willing to shell out money — big money — for a little entertainment.

The same can be said of the carwash industry. The better an experience you create for your customers, the more they might be willing to pay to come experience it. And, like all great productions, your carwash should take into account three main aspects of the entertainment: the story, the players and the equipment. The most successful productions use the best of all three, so why don’t you?

Your brand: the story

Just as actors have to act out a plotline, so too do carwash employees have to align themselves with your carwash’s brand and do their best in their individual roles to convey your wash’s “story” to customers. No matter what type of carwash you have, you can create a unique brand.

One of the more obvious ways some carwashes create a unique brand and experience is through a theme. Your theme could be anything — baseball, a dairy farm, aliens, etc. — but it’s how you build on that theme that will heighten the experience.

John Borek is the owner of Jurassic Car Wash, a self-serve carwash (with an in-bay automatic system and other services on-site) that, naturally, has a dinosaur theme. Like the giant reptiles  themselves, Borek went big and installed static and animatronic dinosaurs at the carwash. The result?

“People come to take photos with the static ones and watch the animatronic ones activate,” Borek states. “Our guests enjoy coming to the wash. They return with their families to take photos and see the dinosaur attractions.”

Borek’s customers may be coming in for the dinosaurs, but you can rest assured that they’re also making use of the carwash’s services while there. Nevertheless, the best themed carwashes delve into even the smallest details to fully immerse customers in the experience.

For example, not only does Jurassic Car Wash have the animatronic dinosaurs, but Borek also painted “muddy” T-Rex footprints on the asphalt leading to the automatic wash. Furthermore, Borek reinforces the dino theme in his customers’ minds by making his brand visible all across the carwash, using the logo — which has a font that is very reminiscent of the “Jurassic Park” logo — and other dinosaur illustrations on vending machines, the pet wash, the payment kiosks and more.

“Our guests expect more bang for their buck, so just giving them what they pay for isn’t enough in 2018,” Borek adds.

Of course, your building of the brand will only take it so far. According to Adam Kelsey, director of sales for Belanger Inc., “Customers build brands, not business owners. Businesses provide the environment and deliver the experience that largely influences the brands customers create — both in the customers’ own minds and in their many conversations with others.”

With the power of the internet and social media, people today are more connected than ever, and they are not afraid to let loose with their opinions. For this reason, word-of-mouth is just as big an influence on bringing in customers as curb appeal is, Kelsey states. Therefore, if your wash consistently provides an exceptional customer experience, customers are more likely to enjoy it and spread the word, resulting in more new business, higher wash frequency and higher ticket averages.

For this reason too, Borek notes, “Web presence is a must.” In today’s environment, Borek asserts, you need both a website and a social media presence. Both of these, incidentally, help you tell your business’ story and convey your brand to the customer.

But, making a themed carwash isn’t the only way you can create an experience. For instance, Lanese Barnett, director of marketing for The Car Wash Companies, notes, “At our full service TradeMark Car Wash location in Plano, Texas, we have pushed the traditional carwash boundaries on how to create a unique experience. For one, we serve complimentary beer, wine and mimosas from our lobby area that resembles an art gallery mixed with a swanky hotel lounge mixed with a sports bar. This has been a big hit for customers and a perk they were not expecting. While this model may not be for everyone, it has really fit into our luxury branding for this store.”

Thus, the “story” of TradeMark Car Wash is that of a luxury atmosphere where guests can come to relax and unwind. Barnett adds that many regulars come on their days off or after work and enjoy getting a carwash, because they know they will be able to enjoy a little “me time” (complete with alcoholic beverage) while they wait.

“We count it as a huge victory that they place coming to the carwash as an into our luxury branding for this store.”

Thus, the “story” of TradeMark Car Wash is that of a luxury atmosphere where guests can come to relax and unwind. Barnett adds that many regulars come on their days off or after work and enjoy getting a carwash, because they know they will be able to enjoy a little “me time” (complete with alcoholic beverage) while they wait.

“We count it as a huge victory that they place coming to the carwash as an event rather than a chore or commodity,” Barnett proclaims.

Your staff: the stars of your show

All else lacking, your staff can actually carry the day — just as leading actors and actresses can carry a movie. With that in mind, let’s build on our movie metaphor. No one today is watching movies from the 1980s for their special effects — those are clearly outdated and often cringe-worthy. But, people continue to watch these movies again and again (partly for the nostalgia, admittedly) because of the great stories as brought to life through great acting.

Similarly, in a carwash, it’s your staff that creates the experience. According to Barnett, “We feel creating a memorable experience begins and ends with our employees. They truly make — or break — the positive vibe we are hoping to create each time.”

Related: Recruiting and retaining carwash employees

Barnett notes that The Car Wash Companies ensures having this aspect of the customer experience from the start by hiring friendly employees with a service mindset at every level, from entry staff to management and leadership. “In short, our hiring mantra is ‘hire attitude, train aptitude,’” she adds.

As such, Barnett advises, “While it is great to offer a unique experience as an added benefit to choosing your wash, always make sure that at your core, you remain focused on providing
high-quality customer service. That in and of itself can be a lost art and one that every customer appreciates and values. And, the only way to accomplish that is through your staff.”

Your equipment: enhancing the stage

Behind the scenes of any production is the equipment, especially the lighting, which can have a dramatic impact on how your customers view a situation and the emotions that arise from it. Similarly, your carwash can utilize lights and colorful, scented chemicals to enliven the experience.

Kelsey says, “Without question, LED-lighted wash wheels and low-noise, low-RPM wash media are generating unprecedented interest from carwash customers, operators and distributors alike. But these groups aren’t interested in this technology for its sheer novelty — they’re excited by what it means for the carwash experience.”

Adding a show of color-changing LED lights can increase capture rates simply by creating a beacon that attracts more drivers off the street. In addition, they can increase customer loyalty by turning impulse buyers into loyal destination customers, since these lights create an experience that customers prefer no matter how often they visit.

In addition, Anthony Shifflett, director of key accounts for Cleaning Systems Inc. – Lustra Car Care Products, notes that colored LED lights can be used in conjunction with chemicals and foams to provide the ultimate experience. And, if you use chemicals with fragrances, you add another sensory experience to the mix.

Related: The sensory carwash experience

Let the creative juices flow

Developing a carwash theme and an entertaining wash experience can be daunting tasks when considering the technologies and effects in the market. With so many ideas before you, where do you start?

Creativity and innovation never simply respond to your beck and call, but there are ways you can help yourself examine the issue of improving your carwash’s experience or creating one from scratch, in the case of new ventures.

For instance, Shifflett recommends taking a look at your operation and finding the gaps in your offering. Ask yourself such questions as:

  • Do I have a super foamer program?
  • Do I offer tire shine?
  • Does my wash program contain fragrances, particularly in extra service packages that are being offered?
  • Do I have a monthly program to ensure a consistent revenue stream?

Whatever your unique selling points are, be sure to market your strengths and be the best you can in those areas, compared to the competition. Being part of community involvement programs also helps, as they encourage loyalty through positive exposure.

Shifflett also advises, “When choosing your chemical and equipment providers, ask about their experience in revenue generation and marketing. Many companies can provide you with the nuts and bolts, but it takes a team of professionals to support your multi-million-dollar investment. A reputable chemical company will provide signage and graphic design to help you with your specific needs.”

However, when examining what you do and don’t have, don’t go overboard trying to fit in a multitude of new ideas.

“Creativity and taking risks are the only way you will know if you are on the verge of something great. That said, know who you are and what you are selling, and do not fall into the trap of overly diversifying or adding services/experiences that do not fit into your brand. Maintain your brand integrity,” Barnett cautions.

As an example, Barnett explains that The Car Wash Companies examined its branding approach holistically before deciding to serve alcoholic beverages to see if it complimented the company’s overall image.

In contrast, according to Barnett,   TradeMark would not offer complimentary popcorn instead of alcohol because it does not fit the luxury branding image they want to achieve.

“Don’t be afraid to think outside the box,” Borek concludes. “If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll probably get what you’ve always got.”