Many carwashes around the country offer convenience store (c-store) items, and many c-stores offer carwashes. Why? One reason is because both types of businesses offer convenience and —when done right — high-quality products.  

We recently discussed the trends and reasons why carwash operators should consider expanding into c-store offerings with a regular contributor to Professional Carwashing & Detailing (PC&D) and Carwash.com. 

Terry Monroe is an author of two books and numerous articles. He serves as an advisor, consultant, speaker, a professional intermediary and a market maker for privately held companies, and he also assists in market valuations and has been involved in the sale of more than 500 businesses. In his 30-plus years of service, he has owned and operated more than 36 different businesses. To learn more about his “Expensive Experience,” you can contact him at www.TerryMonroe.com.

PC&D | Is it practical for a carwash to add c-store products and goods into the business? If so, why? 

TM | I definitely believe it is a good idea to add c-store products and goods in the carwash business because of the convenience and impulse factor. A lot of the time, the decision to wash one’s car is based on impulse, timing and weather. And, the convenience store business is based a lot on these same thoughts. 

So, when customers are getting their cars washed, they will see items they could use but not make a special trip for and will pay a good price for them. Remember, if all decisions were based on price and price alone, then the Walmarts of the world would have all of the business, and they don’t.

PC&D | Are customers willing to pay more for convenience today on food, beverages, snacks, etc.? If so, why? 

TM | Absolutely. We live in a world of wanting quick gratification. We can’t get things fast enough, and we tend to buy in bits and pieces rather than one big shopping trip. I remember when I was growing up, you made one trip to the grocery store once a week. Now, we have convenience stores where we can run in for just a few items, and Amazon is willing to ship you single items to your doorstep. People will pay for convenience. If there is any doubt about this, read Dan Kennedy’s new book, “No B.S. Marketing to the Affluent: No Holds Barred Kick Butt Take No Prisoners Guide to Getting Really Rich,” where he shares the statistics on how much more people are willing to pay for convenience.

PC&D | What three c-store strategies should carwash owners incorporate into their stores to increase sales and impulse purchases? 

TM | I was taught that you can have anything in life if you just ask for it — meaning, you don’t gripe, grovel, complain or whine, but you ask specifically. Therefore, I would be trying to sell not only some impulse items with high gross margins, but I would incorporate the strategy of having someone available to talk to my customers about selling them additional services. It could be services that I already provide, like detailing or other services that are applicable to their vehicles, but it may also incorporate third-party services where my company would get a referral fee. 

For example, we could provide our customers with coupons with deep discounts for another restaurant in town with a code that shows the customer came from my carwash business, and in return I get a dollar amount for each coupon redeemed. This same type of cross-promotion could work with hair dressers, landscapers and other service industries. The strategy of cross promotion is one that is very applicable to the carwash business and other service businesses and that is not utilized enough.

PC&D | Where should a carwash operator start when researching c-store strategies and incorporating these sales into the business? Are there any educational or training resources you can recommend?  

TM | The first question should be: Who is my customer? Once I know who my customer is, then I can turn on the marketing. Are my customers predominately baby boomers or young moms with vans full of kids or business people who are in a hurry? 

Once I determine who my customer is, things get a lot easier. As mentioned about the Dan Kennedy book about marketing to the affluent, it is a great book for ideas on how to sell to baby boomers. Dan Kennedy has quite a few other really good books on marketing that would be applicable to the carwash business.

Another strategy I have used over the years is finding another business like mine somewhere in the country that is doing a bang-up job and giving them a call and asking them if I could come and visit them, let me buy them lunch and look at their facilities. I never got a no and always found business owners who were proud of what they had built and happy to share with me information I needed, because I wasn’t in their market area and was not going to be a threat to them. This way, I didn’t have to reinvent the wheel, and I could go see firsthand how a successful operation was run. And, in today’s world with the internet, these businesses are easier to find.

Generally, most businesses like the carwash business are fractured around the country, and the guy in Fort Myers, Florida, doesn’t know what the guy in Orlando is doing, and they are not that far away. The same applies in the Midwest and out West. There are a lot of really good operators who have already done what you are thinking about, and all you have to do is find them and ask them for a few pointers.