After reviewing the programs that are available on the market, it’s incredibly important for new operators to understand if a membership program is the right choice for the business. There are several different “membership” opportunities out there. The carwash industry generally looks at a membership program as an unlimited program. However, a membership program can mean many different things.
From our company’s experience with unlimited programs, when it comes to success, there are numerous factors in play. First, having the capability to send a large amount of cars through your wash in an hour can be extremely beneficial for your bottom line. When it comes to an unlimited program, this can be helpful for a tunnel wash.
However, already having a busy in-bay automatic (IBA) — and then adding an unlimited program — can be problematic and end up hurting your business in the long run. But, for IBAs that are looking to build more traffic, an unlimited program could be really great for the business.
The most important factors new operators should know when looking to start a membership program at their carwashes are:
- Is it right for your customers?
- Is it right for your business?
- Is it profitable enough to make it worth it?
This article discusses the benefits of membership programs and the critical factors to implementing them at your new carwash business.
Limiting the unlimited plan
In addition to going all in on an unlimited plan, operators should understand that a hybrid or variations of unlimited plans can be created and offered to the customer base. For example, self-serves and pet washes could benefit from using a “limited unlimited” program versus an “unlimited” program.
When it comes to setting up “limited unlimited” programs, there are options available on the market that allow you to limit how much a person can spend, how many times they can visit and/or whether or not they get free vacuums with the membership program.
The important part is how you market these programs and show value to the customer. Many operators struggle with marketing a membership program and understandably so. The world of marketing can become very complicated very quickly for those who aren’t already accustomed to it.
Marketing done right
Social media is one effective way to market the programs. Some of the reasons to use social media include growing your business, taking advantage of customer testimonials, creating great customer service, extending your brand and keeping customers posted on the latest at your wash. All of these things build a strong brand and trust with your customer base.
Furthermore, Facebook tends to be the biggest platform operators use. Not only does it provide a large user platform, but it also allows for paid advertising with incredibly powerful target marketing. Spending the time to learn, understand and start to use it is huge in helping get the word out about your wash as well as its benefits over the competition.
Like anything else in life, if you “work” your social media, it will work for you.
A few ways operators can easily get started with social media are by posting — such as on Facebook and Instagram — photos and videos of their washes and happy customer results, asking customers to like the wash’s page or creating contests that engage customers to like, comment or share their posts. These little tricks can create a lot of traction when getting the hang of marketing and social media.
Beyond social media, email marketing has the highest return on investment. Having your customers’ email addresses is the easiest way to get content out to them on a weekly, monthly or quarterly basis. Marketing emails don’t have to be complicated and riddled with information either. These messages can simply be a deal of the day or deal of the week that you are sharing with your customer base. Using free tools, such as MailChimp, can not only help you get started on the right foot but also create the practice of consistent messaging to your customer base.
Starting on the right foot
When rolling out a new membership program, it is important to see what your competition is doing. The types of programs you offer and the price points of them can be guided by what the competition is doing and seeing if that wash is having success.
Looking at the demographics in your area can also be beneficial to understanding what kind of loyalty program is best for your business. If the demographics in your area are mainly Gen Zers and millennials, a mobile-based loyalty program could be highly beneficial to these groups. If the demographics in your area are mainly baby boomers or Gen Xers, a card-based loyalty program could be ideal.
Researching what kinds of loyalty programs are available is also highly recommended. As an operator, you may not want to be put into a one-size-fits-all loyalty program, so it is important to see what options are available, whether or not they reach across multiple platforms (such as card and mobile) and how customizable those programs can be.
Another piece of research that all operators should look at is how difficult is it to manage and operate the program. We all know the life of a carwash operator can be extremely busy, and adding a loyalty program to the business may only make operators busier. This can be harmful to your business if you aren’t managing it right, and it may start to frustrate your customer base. Being able to easily manage your loyalty program and create relationships with your customers is critical to a successful business.
Remember, you’re in business to make money, and loyalty programs should be creating revenue, not costing it. Operators spend more money gaining new customers than keeping the ones they have. The ultimate goal is to gain more customers and more revenue, using as little effort and as few costs as possible. Starting off on the right foot means finding programs that allow you to maintain profitability without added stress to the business.
The technology edge
Technology has advanced so much in the last 20 years that it’s almost mind-blowing. One of the great things this allows operators to do is to not have to worry about being on-site all the time to manage the wash. Being able to monitor customers, washes, chemicals, etc., without having to be on-site is one of the greatest freedoms operators have had over the last decade.
When it comes to managing loyalty programs, especially for IBA and self-serve operators, having the capability to do it off-site is critical. Self-serve technology has even allowed operators to know when their equipment is being damaged or vandalized, when cash is being removed by attendants and when the equipment goes into “service” mode. Innovation in the industry has created better opportunities for off-site managers to maintain relationships with their customers that not only prevent broken equipment but also actually build the relationship they have with their customers.
Related: Building a better loyalty program
One of the big considerations in technology for operators also has to do with owning multiple locations. If you own or are planning to own multiple locations, managing and maintaining your loyalty programs shouldn’t be a constant hassle.
Important questions for multi-site managers to ask include:
- Does the software you are looking at allow you to have multiple locations on one account?
- Can your customers use your loyalty programs at all of your locations?
- Is the ability for the customer to wash at all locations a requirement?
Even though technology has come far, there are many considerations when it comes to starting, managing and maintaining your business’ loyalty program. Beyond the technology of what is available today, when new operators are looking at upgrading or changing their equipment, it’s important to find vendors that have evolved with technology over the years and who are committed to changing with the times.
Buying equipment from a company that has been stagnant in the last several years doesn’t necessarily exude confidence in what they have planned for the future. These are important questions to ask and consider when looking at adding new programs, new equipment and a new vendor to your business.
Amy Olson is a graphics and marketing generalist for WashCard Systems. WashCard is celebrating 30 years of offering loyalty and credit card solutions. We work directly with operators to build custom solutions for their payment needs. We have the tools, software and the team to get your carwash payment systems up and running without disturbing your routine. Whether you have one location or 100, our team is dedicated to growing your business with more customers and more revenue, using less effort than ever before.