Preview: The Myths of Carwash Marketing and Promotion

People who wash their car at a car wash facility have some really crazy ideas about car washing that border on superstition. Most of what you likely hear from customers will fall into the, “You just don’t know what your talking about” category. Or the ,”so you had one bad experience long ago at a car wash and believe all car washes are created equal” category.

These bad experiences or word-of-mouth stories are how myths are created. Some of the myths that seem to circulate amongst car wash customers that I’m certain you’ve had to address on numerous occasions.

Bob says he will never use a tunnel wash because it’s going to “scratch the hell out of my car and break off my antenna!”. Bob heard it from a guy who knew a guy that had a bad experience.
Susan will never use a touchless in-bay automatic ever again because she bought the bottom “basic” (cheap) package, the chemical was not adjusted properly, and “it didn’t get her car clean” - therefor all touchless services don’t get cars clean. You want to scream at Susan, “YOU GET WHAT YOU PAY FOR LADY!”
Tim says that he saw drugs being sold in the parking lot of a self service wash he once drove by, therefor all self service locations are “unsafe” and filled with hooligans.

These are the kind of myths that are passed on from father-to-son and mother-to-daughter. They are rarely based on fact or are just perpetuated over time based on a singular experience.

Operators create their own myths concerning carwash promotions and marketing.
I get to talk with hundreds of car wash operators every year about what they are doing to promote their car wash. Most car wash locations are not built on a multi-million dollar piece of dirt getting them  rock-star visibility with the public. Many car wash locations have been struggling to rely on old fashion marketing if they are marketing at all. Let’s be clear that good old fashioned marketing is exactly what you do not need if your trying to differentiate your business and create a loyal customer base. Traditional marketing relies on heavy discounting to generate volume. Old school advice also recommends traditional advertising like Yellow Pages and Radio Ads (both of which desperately trying to maintain relevance as primary means of sucking up your ad dollars).

I hate to have the incredibly cliche and overused definition of insanity. You know that whole bit about ‘trying the same thing over and over again expecting a different result’? Yup, thats the one. The reason why I bring it up is because of the relevance in our discussion about promotional myths. Carwash operators need to rethink their game plan if they think they’ve got it ‘all figured out’. Consider the following myths commonly held by car wash operators.

Myth: When business is slumping I just need to send out a bunch of coupons.
We all enjoy small wins, right? We love to get the exhilaration from seeing a spike in wash counts, the palpable anticipation of seeing the numbers for the end of the day. I’ve found that these jumps in car counts coincide with optimal washing weather OR when some kind of promotion drives people into a washing mood (usually this is because of some big give-away, giant discount, or coupon). So we’ve established that big discounting drives an uptick in business (well no kidding - consumers love to not pay full price). Where the house of cards starts falling down around operators is when the ‘big discounts’ cease to be a special event and turn into the norm - people work their washing habits around your sales. So now that your trapped into this catch-22 and find yourself in a pickle. You realize that you now only get customers when your discounting and your discounting because you need to get customers into the wash. Since this is not an editorial about breaking bad discounting habits you get the short answer. Stop sending out straight up discount coupons without getting something in return. Use discounts to build a club, grow your mailing list, support a local charity fundraiser, use the discount as the piece of cheese in the mouse-maze and influence customer behavior.  

Myth: If Bob’s carwash down the street lowered his price, I need to match or beat his price.

... Continued in Professional Carwashing and Detailing Magazine (June Issue, 2011): After the story has been published for a month I will put the rest of the story here on the blog.

Posted on April 28, 2011 .