Cashless Marketing Options

Marketing to the Masses
In a world full of choices, it is up to the owners of car washes to let the people in their area know why they should choose their location over the others in the area. Most metropolitan areas have multiple car washes in a single town. Most gas stations and C-stores now have their own car wash that can and will cut into the traffic of your wash. But you're running ads in the paper and have a nice big well lit sign, so where are all the new customers?

The buying trends in our consumer driven economy make it very clear that it is not always as important where customers buy their car wash, it's how they buy their car wash. Consumers will make a buying decision based on factors of convenience which could be as simple as accepting their particular credit card or being a member of a prepaid car washing club.

Find a Cashless System That Fits Your Business
The car wash industry is so full of cashless payment solutions that wash owners can easily get overwhelmed by all of the choices. Luckily the vast majority of the systems can be boiled down into those that primarily focus on credit card acceptance and those that offer loyalty programs and tools to market a cashless program beyond straight credit card acceptance. There is also a third category and that is the basic built-in factory option available through most new equipment. Built-in card programs from the factory are going to be very basic. Just like the factory radio in your car, it will handle the very basics of functionality and may even get you by for awhile. Much like your factory car radio, they can be taken out and replaced with any number of non-proprietary solutions to provide additional features not available from the factory options.

Only Interested in Accepting Credit Cards?
If your only goal in purchasing a cashless payment system is to accept credit cards then my only suggestion is to hire yourself a sign consultant, such as Perry Powell, and build the largest, most visible sign allowed by your city featuring the words "We Accept..." followed by the logos of every major credit card you can offer. If a customer does not know you take credit cards they may just keep on driving by. Accepting credit cards is just as important as accepting cash, it's just smart business sense. The major credit card companies spend billions of dollars to make sure every college student, adult, and child with a bank account has their own credit card.

Tip: Although credit card acceptance may get a new customer in the door there is nothing loyalty building about a Visa. Remember? "Visa, it's anywhere you want to be". A customer with a Visa is only as loyal as other businesses in town are to Visa. Credit card acceptance is a wonderful angle for getting new customers on the lot, the trick is giving them a reason to come back.

Looking For a Marketable Cashless Program? Is It For You?
The first thing I cannot stress enough is that the more flexibility your cashless system has the more likely it is to get used. Cashless marketing programs are much like an exercise video. You can buy the video. You can watch the video. But unless you actually do the exercises on the video you will not benefit from having purchased it. And this is why the number one reason for the success or failure of a a cashless loyalty system boils down to owner and employee participation. To successfully implement a profitable cashless program it requires every level of the business to embrace and evangelize it's benefits to their customers.

How Do I Market A Cashless Loyalty Program?
There is no magic handbook or miraculous software that can provide all of the answers and this article is by no means, going to provide all of the answers. Some cashless products come with 'marketing tools' in the form of thick books that have not been updated in years, leaving you to decipher their use. Other products come with practical advice, marketing literature, and marketing consultations with experts. The best tools in the industry are from wash professionals and wash operators themselves. It used to be that car wash operators would only have the opportunity to learn more about being successful business owners in-person at the car wash conventions. The Internet has been an invaluable tool in learning "what works" and "what doesn't work". Websites such as talkcarwash.com and autocareforum.com give a voice to car wash operators from around the globe to ask questions and give answers to other car wash operators that might be in the same situation as themselves.

Marketing Option 1: Selling Cards Face to Face
The most basic approach in sales is meeting your customers face to face and explaining to them the merits of your loyalty program. Perhaps you give bonus wash dollars when customers pre-pay or recharge their prepaid account. As employees meet and greet customers on the lot it never hurts to carry a few extra prepaid cards to hand out to customers as they are finished washing their vehicles. It gives them incentive to come back a second time and if properly presented they will add additional value back onto their prepaid card. Obviously the drawback of selling cards by hand is that you are limited to how many cards you can physically hand out or sell in person.

Marketing Option 2: Target Local Business with Commercial Accounts
The most successful wash owners all attest to the amazing profitability of targeting local businesses with a fleet card program. Commercial fleet business is a profitable and predictable ongoing volume of business you can count on every month. Since several systems on the market can generate itemized invoices at month's end, many car wash owners can bring in huge accounts including municipal vehicles, city vehicles, and local law enforcement. Car wash operators that were previously selling tokens or token notes found that their commercial business customers washed far more often once they were no longer reliant upon getting more tokens when they ran out and no longer had to distribute tokens and token notes among the various fleet drivers once new coin tokens or token notes were purchased.

Tip: In a recent survey of commercial business customers, the number one concern of managers had nothing to do with the quality of the wash their vehicles were receiving. Their top concern was whether they were being ripped off by their own employees every time they handed out bags of untraceable tokens or stacks of token notes. A proper cashless fleet management program will give the peace of mind that business owners are looking for.

Marketing Option 3: Sell Prepaid Cards in Vending Machines or Specialized Card Dispensers
Offering prepaid loyalty cards in standard vending machines allow for 24/7 sales. Several manufacturers offer specialized card dispensing machines that give prepaid customers the ability to purchase a card with either cash or credit card. These machines automatically apply the loyalty bonus for prepayment and will dispense a prepaid card loaded with the appropriate value. The greatest benefit of these machines is that it allows customers to check the value of an existing prepaid card and add additional value if the balance is running low. These machines consequently give consumers the ability to use their large bills that cannot be broken in a bill changer.

Tip: Adding a specialized vending and recharging machine gives the perfect opportunity to completely phase out coin tokens with a far more profitable cashless solution. No more sorting tokens from quarters, electrical blanks from tokens, and your wash tokens from the local laundromat or casinos coin tokens.

Marketing Option 4: Sell Wash Accounts On the Internet
In the same consumer economy that lets you buy your groceries on the Internet it should be no surprise that consumers will buy their car washes on the Internet as well. Having a web presence for your car wash gives customers an opportunity to learn more about your wash services. Like many car wash owners that offer cashless payment options, they use their website as another way to generate revenue from online wash sales.

Example: An example of effective cashless marketing on the Internet can be seen by visiting the website of the independently owned car wash Swipe-N-Shine (swipenshine.com). Swipe-N-Shine is located in Murray Utah and is owned and operated by Brett Pace. Brett uses his website to not only sell prepaid cards but he also gives his loyalty card customers the option of registering their card on his website to protect the cards value should it get lost or stolen. Customers have the option to sign up for a free birthday wash and when customers register their prepaid card online they can also qualify for his Swipe-N-Shine referral program. Customers that refer their friends and family to the loyalty program can net themselves and their friend $5 in free wash value. Lastly, Brett gives all of his fleet customers the ability to manage their own commercial account from his website, much like online banking. Commercial fleet customers pay their invoices online with their company credit card, much in the same way prepaid customers add additional value to their prepaid accounts online.

Tip: Put your website address on everything. Signs, shirts, prepaid cards, even company vehicles! Again, if customers don't know it's available, they won't use it. In the case of a website, they won't visit it.

Marketing Option 5: Sell Prepaid Washes via Charity Fund raiser
School sports teams, youth groups, and organizations can only sell so many frozen pizzas, holiday wreaths, and cookies to raise money. Deal directly with the organization and sell them discount prepaid cards to cover your costs and let them make a few bucks for bringing scores of new customers to your location. Either way, the goal of a charity car wash or Fund raiser is not to make a pile of cash on the initial investment. Instead, wash owners should keep two primary goals in sight at all times. 1) Become more visible in the community. 2) Focus on the new customers that the Fund raiser sales will bring in. And when in doubt realize you can write off the entire thing on your taxes. It is a proven statistical fact - the more loyalty cards you have in circulation, the more repeat business you will have on a regular basis. Wash owners that get loyalty cards into the hands of everybody they do business with has no idea what a 'slow month' at the wash is like.

Marketing Option (Necessity) 6: Properly Advertise Your Program!
Just like with credit cards, if customers do not know you offer a loyalty card program they will not participate. Every bay should have a sign, the menu board should have a sign, and the vending area should have multiple signs. The most effective place to put a sign is anywhere customers will look while they are waiting for a customer to finish washing in front of them.

What can I do that I'm not doing now?

  • Fund raisers (Charity Donation)

  • Running a web-based marketing campaign (using a website as an ‘anchor' for marketing efforts)

  • A ‘Discount Wash' program for loyalty card/key/code users

  • Successfully marketing to fleets with an automated fleet management program.

  • Developing business relationships with local mechanics shops, automotive dealerships, super markets, and C-Stores to offer promotional ‘first wash free' deals, or discount wash packages / fleet accounts.


Cashless System Buyers Guide
Don't get burned by being unprepared when looking at card/key/code systems! Know your facts and have your questions ready! The last thing you want to happen is spend a lot of money on a solution that will not meet your needs beyond accepting just credit cards.

  • How many cards/codes/keys can I have in the system at once?

  • How do I collect the data? Do I need to physically go to the wash?

  • How often do I need to go and collect the data before the memory fills up and data loss occurs?

  • How does the information get into my accounting software? How do I do billing?

  • How does the system protect against the loss of transaction data? Is there a data backup system?

  • Does the system allow customers to use Credit Cards? If so, is it batch processing or at time of purchase processing?

  • Are the cards/keys/codes rechargeable? How do they get recharged?

  • How do customers purchase the cards/keys/codes? Is there a way to automate dispensing?

  • Does the system require an attendant?

  • How much do the cards/keys/codes cost a each?

  • How does the system handle upgrades and feature adds? Do I need to pay for these upgrades?

  • Does the hardware work with my auto cashier or self-serve bay timers?

  • How durable are the cards/keys/codes?

  • Is customization available? If so, what can I customize?

  • Can lost or stolen cards/keys/codes be removed from the system and replaced with a new card/key/code?

  • How flexible is the system in terms of offering discounts or running promotions?

  • Does the system offer both pre-paid and credit accounts for fleets?

  • How much development has been made to enhance the system since it launched? Are there future plans to continue innovation on the product?

  • Does the system offer online promotional tools? Can they be integrated into my existing website?


As seen in the trade publication America's Car Care Business, 2006

by Ryan Carlson
Posted on July 21, 2007 and filed under Cashless, Marketing.