Internet Marketing Strategies

There once was a wash owner that had approached me after a seminar on wash marketing that I was speaking at and he said, "Son, why the hell would I need a web page? I'm in the business of washing cars!". This was not the first time I had heard a similar reaction, nor do I suspect it will be my last.

Sink or Swim
Not every wash owner is committed to marketing their business. It is the prerogative of every car wash owner to determine whether or not their business succeeds or fails in an increasingly competitive marketplace. Most wash owners that fail to properly market their business blame lost revenues on rising gas prices, wage labor laws, poor economy, or El Niño. Wash owners that take advantage of marketing tools, loyalty programs, community fundraisers, business-to-business fleet accounts, and utilize the power of the Internet don't talk about their losses, only gains.

In my interviews with car wash owners I have come to the conclusion that when it comes to marketing there are those that can and those that won't. I have yet to meet a business owner that lacks the ability to promote and market their wash business, just a lack of motivation or understanding. I understand that there are some wash owners that cannot devote the time they would like to promoting their business due to health issues, family obligations, or other full-time jobs, etc. It is these business owners that need to consider that there are strategies that can be implemented that allows you to work smarter, not harder. The Internet is the best place to start when looking for time saving ways to promote your wash business.

Working Smarter, Not Harder
I will elaborate on several Internet marketing strategies in this article and they all rely on having a website and the willingness to try new things. At the risk of sounding cliche', if you have been trying the same thing over and over again to increase business without success and each time you expect a different result that is the definition of insanity.

By implementing several new marketing strategies business owners may see noticeable increases in customer traffic and overall profits. The easiest and least time consuming place to start is by taking advantage of the fastest growing marketplace, the Internet.

Is a Website Enough?
The common roadblock many wash owners encounter is that they rush out and build a website for their company and are shocked that their business does not increase as a result of having the website. This common misunderstanding in Internet marketing is shared by every business world-wide, not just car washes. There are a number of factors that play into the success and profitability of Internet marketing beyond just having a website. A website that only provides basic information is nothing more than a glorified Internet Yellow Pages ad. Consider that your website is the foundation in which you will build your Internet marketing campaign. A basic website is only a destination in which to send your customers when they are not at your wash location to learn about your business.

Website Basics
Your website should clearly identify your wash branding and provide helpful information for your visiting customers. A basic website will need to tell customers how to find the wash, contact the wash staff, and display what wash services are available. Many car wash websites will also provide additional content such as "reasons for professionally washing your car" and "environmental benefits to washing at a car wash".

Website Content Basics:
Who is your business? What is your business? How to find your business. Why choose your business?

What Makes or Breaks a Website?
When building or evaluating your business website it is just as important to know what works, what does NOT work, and which potholes to avoid on the Internet super highway.

Simple Domain Name: It is far more important to have a domain name that customers can remember and type out than it is to be clever and use the entire name of your business. Don Macek, the owner of Ramona Tire Car Wash and The Green Roof Carwash in southern California decided to simplify his website domain. Rather than use long domain names he chose www.valuecarwash.com which is simple to remember and straight to the point. Avoid too many dashes or dots such as www.super-cool-carwash.com or www.daves.ultimate-wash.com. As tempting as it may be to separate multiple words in your domain, these web addresses cause more trouble then they are worth in the long run. The rule of thumb is to make it as simple for the end user as possible. Use a maximum of a single dash or period in the domain name, never more. To learn if your domain is available visit www.godaddy.com and start looking into available domain names for your car wash website if you do not already have one.

Proper Branding: Not only should you have your logo properly displayed on your website but everywhere your logo would go in the real world you should have your website address properly advertised. If customers don't know about your website, they will never visit it when they are at their computer. Examples of where to put your website address include; business cards, company vehicles, shirts, signs, posters, handouts, bay decals, lighted marquees, loyalty cards, and ANYTHING that would be put in front of existing or potential customers eyeballs.

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Reasons to Visit the Site: As mentioned before, if you are not giving customers additional incentives to visit your website on a regular basis it is nothing more than an Internet Yellow Pages advertisement. Many wash owners will use their websites to promote online coupon giveaways that can be printed off and redeemed at the wash or will feature prize giveaways, or information on how to sponsor a fundraiser at your wash location.

Incentives to Become a Regular Visitor: The most successful car wash websites drive new business back to their website with online sales and marketing programs where individual customers can sign up for a free birthday wash, purchase discounted prepaid loyalty gift cards, register for online promotions, and use their credit card to pay for these services through the Internet! There are web-based programs on the market that help drive commercial business customers to your website on a regular basis for fleet account management and for paying their wash invoice with their company credit card online. These tools are similar to online banking and online bill payment provided by the utility companies that can be integrated into your very own website!

The goal is always to find ways to keep customers coming back to your website on a regular basis. The more exposure a customer has to your brand and your business the more they associate "washing their vehicle" with YOUR business, not the competitions.

Customer Data Capture Tool: If you are not collecting customer data with your website you are losing out on perhaps the most powerful aspect of online marketing. In exchange for giving something away to the customer you get their name and email address. Carlos Rodriguez, CEO of Freedom Wash (www.freedom-wash.com) says that he will happily give away a $10.00 wash in exchange for a name and email address that can later be used in promotional mailings, targeted ad-campaigns, and web-marketing. Most data capture tools will also tell you the last time a customer visited your wash, when their prepaid account is running low and package this information into a single report for the wash management. This gives wash operators the opportunity to target those customers with special promotions and incentives to bring them back to the wash.

Internet Rankings: It is very important that customers can find your car wash website by typing in "car wash" followed by the name of the city your business is in. The basic text in your website on the home page should be displayed in standard HTML text. Avoid putting important business information imbedded into graphics or in fancy Flash or Java graphics and animations. The point is, search engines such as Google or Yahoo! cannot "read/search for" this important text on a website if it does not display the information in plain HTML somewhere on the website. The advantage to having a site professionally built for you as opposed to having your cousin or nephew do it for you is that the professional will understand what goes into making a business website WORK, not just look pretty.

Professional Appearance: Your website is a reflection of your business. This is the same idea that the cleanliness and appearance of your car wash location is a reflection upon the business. A messy disorderly car wash will drive business away, just as a messy disorderly unprofessional website will drive visitors away. Car washes that are serious about projecting professionalism and want to market their car wash go out of their way to make a good impression. Remember, you only get a first impression because consumer confidence is incredibly fickle.

In a conversation with Victor, the promotions manager of Cruisers Carwash (www.cruiserscarwash.com) he mentioned that they get compliments on their website all the time and it is a positive reflection on their business. They had their website professionally designed and they had it tied in with a complete customer loyalty program that has made a HUGE impact on bringing first time customers back for subsequent visits to the wash since it's grand opening.

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Internet Marketing Promotions
Once you decide to move ahead with a website and have all of the basics covered, what kind of promotions could you run using the Internet?

Promotional Email Blasts: Send a monthly promotion to your registered wash customers to keep them coming back for more! There are low-cost software programs that can automate mass mailings as well as online services that will handle everything for a monthly fee. Use the customer data that you have collected through your website or through other means to generate these customer mailing lists. Note: Make sure that your customers have the ability to ‘opt out' of the email blasts to keep your business off of spam filters.

Charity Fundraisers: Advertise on your website how youth organizations and charity groups can qualify for your fundraising programs. Wash owners that do a lot of charity fundraisers suggest that you offer up to three different fundraiser options. By offering several alternatives organizations can choose their level of participation whether it be prepaid wash sales or a basic charity wash on your site.

Example. Go to the local school groups that run regular charity washes in the parking lot of the grocery store across the street from your wash. Show the organizers the article written by Kate Carr from the September issue of PC&D titled Driver Ed (p64). This article has scientific research that demonstrates the harmful environmental impact of charity bucket washing. Offer the use of your wash bays and match any donation of $10 dollars or more with a $10 dollar prepaid loyalty card! This is FREE advertising and can generate positive press in the local paper if you tip off your local media to the event. Imagine the headlines now, "Local Car Wash Supporting High School Charity and Saving the Environment!"

Note: Charity promotions can be taken to the next level with the implementation of online sales and marketing solutions. These are Internet based programs that can track charity and organization prepaid sales, wash usage, and reward the charity with ongoing donations as users of the car wash add value back onto the loyalty cards they received as part of the initial charity car wash!

Online Sales & Marketing: Give customers reasons to come back to your website by adding online shopping cart features to your website. Make your website an actual profit center by taking credit card payment for prepaid washes and online fleet account payment. Take advantage of online referral programs that can give your customers the ability to earn bonus wash dollars when they get friends and family to sign up for the wash loyalty program by registering on your website. The opportunities for building loyal customers and increasing profits may just be what your business needs to take it to the next level.

Want More Information?: To learn more about online sales and marketing continue reading Professional Carwashing & Detailing for future editorials on emerging technologies and profit centers utilizing the Internet. You can also visit www.carwash.com to look up information on companies that may have the right web-based solution for you and your car wash business.
Posted on September 27, 2007 and filed under Marketing.