Discussing charity car wash events for self service car washes with Lisa Lyons of Buggy Bath Carwash in Southern California.
This week we are talking with operators, associations presidents, and carwash suppliers from Australia to discuss what their challenges are and how they are overcoming them.
We are celebrating the 50th episode of the podcast with a fantastic panel of guests both old and new to discuss long term planning.
Learn more about the gated self service concept and hear a success story
Learn about remodels and what you missed out on at the WCA roadshow!
What operators are looking for in 2010 and what the next year holds in store for our industry.
Veteran’s Day is fast approaching. It is a national holiday established to honor those who have fought and continue to fight for our freedoms. We have so many to thank. Won’t you join carwash owners and operators across the country in honoring our veterans by offering them a free wash?
On November 11th, Help Honor our Veterans by providing them with a Free Carwash.
It’s not too late to do your part! Please log on to the following website http://www.graceforvets.org/ or phone Jim directly at 717.629.5494 for details on how you can get involved.
There are FREE promotional materials that you can print off and post at your wash and also use in your local newspaper to help promote your event honoring our veterans. Many before you have paid for these promotional materials.
How we can better utilize our time at a trade show and follow through with plans, how media is forgetting about professional car washing as an alternative to driveway washing, and discuss new technology that makes marketing our business better.
We are talking about customer loyalty, fundraiser carwash ammunition, and lessons we can learn from Jiffy Lube.
In today's episode of Wash Ideas Weekly, we explore the new emerging advertising and marketing opportunities of Facebook and the use of Twitter by small businesses such as car washes.
We talk about equipment suppliers and their role in making or breaking your business, how to choose them, and what questions to ask them before giving them your business.
You must come to terms with an ever-changing business climate as your customer base becomes inoculated against your marketing messages, pricing structures, menu signs, and relevance of your products or services. Change can be seen as an opportunity to finally reinvent your business or as a frightening abyss of inaction. You can certainly just stick your head in the ground like an ostrich and ignore the writing on the wall and ride things out while pointing your finger at gas prices, competitors, rising energy costs, local politicians, city councils, or the weather. Business owners that are willing to accept that they are perhaps losing touch with their customers and that their business needs a tune-up are those that will make the necessary changes and adapt. Those that would rather suck dirt and stick their heads in the ground are those that will be selling off their businesses or join the ranks of the foreclosed in the coming years.
I guess I’m a bit tired of hearing wash owners say, “I know I need to do something but...” which is followed by some excuse that is used to justify not making a change.
The changes in consumer buying trends has not only effected carwash businesses, it’s just that other industries have more successfully adapted to the current market environment. As stated earlier, consumers are becoming immune to the old way of doing business. We are now fighting for discretionary income against some of the biggest marketing machines in history. McDonalds, Walmart, Starbucks, iTunes, Amazon.com, and eBay see that people don’t have as much money in their pockets as they used to.
Here are some of the common places carwash businesses are losing touch with their customers and could look to reinvent or retool aspects of their business to be more relevant with today’s consumer. We will use the above businesses as examples of what to do right.
Be known for something, stay relevant! - You can no longer just be a ‘CAR WASH’ in your community, you need to be known for something. Whether you are the charity carwash, the eco-friendly carwash, the fastest carwash, or the carwash with the convenient club program... You fall from the publics eye when you fail to stand out.
Failure to offer payment options - I feel like a complete broken record here, but look at how consumers purchase goods and services these days. Customers do not want to be held hostage by changers, tokens, or trips to the ATM. They buy value meal hamburgers, rent .99 cent DVD’s from Redbox, order a $2.00 coffee, and purchase songs for .99 cents each with (drumroll) their bank card or credit card every day, all day, all the time. If you do not have a credit card acceptance device next to every coin slot or bill validator you can’t see the giant neon sign in the sky proclaiming that they purchase their everyday services with a credit card - this is an easy issue to tackle, it only takes money.
Ask for repeat business - Customer Data Collection - Have you ever purchased something from Amazon, Apple, Best Buy, or signed up for a ‘Customer Rewards Program’? I’m certain you or somebody close to you has - all of the businesses that are thriving and are not pointing fingers at anybody right now are those that realize it’s FAR less expensive to market to the customers they already have. If you do not have a way to capture your customers contact information (name, email address, mailing address, etc) you are missing out on perhaps the most effective and least expensive way to increase your bottom line. Just don’t go out and build a website with a “give me your information” page without having a plan... You need to create incentives, promotions, or build programs around gathering this information as an end goal. If your collecting the data from your customers good for you! If you are not doing anything with that data shame on you.
I’ve only scratched the surface... So if you feel overwhelmed and know you need to do something perhaps it’s time to find somebody you know that can help, attend an association education event, or seek the assistance of a professional.
Episode 7 of the Wash Ideas Podcast - "The Master and Apprentice of Monthly WashPass"
Featuring Ryan Carlson and Guests Perry Powell of Perry Powell Consulting, Robert Greene of Carwash Express, and Marcus Schoeneberger of Texas Shine
Show Sponsors: Modern Car Care and Carwash Profits
This show we interview a wash operator with 10 locations that is 4 months in on marketing a promising unlimited wash pass program. We are joined by Perry Powell and a special guest Marcus Schoenenberger of Texas Shine, a San Antonio based multi-site operation that has over 10,000 unlimited wash passes in circulation. This is a MUST-LISTEN for anybody serious about learning more about this new innovative business model.
Adding credit card acceptance to a car wash location is one of the upgrades every business owner must consider if they want to maximize their earning potential in 2009 and beyond. Every year that passes a new generation of car owners hit the street and they do not carry any cash. The next generation of consumers relies heavily on the ability to use their check cards and credit cards to make every day purchases. Adding credit card acceptance to your wash services is the key to getting more business from current customers and gaining the business of new customers.
At the risk of sounding like a broken record I need to stress that in every consumer-driven society in the world there are going to be buying-trends with each new generation. A trend in consumer spending can easily be identified by looking at the big picture, not just spending habits within a particular industry. You do not need to have prophetic sight and the ability to read the future in tea leaves to see the proverbial 'writing on the wall'. Our society is changing and the way people spend money has changed and the reasons consumers choose a business has changed. Keeping older customers is easy because we know what they want because they are likely already your customer. Making sure that your business appeals to the next generation of vehicle owners is what business should be thinking about today. The fact of life is that your older customers will continue to get older. The next generation is where your marketing sights should be set.
There are three trends that the current generation has identified as 'important' to them. We have to face it that the current young population and next generation of drivers and vehicle owners lives in a very different world than the one in which we grew up in. In the pre-Nintendo era we spent a lot of time (and money) on our vehicles. We took care of what we had because the thought of trading-up every few years did not make economical sense.
#1 It's All About Me
Face it, young consumers are selfish and demand a certain level of convenience, speedy service, and they want it now. A business that appeals to the consumer by making their experience easy and convenient will get the repeat business of this younger generation. Previous generations of consumers knew that good things were worth waiting for and if it meant driving a bit farther, using a frontage road, or running to the bank to get quarters was what you needed to do to get a good wash, so be it. Younger drivers want easy access, simple instruction, quick service, and no-hassle payment options.
#2 Can I borrow a Dollar?
There are significant studies on demographics and cash usage in North America. The 16-27 age group does not carry cash. Less than 10% of youth ranging from high school sophomores to seniors in college carry cash on their person in quantities sufficient to buy anything more than a soda pop. College campuses have to offer students card-activated systems for their students in order to get them to use the on-campus laundry facilities. Car wash operators that do not accept credit cards at every service will fail to appeal to the younger consumers in the marketplace or just fail to sell those particular services.
#3 The Green Movement
According to market research there are a growing number of young consumers that are falling into a category of socially conscious consumers. Although this has been covered in previous discussions, it is important to recognize that creating awareness about 'sustainable and responsible' car washing should be worked into your marketing message. Get people out of their driveways, get charities out of the parking lot, and focus on value statements that will resonate with those customers who are willing to pay a little extra for a service that is reducing their impact on the environment.
The sad truth is that there are those that do it right the first time and those wash owners that don't. I'm asked if it's "ok" to just add credit card to one or two bays and maybe a single vacuum. This is followed up with, "maybe if things take off I will add it to the rest of the wash." The problem with this is that adding cashless acceptance to a single bay it will not have the big impact on profits as expected. Making an increased 20-40% in profits from a single bay is not nearly as impressive as 20-40% for the entire wash! Far too many car wash owners are waiting to upgrade until they can PAY for the upgrade on the profits of their cash-only business. This is a Catch-22 situation. Owners that need to make more money will upgrade their wash (to make more money) with profits that will never come (because they need to upgrade their wash).
My Advice: Treat this upgrade as a business decision. Go to the bank, get a loan for the 20-40 thousand dollars to do it right the first time. We all KNOW you cannot lose money by adding credit card and loyalty card acceptance to your wash. You make more money for EVERY service it is added to. Get the loan and have it paid off in less than a year with the added profits from the wash. You know what? You get to keep ALL the money after the small business loan is paid off every month.
Just remember. It takes money to make money in this industry. The good news is that a cashless acceptance system will ALWAYS make you more money by changing the buying habits and spending trends of customers using your wash.
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