Car Wash Equipment and System Strategies

With recent trends in the economy, many car wash equipment owners are focusing their efforts on cost effective ways to bring in new customers and keep existing ones. There are several different strategies that can be used when marketing or promoting a car wash business. Most owners are familiar with banners, signs, and advertising in the newspaper. But community involvement, customer appreciation, and face-to-face product education are also great ways to market. Our huge collection of quality car wax and polish in includes everything you need to keep your car looking clean.

Banners are a cost effective way to get a new message across. For example, as an owner it is your responsibility to promote the addition of a high-end wax to an in-bay automatic or triple-foam polish to the self-service bays. A 3′ x 8′ vinyl banner can cost as little as $150. Depending on the complexity of the company logo and additional graphics this cost can escalate. Sticking with something simple – for example, “Try Our New Triple-Foam Polish” – and using a three or four color scheme will cost approximately $200 per banner.

How is a banner going to increase business? A banner’s message draws attention and generates consumer interest, particularly when potential new customers pass by. If the current location they support does not have the function highlighted on the banner they will be intrigued to try it out. Positioning the banner properly is critical. Having as many potential customers that pass by view the new banner as possible is the goal.

Existing customers like to have the proper bay signage to both instruct and market the service selections. Self-service car washes should have the following signs posted in each bay.

1. The primary signage should be the instruction menus. The menu should have short descriptions of products available and how the products should be applied.

2. Secondary signs should highlight any new equipment that have been added, such as an in-bay dryer, triple-foam polish, and tire dressing. Based on the number of functions, instruction menus will range in cost from $50 to $125 per bay. Secondary signs such as triple-foam polish and tire dressing will range from $20 to $35 per sign. Keep in mind that overuse of signage in your bays can be confusing to customers.

It can be overwhelming to a customer when pulling into a bay to see the whole wall covered with different signs. Additionally, customers may not be able to recognize any changes or new products. When installing new marketing or instruction signs, evaluate the existing signs; determine the importance of each, and whether any of them could be removed. Remember, the goal is to market and promote the new functions and/or changes.

In-bay automatics have a few areas of opportunity. The appropriate use of banners, menu boards, and windmaster signs can help increase a wash’s volume and average ticket price. As in the case with self-service washes, anytime you add a feature such as an all-season protect-ant, wheel cleaner, or triple-foam polish make sure to create and hang banners to make customers aware of the change. Again, make sure to place the banners in a location visible to customers passing-by.

Defining your car wash packages presents another opportunity. A menu board will help customers understand the differences between each package. If the customer does not know what the benefit of the higher-end package is, he or she will not be willing to pay for it. When the customer pulls up to an auto cashier and views this menu (below left), what information is available to make the proper choice? Looking at the next menu (below right), one can see that each wash package is clearly defined.

Customers can see what the top package has to offer enabling them to make a more informed choice. This not only promotes a higher average ticket but also repeat business. Customers get what they expect and don’t leave the wash feeling mislead.

Ideally, this menu should be attached to or printed as a decal for your auto cashier. Other options include printing out the menu as an insert for a driveway windmaster sign holder or wall-mount unit. Select the option that keeps the menu in the closest visual range to the auto cashier and customer.

Over the past few years, the self-service industry has seen many upgrades specifically to the appearance and function of car wash meter boxes. Standard eight-function meter boxes are being replaced with 10 and even 12 functions. The upgraded boxes have credit card readers, bill acceptors, and fleet-card systems. Considering the magnitude of these equipment changes, does the customer really know how to use them properly? More importantly, do they understand their benefits? As an owner, what can be done to market and promote the changes?

Many owners spend countless dollars to upgrade the equipment in their facility but fall short on face-to-face customer education. If customers do not understand the changes, they will be less likely to try them out. Even with the proper instruction signs, a small portion of customers will shy away from new products. This is a great opportunity to both educate and develop personal relationships with customers.

It may sound a little old fashioned, but time spent at your wash educating customers on product benefits and proper use is priceless. For example, a car wash owner spends money to upgrade his bay package to include in-bay dryer systems. He installs the units, hangs the provided instruction signs, and months later is upset because he is not seeing the increased profits as advertised. Where did he go wrong? Again, do not underestimate the benefit of going into a bay and dropping a few quarters into the meter box to demonstrate the proper use and function of a new product. Time spent physically educating your customers is time spent building future equity. Don’t forget, as a self-service owner, the goal is to sell time to customers. The more functions they use during each visit, the more time in the bay – hence, increased revenue.

With in-bay automatics, the task is a little more difficult. It never hurts, though, to help customers evaluate their selection while they are waiting in line. Offer a free upgrade to the next or best package available. Make sure to point out the differences between the packages and why they get more value out of the top package. With the current state of the economy customers are going to be more interested in the upkeep of their vehicles. Explaining how the higher-end wash packages help preserve the car’s finish is a must.

Another simple way to promote your wash is to have a customer appreciation event. This yearly event should be centered on thanking regular customers while trying to draw in new clients. Typically, events are held over the weekend and give customers discounted wash rates. Make sure to supply refreshments such as soda pop, popcorn, and hot dogs. Don’t over-complicate the event; just keep it simple and focus on face time with customers and showing them your appreciation.

Many car wash owners overlook being involved with their local communities. Involvement with Rotary or local kids’ groups can help to promote your wash through association. Committed long-term customers are typically involved in local fundraising groups. Associating with these groups can help drive up regular business. People are willing to help those who are giving back to the community. Volunteering one’s wash for a local fundraiser is a diamond in the rough. Short term, it may set back the wash a few dollars for chemicals and utility costs. Long term, the fundraiser will draw in new clients who may not have tried the wash under regular circumstances. Secondly, you are supporting a good cause and helping out the community. With economic times being as tough as they are, reaching out to your community will go a long way toward increasing business and building a loyal customer base.

The marketing of a self-service, in-bay automatic wash will continue to evolve as new car wash equipment, parts, systems and services are introduced and new promotional techniques emerge. In this article we have but scratched the surface of this wide-ranging and heavily discussed topic. At the end of the day, any opportunity taken or effort put towards promoting and marketing your wash is a good investment.

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