The Car Wash Show 2014 takes place this month. Our industry’s largest annual event provides the single greatest opportunity to ensure our businesses are on track over the coming year. Some of you may be reading this while standing on the show floor. Others may not have been able to make it. No worries. Identifying the proverbial needles in the haystack of opportunity to draw more customers, who visit more frequently, and pay more each visit, is a process that extends beyond the walls of the convention center.
Looking into my crystal ball to predict what new innovations will be hot at the show, it’s an exciting time to be in the business of washing cars. The balance of power has shifted. Several decades ago, there would be one hot new innovation, and the vast majority of owners would add that to their wash. In the ‘60s it was hot wax. In the ‘70s it was polish wax. In the ‘80s it was triple polish protectant. In the ‘90s it was total body protection.
And now, well that’s where things get interesting. The days of “me too” appear to be dead. The outdated mindset that car washing is a commodity is disappearing. Operators seeing the biggest gains are less concerned with what the guy down the street is doing, and focused instead on delivering a memorable customer experience and value that’s uniquely theirs. Suppliers are scrambling to arm these innovative car wash owners and investors with the equipment, chemistry, and training they are demanding to help them stand out from the crowd. The only word that comes to mind to see how car wash operators are combining branding, wash package design, automation, equipment, chemistry, and site management to deliver a more compelling wash experience is — wow.
I’ve been in the business for well over 30 years and find myself learning something new almost every day. The proverbial haystack is getting bigger by leaps and bounds. What’s more, it’s chock full of needles that may be sharp for one car wash operator’s goals, while proving blunt for another. Whether you’re going through the entire haystack in one fell swoop at The Car Wash Show, or are at home conducting your research online, now, more than ever, remaining competitive demands knowing what’s going on in the industry around you. I’ve found it helpful to break the latest happenings into two categories — automation and wash consistency, and branding and customer experience. Let’s take a look at what I hope will help frame the conversations you’ll have as you explore the haystack of equipment and chemistry options available this year.
BRANDING AND CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE
This is more than having a distinct logo with consistent signage throughout your site. The conversations I find myself having with operators around the world center on how to entice a customer to try premium services at the wash, increase the perceived value, and confirm application in a memorable and satisfying way. Here’s an outline of the hottest topics. It starts with signage. There are numerous chemical and equipment suppliers that can provide you with a ready-made brand for your premium extra services. Alternatively you can design your own exclusive brand for a reasonable fee with the assistance of a marketing service provider that specializes in car washing. Once you have a plan to brand every aspect of your wash including the video greeter, street signage, and tunnel entrance, turn your attention inside the tunnel itself.
Application is no longer only about getting a complete and consistent covering of chemical over the vehicle surface. The experience is no longer only about using different color chemicals and scents to distinguish between applications. Streaming, pouring, and dripping, the objective is to alert a customer inside the car of the next extra service application with a unique chemical delivery method that breaks through the previous application. If your top package has three premium foam applications for example, make sure that the second is distinct from the first, and so on. Soupy mixes of foam do not confirm the application of extra services. Also investigate the use of waterproof LED lighting to distinguish applications. I know some operators that are even lighting up their standard foam applications only on the top package purely to reinforce the perceived value of a higher-priced wash. Satisfied customers are repeat customers so make sure to evaluate technology to help them become so. Today’s POS systems are capable of far more than just processing transactions and controlling cash. Vehicle tracking, loyalty management, recurring billing, coupon management, RFID, and interactive video menus are just a few of the reasons that continuing to use a cash register to run your business will increasingly become a competitive liability over the coming years.
COST CONTROL AND WASH CONSISTENCY
The other conversations I find myself having regard how to deliver a phenomenal entry-level wash that drives volume and repeat business and is profitable. Turning down the soap or blowers has proven itself a disastrous approach time and time again. Any delusion that a dissatisfied customer will buy a higher wash package the next time is a pipe dream, they either never return, or at best, stay locked at the base wash package. So the conversation is how to reduce the cost of the base wash while delivering a strong value that develops trust in your service. Start with chemistry. Evaluate the latest technology available to better mix, pump, and apply chemistry to a vehicle’s surface. The objective isn’t to turn down the soap, but rather, to precisely eliminate waste. Next is drying. Turning off blowers on the base package doesn’t work because a customer won’t realize it, and will assume drying on higher wash packages is no better. You’ll see a flood of buffing and drying machines at the show this year using various materials and brushes because they work. When offered as an extra service on the top wash packages, customers have a visual cue that they’ll get something better if they pay more. Another area savvy operators are looking at to lower costs is leveraging the reporting capabilities and precision of modern controllers. Having the ability to shave chemistry, utility, and water expense through more accurate equipment activation, combined with better reporting to refine scheduling and wash management, provides a value that far exceeds the cost of these systems.
With the days of “me too” coming to a close, I can’t tell you how excited I am to discuss the latest in wash package creation, menu design, branding, and ways to distinguish value and guide customers at the wash to visit more frequently, and pay more at each visit, with colleagues at the show in Chicago. Our industry is filled with some of the most creative entrepreneurs on the planet. Armed with equipment, chemistry, and marketing innovations to tantalize all five senses like never before, it’s a great time to be a professional car washer.
Washing cars for over 30 years, Anthony Analetto serves as president of SONNY’S The CarWash Factory, creator of the Original Xtreme-Xpress Mini-Tunnel, and the largest manufacturer of conveyorized car wash equipment, parts, and supplies in the world. He can be reached at Aanaletto@SonnysDirect.comor at (800) 327-8723 ext. 104.