Auto Laundry News - February 2012

Marketing Audit — Will my Mom Recommend my Wash to Friends and Family?

By Anthony Analetto

I just returned from an out-of-state family gathering for the holidays with this question: Are my efforts to acquire and retain customers at the car wash working? This trip made me realize that all hopes of revenue growth, improved cash flow, or higher profit margins in 2012 boil down to one simple truth — the most productive activity of any business is to make sure its customers are recommending it to friends and family. This demands two things: First, that you deliver a great service at a great value. Second, that your marketing tells a customer about the value in a way that inspires trust. Fail to do these two things and, well, that’s where this story begins.

You’ll often hear me use the phrase “customers don’t appreciate how hard it is to deliver a consistently clean, dry, shiny car.” They really don’t. What’s worse, if they have one bad experience at a car wash, they seem determined to tell as many people about it as they can. On this last holiday trip, I found myself on the receiving end of such a rant, nodded politely, and visited the wash in question. The complaint was confirmed. The car wash had a huge sign advertising a $6 exterior wash, highly discounted for the market. When I asked for the $6 wash, the greeter showed me a readymade flyer explaining how inferior the $6 wash was, told me I would be dissatisfied with it, and asked if I wanted the $9 or $15 wash which would also clean my wheels. I understood the customer’s complaint of “bait-and-switch” and the passion to tell everyone that would listen to never visit this particular wash.

Every aspect of your business should be part of a system to acquire and retain customers. In the hustle of trying to boost revenue or profit margins, it’s easy to overlook how customers might react to changes. Avoid potential backlash from loyal customers and devastating negative word-of-mouth by always doing these two things: When making changes, first ask yourself “would this help my mom recommend my wash to friends and family?” Second, conduct an annual marketing audit. This is a useful tool that can help ensure you have more money in your pocket this time next year.


When your car wash was first built, demographic studies were conducted and proformas created to analyze the market potential. Markets, however, change, people change, and technology changes every year. Has your marketing plan changed accordingly? Do you have a written plan on how you will acquire and retain customers over the upcoming year? If not, grab a pencil and start by answering the following questions:

Who Are Your Customers?
Ideally, you’ll drop a couple of dollars and get the data. Some equipment manufacturers can supply a demographic report for free. But it can be as easy as writing down the different types of customers you have, how they differ from each other, what types of services they buy, when and how often they buy, and how your wash currently satisfies their needs. Once you’ve created segments of the various customers in your market, and the features and benefits they value most, it’s time to pick the one group that you feel can contribute the most to your bottom line over the next 12 months. If you pick up a book on marketing, it can make the whole process of segmenting your market and picking a target seem pretty complicated. It’s not. Picking a target in no way means that it’s the only group of people you’re selling to. Think of the Apple iPod. Their advertising is “targeted” to young, hip, 20-somethings. I am way outside the scope of any target they ever imagined, but still use both an iPhone and iPad. Selecting a target market means that you’ll be something to someone. Without a target, you’re a commodity to nobody.

Who Are Your Competitors?
You know the other washes in your area — their pricing, services, and which customers they “target” or cater too, but that’s not all there is to analyzing your competition. When performing your competitive analysis, make sure you’re not accidentally “creating competition.” What do I mean? After writing down what each competitor does the best, and the worst (including marketing), you should see what holes are not being served. Convenience, consistency, pricing, quality, speed, and customer experience represent opportunities to gain market share. If you don’t satisfy your market demand however, those opportunities represent areas where a new competitor can enter and take business, or in other words, you’re “creating competition.”

Why Should Customers Choose You?
Two months ago I wrote about making your car wash the best at something — creating a competitive advantage that sets your business apart from every car wash in the marketplace. Whether you use a strategy of community involvement, convenience, quality, or some other innovation, make sure you have a position in your market so compelling that it moves people to action.


Now that you know the Who and Why, it’s time to get down to the What and How of customer acquisition and retention. Again there are three questions to answer. This time, however, there are three parts to each. Part 1: What am I doing now? Part 2: What am I doing to measure its success? Part 3: What else could I be doing and how would I measure its success? Don’t overestimate how much time this will take, or underestimate how much money it will add to your bottom line. For most, the entire job will take less than an hour and can result in thousands of dollars in additional profit (either increased revenue or decreased advertising expense). I’ll admit I’m not the biggest fan of planning either, but whether you hire somebody or do it yourself, it’s got to be done — so let’s get started.

What Are You Doing to Get People Driving by to Try Your Wash?
Don’t laugh, this works, and costs nothing. Get in your car. Drive a half-mile up the road from your wash. Make a U-turn. Pull over and stop. Close your eyes. Imagine you’re driving by your wash. What do you notice first? What makes you excited to stop in for a wash? Write down your answers to both questions, and then drive back. Does your wash look like it did in your imagination? Would you be excited to get a wash? Two things can get a potential customer driving by to stop in. First is need. Second is curiosity. For the first, need, does your signage alert passing traffic that you’re a car wash, open for business, in enough time for them to enter the driveway safely? For the second, curiosity, the sky’s the limit. You can put out signs to promote fundraising events, new services, daily specials, and balloons — anything that grabs attention and helps people remember that they need to get their car washed. Make a plan of what you could be doing differently, track changes in your capture rate to measure success, and be on your way to a wash that excites your bank account.

What Are You Doing to Get People Nearby to Try Your Wash?
Direct mail, radio, newspaper, pay-per-click, e-mail, social networks, and other advertising media are great tools to get your message to potential customers, but what message will drive traffic? Couponing, discount-days, fundraising, and other tactics all have their place, but the guiding principle to never forget is that effective advertising works the first time. That means if you advertise a Whacky Wednesday discount in the newspaper and have no dramatic increase in traffic, don’t do that combination again. Let me repeat, good advertising works the first time, make sure you track what works and cancel what doesn’t.

How Are You Keeping Customers Coming Back?
Two things keep customers coming back. First is the value of the experience you provide, or your brand. Second is the value of the wash you provide, basically how clean and at what price. Most owners focus on the second. Points-based loyalty programs, punch cards, wash books, and VIP clubs are all very straightforward. As a customer increases wash frequency, the price goes down, increasing the value they get. While performing this marketing audit, however, don’t forget to spend as much time thinking about the experience you provide as you do the dollar value of the wash. Everything from your site and staff appearance to how you apply detergents in the tunnel plays a valuable role in customer experience. Your target market needs to see that you share their interests, that you demonstrate concern for their values, and deliver on your promises consistently and honestly. Like most things in life this doesn’t need to be so complicated. I’m sure Starbucks spends an enormous amount of time and money researching and tweaking every detail of their stores to refine customer experience. But it’s as easy as once again closing your eyes and picturing your target customer. If you’re struggling to pick a target, then picture your mom instead, and ask yourself, “would the customer experience I deliver help my mom recommend my wash to friends and family?”

Washing cars for over 30 years, Anthony Analetto serves as the president of SONNY’S The Car Wash Factory, creator of the BayWash i5 and G2 rollover in-bay automatics, Xtreme-Xpress Mini-Tunnel, and the largest manufacturer of conveyorized car wash equipment, parts, and supplies in the world. Anthony can be reached at (800) 327-8723 x 104 or at

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