Success Strategies Part II
In Part I of this two-part article, we discussed the growing competition faced by operators of in-bay automatic car washes. We identified the competitors and pointed to the advantages car washers may hold over those who offer car washing as an ancillary service. We also suggested two of several steps you can take to help your wash stand apart from the rest - enhance curb appeal, and update the car wash building. In Part II, we consider replacing equipment, and fine tuning your marketing efforts.
So, now that you have updated your landscaping, installed a new graphics package, and renovated your building, you are off to a great start to keep your customers from regularly going to the competition. (Remember, it is good for them to try the competition once in a while, so they know what they are missing from your location.)
Now consider the condition of the wash equipment. Has it been 10 years since you have replaced or updated your equipment? (You can realize up to 85 percent of the entire depreciation on your car wash business during the first seven years of operation.) If so, it is time to update your equipment. Like all technology, car wash equipment has changed dramatically over the last 10 years. Consider this: 10 years ago, the first CD players were being installed on PCs; Windows 95 was released; e-Bay was started; the Internet was just catching on; and digital cameras made their first appearance.
Car wash equipment has also changed radically over this time period. Now in-bay automatic car wash operators and consumers have choices - friction/touch-free/hybrid. All washes can be equipped with new and consumer-friendly bells and whistles. Some of the bells and whistles are keys to keeping your customers happy. A few of the "bells and whistles" have come to be regarded as necessities or "standard" features. These include credit card acceptors, bill acceptors, web site, video screens at the payment acceptor, electronic loyalty cards and VIP cards (prepaid/discount), and multi-location acceptance of all cards.
There are also many new technologies to help you keep costs down by making sure, for example, that the proper amounts of chemicals are delivered. Some systems will alert you to potential problems to help keep the wash up and running. Check out the latest products from equipment manufacturers. Regardless of the provider you go with, make sure that you have a maintenance program to keep your equipment at peak performance. Remember that this is where you set yourself apart from the would-be in-bay automatic car wash operators.
At this point, your competitors should be getting concerned about the offensive steps that you have undertaken to keep your customers and to gain new customers. However, you are not done. You still need to update your marketing plan.
Marketing is an area in which you can expand your reach over the would-be in-bay automatic car wash operators. While the other businesses are focused on food sales or an oil/lube, you can concentrate your time on selling car washes. Now is the time to work with your community (PTA, Boy and Girl Scouts, cheerleading squads, local business, fleets, etc.) to sell them on loyalty cards and prepaid/discount cards. Both types of cards have a place in your business, and both should be capable of being loaded on the web and at your location (preferably at the payment acceptor). Loyalty cards are great to provide to new customers or customers that might not use your wash frequently. Prepaid/discount cards can serve as a "thank you" to your already loyal customers and/or organizations that continue to use your wash.
There are many other marketing ideas that you can use to stay on the offensive with your competitors, such as mailers to your best customer using your internal database, a saturation mailer, radio remotes, on-site signage, and street talkers. These are just a few examples of proven marketing techniques you can employ. You can also be proactive with c-stores that currently do not have a car wash to cross promote both locations. This way, each of you will concentrate on what you know best.
You have done a lot of work to take the wind out of your competitors' sails. Do one more thing to celebrate all the changes you have made to your location - have a grand opening. Let your customers and competitors know about all the improvements you have made and updating you have done. Top off the grand opening with outstanding customer service and your customers will wash and repeat.
Competition is fierce for in-bay automatic car wash operators, but operators who stay on top of the game and stay on the offensive will continue to grow their market share, even in the face of threatening competition. The next time they drive down the street, these operators will be smiling at all the customers that are headed to their car wash.
Alan Slothower is a car wash consultant with over 17 years of experience in the car wash and convenience-store industries. AUTEC, Inc. has partnered with Alan to create presentations and editorials about the in-bay-automatic car wash business. Alan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can contact AUTEC, Inc. at (800) 438-3028 or via e-mail at email@example.com. You can visit the company on the web at www.autec-carwash.com.
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