Finishing Line - January 2010

Creditability and Trust —
Requirements to Draw New Customers
By Robert Roman

When the economy goes south, many experts will suggest that car wash operators should focus on marketing. Marketing can mean direct-mail advertising, e-mail marketing, traditional media like print and radio ads, couponing, and non-traditional approaches like social networking through the Internet.

In many cases, this marketing is focused on a car wash operator’s existing customer base. This makes a lot of sense because these folks are basically a captive lot — they already trust you. However, at some point, it will become increasing difficult to coax more dollars from them. To get more, you would need to attract new faces.

Drawing in new customers requires creditability and trust. Building trust is important because it is what drives profit margins and the value or worth of the car wash business. Establishing creditability is achieved by having the customer’s best interests in mind. This means having a strong value proposition.

A value proposition is simply a statement of the tangible results a customer gets from using your business. A strong value proposition solves the customer’s problem and describes why you are better than the other guy. Does this strategy work? Let’s take a look at Sonny’s the Carwash Factory, the country’s leading seller of car wash equipment.

Sonny’s has a clear and concise value proposition, Go Direct. The company drives brand awareness by endlessly reminding consumers of the company’s unique selling proposition, “We make car washing easy.” This message occurs repeatedly in the company’s printed ads, product catalog, website, and at tradeshows. In addition, Sonny’s ads almost always contain documented success stories that make them believable to prospective buyers. Can you describe what you do in terms of tangible business results?

A strong value proposition can also be financially oriented if it speaks to critical issues consumers are facing. Consider the content of the highway billboard message shown below.

The tangible results of this proposition are obvious; decreased costs ($3.00 price), faster time (express service), and improved operational efficiency (free vacuums). Common experience has shown this proposition is strong enough to get motorists attention. For maximum effect, this message would be repeated in all of the company’s marketing.

The menu board is another tool to tell customers how you are going to solve their problem. Unfortunately, some operators wrongly assume that their naming convention makes it blatantly clear that one car wash service is better than another (e.g. gold, silver, bronze or premium, deluxe, basic). This design is financially oriented and simple, but does it clearly describe what you do in terms of tangible results as compared to, say, “clean and protect,” “clean and shine,” and “clean and dry”?

Owners can use marketing to establish creditability with new customers during the wash. This means having a clean, bright wash bay filled with modern equipment that provides superior results (clean, shine, and dry) and puts on a good show for the customer. Brightly lit extra-service signs also help to reinforce that customers are receiving what they paid for.

A compelling story can also be told by marketing in the lobby and vending areas. This means things like posting customer letters (success stories); guarantee and refund polices; and signs that state you use name-brand products, reclaim water, or environmentally benign chemicals.

Operators can also build a good reputation by what they do to promote the business after the wash. Consider a customer who purchases a “basic” car wash service and complains about the quality of the wheel cleaning, only to be told by an employee that “we charge extra” to clean wheels. Instead of trying to explain the customer’s concern away or trying to sell a “wheel-deal” after the fact, make the customer happy and clean the wheels. By doing so, you’ll have other customers believing these guys are better than the others.

Bob Roman is president of RJR Enterprises — Consulting Services ( and vice president of Bubble Wash Buildings LLC. You can reach Bob via e-mail at

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