On the Wash Front - November 2010

Innovate or Die Part II:
Known Brands Make a Difference
By Anthony Analetto

Colorful vacuum islands.

This is the conclusion of my discussion with Terrance Elder, owner of Triple Play Car Wash in Attleboro, MA, about taking an already successful car wash to the next level.

ANALETTO: Increasing pre-paid wash and express detailing sales normally means training human greeters. How do you plan on accomplishing this from your auto attendants?

ELDER: The technology is there, but you have to make it work for you, measure what’s working, and find creative ways to push it harder. I’ve put service advisors at my gates and instantly lifted detailing services dramatically. But I can’t afford to pay a service advisor to do an inconsistent job of up-selling my customers. I already have effective signs that promote oil-change to detailing customers, car washes to c-store customers, and detailing services to car wash customers — but a sign isn’t the same as telling the person the value of buying more while they’re in the middle of making a purchase, and then asking them to buy it. Even the best-trained person can’t match the consistency of an automated attendant. The problem is that my auto attendants aren’t currently programmed to push the up-sell products and services how I’d like, but it’s not because they can’t. My software provider, DRB Systems, has been working closely with me to really maximize the potential of my payment systems, integrated across my whole property. That is what I’m working on right now. By having multiple name brands on the same property, I have a lot of equity I can leverage.

Can you share exactly what changes you’re making?

Big changes. It’s almost like re-opening. Last year we sold 65,000 washes from the pump. When customers entered the code at the wash, the machine asked them if they would like to add a $2 tire shine or $3 body protectant. I offered the same thing to customers that bought a wash directly at the auto attendant. It didn’t work. Add-on sales were disappointing. Going forward, depending on the wash they bought at the pump, they’ll be presented with an offer to buy additional washes at a huge discount simply by clicking the “yes” button or decline by selecting “no thanks”. So if they buy our $21 full-serve at the pump, when they enter the code at the auto-attendant, the machine will ask if they’d like to save $8 and buy the next wash for only $13 — a 40 percent discount. The offer changes depending on what they bought and the graphics are real creative — it’s a lot different than anything I’ve ever seen.

The promotions change for someone buying a wash at the auto-attendant, to push express detailing and additional washes depending on what they bought. For example, if they buy an exterior wash, the next screen asks if they’d like today’s wash for free if they buy three more. And when a customer enters the free wash code from an oil-change, it offers a huge discount if they add an express detail service. I’m excited. The offers are consistent and always appropriate based on what the customer bought, or where they entered my property. A human just can’t do that. I know some operators are doing well selling pre-paid unlimited wash programs. I tried, but it seemed every month I would sign up 40 members and lose 30. For me, discounted gas is my loyalty program. By changing how my auto-attendants work, I’ll reduce the time and labor I was spending on managing the pre-paid membership program and generate more dollars doing it.

Coffee is available 24-hours at the drive-thru.
Not only deli fare, but an attractive spot to enjoy it.

You partnered with a lot of recognized brands at your site. Has the investment paid off?

Absolutely. It’s not only about appealing to customers, it also helps keep competition from coming in. We can have 1,400 cars going through on a Saturday. That draws the attention of investors looking for a proven market. Recently someone was going to build near us and decided to pull away. I think we have a strong location and solid business model, but the brands make a real difference. I’m not just discounting gas — I’m discounting Exxon-Mobil gas. I don’t just sell coffee, it’s Dunkin Donuts coffee with a drive-thru open 24-hours. My oil-change is branded Valvoline and includes a free car wash. And in our market, Jay’s Deli is a strong regional brand. Someone could build the same business in my market, but they couldn’t easily compete with the brands I’ve partnered with.

Having been open nearly three years now, what have you learned that you would recommend to other operators?

I believe you have to keep searching for ways to deliver more value to customers; offer more reasons to visit your property. Measure what works and be willing to stop what doesn’t. I finally got tired of asking people to buy $2 or $3 extra-services without any results, so I am shifting to stock-up-and-save discounts. This holiday season when someone buys a car wash, the auto attendant will ask them if they’d like today’s wash free with the purchase of a gift card — yes or no — and I’m investing in the technology to print the gift card for them then and there. I’m changing the whole experience for my customers. I know I have my work cut out for me to educate them — that if they buy in bulk they’ll save, but I never came into this business thinking it would be easy. It can be a grind to build your car wash volume, but it pays off if you keep working it. Take care of the customer and it all comes in time.

Questions can be sent directly to Terrance at: terrancek@comcast.net.

Good luck, and good washing.

Anthony Analetto has over 27 years experience in the car wash business and is the president of SONNY’S The Car Wash Factory’s Equipment Division. Before coming to SONNY’S Anthony was the director of operations for a 74-location national car wash chain. Anthony can be reached at (800) 327-8723 x 104 or at AAnaletto@SonnysDirect.com.

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