- October 2001
"WASH AS LONG AS YOU WANT"
A Pricing Concept
By Jack Anthony III
This is a very simple concept. Customers
pay a flat fee for enough time to wash their vehicle in the
self-service bay. The amount of time is variable, depending
on the operator. It ranges from about 15 minutes to an hour.
When the customer exits the bay, a loop detector buried in the
concrete senses the vehicle movement and cancels any remaining
This concept is contradictory to the
conventional wisdom that customers are renting the self-service
bay by the minute. Many operators say it will not work or question
the wisdom of discounting the wash. Some of the questions and
comments we have heard include "How can I make any money
when I am busy on weekends?" and "It will cost me
money because I cannot get as many customers through the bays."
This pricing concept has been tried in many parts of the country
and those who have tried it have found two things in common:
Customer satisfaction increases dramatically and
o Gross sales increase also.
WHY DOES IT WORK?
It is actually quite simple. People
hate "being on the clock" at the car wash. This concept
removes that barrier. It is very customer friendly. And guess
what? People who used to wash in their driveways are now coming
to the car wash. This means a larger customer base and more
Probably the most important reason is
that customers perceive they are getting a great deal for their
money. Finding a price point that will attract customers to
your car wash is important. Once they try it, they love it.
An important side note: We have found
much less resistance to price increases with this concept.
Let's go back a few years
and see how it all started. Bob Clements is the "Father"
of the wash-as-long-as-you-want concept. Bob owns Wonder Wash,
a large chain of self-service car washes (40+ locations) in
small rural towns in the upper Midwest part of the country.
In the early 1990s Bob was unhappy with seeing his bays "dry"
too often. Bob is a numbers guy and he knew the operating cost
per cycle was very small. His plan was to keep his bays "wet"
by bringing more customers to his washes. A local competitor
was charging $1.00 for 5 minutes. Bob reasoned that his competitor's
customers were using two cycles. He decided to charge what most
customers were paying but give them as long as they wanted to
wash their car. He came up with $2.00 for "Wash as Long
as You Want," literally. The first wash where he tried
this concept doubled its gross income in two years. He tried
it at a second wash and it's income doubled in two years. He
has since converted most of his washes to this new concept with
an average gross-income increase of 50 percent over a two-year
period. His income per car went down slightly, but the increase
in gross income was substantial and, most importantly, so was
the increase in his net income.
We have found the same
to be true. We have converted three of our washes to "Wash
as Long as You Want." The income at these washes was well
above the national average before we made the change, but still
not where we felt it should be. The first location, a six-bay
wash, was changed to the new pricing system in October 1996.
It has shown consistent increases in gross sales: 50 percent
in 1997, 3 percent in 1998, 7 percent in 1999, 4 percent in
2000, and 29
percent in 2001. The second wash, a five-bay, changed over in
September 1997. Increases at this wash have been as gratifying:
34 percent in 1998, 27 percent in 1999, 26 percent in 2000,
and 22 percent in 2001. The third wash, a six-bay, converted
to "Wash as Long as You Want" in January 1998. Average
annual income at this location increased 34 percent in 1999,
11 percent in 2000, and 23 percent in 2001.
The last few years have been good for
many self-service operators around the country, but not many
mature washes have seen the type of consistent income growth
as demonstrated by these washes.
The bottom line is, well,
the bottom line. If you still doubt the feasibility of the wash-as-long-as-you-want
concept, consider the following:
o Most major costs are fixed at a self-service
wash. These would include rent, property
taxes, debt service, labor, insurance, etc.
o The actual cost-per-cycle of a self-service car wash is very
o The cost of goods provided to the customer for a conventional
wash cycle would
include water, gas, electricity, chemicals, and
wear and tear (maintenance). At our
washes, these costs, as a percent of sales, generally
fall in the range of 10 percent to 14
percent of gross sales.
o The same cost elements are present in a "Wash as Long
as You Want" cycle. In this
cycle, the cost of these same elements falls in
the range of 14 percent to 18 percent.
o As you can see from the large increases in gross sales and
the relatively small increase in
costs of good sold, the "Wash as Long as You
Want" concept can have a major impact
on your bottom line.
There are a number of different ways
to price and market this concept. Bob Clements originally started
out at $2.00 for "Wash as Long as You Want." His timers
were set to turn off after one hour. If a customer complained
about not being able to finish, he would have the attendant
restart the cycle for another hour. Fortunately these restarts
were few and far between. Today, Bob charges $5.00 and he sets
his "no-display" timers to cut off in 45 minutes.
His attendants still give customers additional time if necessary.
We charge $3.75 (soon to be $4.00) and
have large banners stating, "Wash as Long as You Want,
Up to 20 Minutes". We have found that 20 minutes offer
more than enough time to wash most any vehicle, even Suburbans.
We get virtually no complaints about the 20-minute time length.
We do have signs stating the time length and
we use countdown timers so the customers always know how much
time they have left.
Variations on the general theme are
innumerable. Some operators have tripled their time and doubled
their price, i.e., while they used to charge $1.50 for 4 minutes,
their new price is $3.00 for 12 minutes. These operators, also,
have shown large increases in gross income. And with the shorter
time allotment, they have not had to install loop detectors.
Another variation would be a bonus type
system: $2.00 for 4 minutes or put in $4.00 to "Wash as
Long as You Want" - up to 20 minutes. As you can see, you
can customize this approach and select the method that best
suits your individual operation.
MARKETING AND PROMOTION
Just because you change
your wash to the "Wash as Long as You Want" pricing
system, will not necessarily make it successful. You need to
get the word out, find a way to let all the potential customers
know that you have a new system. Large colorful banners are
very helpful. The most important part of the banner is the wording.
The term "Wash as Long as You Want" is short and easy
for potential customer to grasp. Under the "Wash as Long
as You Want" wording the disclaimer of "Up to 20 Minutes"
(or whatever time length you choose) should be stated. The banner
could also say "Limited Time Offer", which allows
for flexibility. Obviously, promoting the new pricing system
with radio and television ads will get the word out quicker.
Direct mail works well also, but there needs to be a fulltime
attendant or credit/debit card acceptance system in place to
handle direct mail discount(s) you might offer.
A full time attendant can be a great
marketing tool. There is a bit of an educational curve for your
customers to contend with; they need to get used to the new
system. An attendant or owner on site can answer any questions
and really speed up their getting through the learning curve.
An attendant can also make change for customers who are waiting
so there will be no delay once they get into the bay. This is
especially valuable on busy days.
CHOOSE WHAT'S RIGHT FOR YOU
Is the "Wash as Long
as You Want" pricing system the right choice for all operators?
Of course not! There are a number of reasons not to change.
You may not want to change if your site is already maximizing
its income potential. If your site is very small and you need
room to stack cars, "Wash as Long as You Want" is
probably not for you. This concept lends itself very well to
car washes with a large number of bays. Since customers do spend
more time in the bays, it is good to have extra bays during
your busiest periods. Having fewer than four bays could be limiting.
Bob converted a number of his two-bay sites to this new concept,
but has reestablished conventional pricing structure at these
locations. According to Bob, a two-bay setup just does not allow
a large enough volume of cars to justify the new concept. Bob
system requires a minimum of three bays.
For those operators who have under-performing
washes, this is one way to possibly increase profitability.
It is difficult to ignore any opportunity to increase customer-satisfaction
levels - and to add to the bottom line.
Jack Anthony, a second-generation car
wash operator, is the CEO of California-based Anthony Industries
Inc., which owns and operates seven self-service car washes,
full-service car washes, a 10-minute oil change, and a gourmet
coffee shop. Jack is currently a member of the International
Carwash Association Board of Directors, a position he also held
from 1981 to 1984. In 1985 he was a member of the Northern California
Car Wash Association Board of Directors. Jack recently also
served on the Western Carwash Association Board of Directors.