Finishing Line - October 2008

Websites: The Car Wash Industry Lags
By Robert Roman

During tough times, many car wash operators will look for ways to improve their business performance. Usually, this involves buying new or upgrading existing equipment to keep abreast of competitors. Innovative equipment solutions are important in terms of improving production efficiency and saving costs, but equipment doesn’t do much to bring buyers and sellers together — marketing does.

One area of marketing that lags in the car wash industry is the website. According to benchmarking reports, over 75 percent of operators have access to the internet but only 16 percent of self-service and 30 percent of conveyor operators have a website. In my county, only 8 percent of washes listed in the phone book have a website. The national average for U.S. small businesses is 50 percent.

A website allows operators to: 1) disseminate information to a wider audience, including people who do not read newspapers, discount circulars, or other traditional forms of advertising; 2) personalize content and tailor products to the customer, which provides the opportunity to create a loyalty bond and; 3) practice electronic commerce, which means selling products and services online 24/7.

According to a survey of 530 small businesses conducted by Interland, a leading web-hosting service provider, 77 percent of respondents said their business was healthier because of their website; 55 percent said their website helped them weather the economic downturn; and 81 percent said their website generated leads for their business. These are attractive statistics, so why aren’t more car wash operators jumping on the bandwagon?

If you are an operator who is looking to build a website, you may be confused by the technology and terminology, worried about the costs, unsure of the need and benefits, or just plain disappointed because you already have paid for a website that few people visit and doesn’t do want you want it to.

Websites can be divided into two categories — those that sell something and those that do not.

The basic requirements include obtaining a registered domain name (e.g., www.joeswash.com), obtaining a hosting account on a web server, designing the web pages, and marketing. Marketing the website involves things like submitting the site to Internet search engines so it can be found by people who are looking for your products and services and including your domain name in all forms of advertising, promotion, and publicity. If you intend to sell things like discount books, gift certificates, or merchandise, you will also need a shopping cart and a merchant account to process credit card transactions.

The World Wide Web is now littered with a slew of e-commerce sites promising that you can build, make, and create your own website for free simply by choosing a template design, customizing it, and then showing it to the world. Unfortunately, the free aspect is only good for a 30-day trial period, and working with professionally designed templates and drag-and-drop software is not as easy as it sounds.

Even with pre-designed templates, you will need to have some artistic, design, and graphic abilities so you can make pages and work with things like a logo and photos. You’ll also need a basic understanding of fundamentals like developing HTML title, the general description of your site, and meta-tags, which are key words associated with your site.

If the DIY approach isn’t your cup of tea, most companies offer professional design services where you can talk with a pro, review and comment, and then take control of the site. Design services are bundled or packaged just like car wash services. The price or one-time fee can vary from several hundred dollars to as much as $1,500. Price determines the scale and scope of design consulting, content formatting, photo integration, product set-up, logo, revisions, and site management and editing orientation. DIFM design services usually take from one to several weeks to complete.

Regardless of your approach, a car wash website should be designed with four purposes in mind. The first is to create an image and identity with the goal of getting people to remember you when they leave the site. The second is to recruit new customers by promoting your products, offering a free coupon, and describing any pre-paid service options. A website can also help save costs by reducing your sales material and printed advertising expenses. The final purpose is to provide customer service with e-mail and telephone support. Of course, someone will have to answer the e-mails and phone calls.

If you follow this guidance, you may be pleasantly surprised to discover that it is possible to make money for the car wash with a website.

Bob Roman is president of RJR Enterprises — Consulting Services (www.carwashplan.com) and vice president of Bubble Wash Buildings, LLC. You can reach Bob via e-mail at rjrcarwashplan@yahoo.com.

 

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