Why should a customer choose your car wash over any other? What makes your business stand out? Imagine if your wash were to close its doors today — would the community feel its absence?

            The first step in differentiating your business is defining a clear and compelling “brand promise.” This isn’t easy, as it challenges you to distill your value proposition into a simple, memorable message.

            Go ahead, give it a try. Not so easy, is it? The first time I tried, I barely uttered, “We deliver a clean car fast and affordable.” In other words, a generic commodity that’s cheap. Nothing more than a convenient way for customers to check the chore of getting their car washed off a to-do list.

            Nobody likes paying for a chore. Customers will, however, spend significant money on experiences that bring them joy and satisfaction, and they appreciate the opportunity to do so. There’s a clear reason why we pay more for a meal at a high-end restaurant than a quick bite at a fast-food place.

            It’s not about the basic need to satisfy hunger or even the quality and taste of the food. What we’re investing in is the entire dining experience. This includes the sense of importance and exclusivity we feel when stepping into a well-regarded restaurant, the special treatment we receive from attentive staff, and the overall atmosphere that makes us feel like winners.

            It’s about being served in a manner that makes us feel valued and cared for. This premium experience is what draws people in and what they are truly paying for.

            When you’re a brand, people recall their experiences with your business and return. When you’re a commodity, it’s a discount race to the bottom. If I told you to go and buy a 2×4 piece of lumber, an actual commodity, where would you go to buy it? Chances are an image of your preferred home improvement store just popped into your mind.

            Consider why you choose that specific store for everyday purchases, like a piece of lumber. Don’t just think about the product — try to recall the overall experience: the ease of returns, the organization of products, efficient online services, and effective communication through ads and slogans. These elements transform a basic vendor into a preferred brand.

Crafting a Profitable Customer Experience

            It’s good to be a professional car washer. What other industry gives you the tools to deliver a “fine dining” experience in an automated real estate-based business with limited inventory, minimal staffing, no spoilage, and growth opportunity? For a business owner, conditions couldn’t get more ideal. It also couldn’t have been done just a few short years ago.

            Advancements in wash formats, namely express exterior with free vacuums, lights, foam, branding, chemistry, POS systems, scents, and customers on social media, helping you spread the word about your amazing tunnel experience. It’s even conveyorized with the ability to process as many $30 top package tickets as we can load every hour. And yes, there are express washes out there asking and getting $30 for the wash they deliver.

            The tools are available; the secret sauce is how you use them. Crafting an enduring brand requires more than just a good marketing strategy; it involves creating a deep connection with your customers that extends beyond mere transactions. This connection is built on the foundation of trust, quality, and the unique value that your business provides.

Enhance Loyalty with Convenience

            Whenever I go to my preferred home improvement store, I buy extras of everything. Confident that I can simply return all the extras without the receipt, I want to ensure I don’t have to return for something I forgot. As they tell me, it’s how doers get more done. Returns are never a hassle, whereas their main competitor once refused my return past 30 days, even with a receipt. Ease of returns matters to me.

            What are your customers’ priorities? Are they drawn to the convenience of complimentary vacuum stations that are always open? Do amenities like mat holders, air nozzles, and night-time lighting enhance their experience? Perhaps they value well-structured menus, wash packages, and club memberships that enable swift and confident decisions. Is your polishing machine the finishing touch they crave? Does digital signage at the tunnel entrance reassure them of their purchase? Is a consistent and quick service time of a tunnel without delays rather than an IBA most important?

            Consider the impact of using license plate recognition, online account management, and a proficient staff that makes the process so seamless they wouldn’t consider going elsewhere.

Get Involved in Your Community

            Fundraising initiatives are vital aspects of community engagement, yet they represent just one of many ways to establish a strong presence in your market. Think outside the box. There are countless possibilities to align your car wash with community interests — make sure to actively promote these efforts on your social media platforms to engage your followers.

            Moreover, organizing charity wash days, where a percentage of the earnings is donated to a local organization, can boost customer traffic and attract significant attention on social media. Another popular approach is allowing children to sell wash books and retain a portion of the proceeds. This not only supports the community but also promotes your business.

            Embrace technology to enhance these initiatives. Many payment stations offer an option for customers to input a code that directs a share of their payment to a charity of their choice. Envision all the students and parents participating in your fundraising activities, distributing electronic codes to friends and family via the Internet to purchase your premium services. Imagine thousands of potential customers visiting your car wash to support the causes dear to them, transforming community support into tangible benefits for your business and the community.

Offer a Premium and Exclusive Wash Process

            The constant drive for excellence in delivering a top-quality wash is just one aspect. It’s equally important to craft an unforgettable customer experience. Begin with the basics such as uniforms, signage, landscaping, logos, and taglines, covering all elements that a customer might interact with visually or physically.

            Enhance the tunnel with LED lighting, coordinated fragrances, and pristine wall paneling to emphasize cleanliness and quality. Evaluate staff interactions and establish uniform greetings and processes. A key factor in success is the active training of each employee in your customer service philosophy to uphold it.

Write Down Your Brand Promise Today

            Hopefully, this sparks some ideas about what distinguishes your business from competitors in the market. Recite your brand promise aloud. Keep it concise and clear, refine it repeatedly until it becomes so persuasive that customers will perceive your car wash as offering a valuable and unique proposition.

            Employ a marketing agency capable of crafting logos, signage, messages, menu boards, rack cards, and architectural enhancements that underscore your main message in the minds of your customers.

            Ensure your employees embody and champion your brand promise. With this foundation, you can be confident that customers will discover, remember, and revisit your business.

            Good luck, and good washing.

Joining the company in 2000, Anthony Analetto serves as the president of Sonny’s CarWash Equipment Division. In this role, Anthony leads the innovation of new products to drive client success and oversees all operations, engineering, and supply chain management. Washing cars for more than 30 years, Anthony was the director of operations for a 74-location national car wash chain prior to joining the company.