Ding, ding, ding, ding, ding! The closing bell has rung. The 2020 holiday gift giving season has come to a close. Were you able to leverage a COVID disrupted retail market to earn more, way more for some, than your unfair share of gift card sales this year?

Pull your numbers, assemble your team, and evaluate your results. Ask them: What did we do right? What happened that we didn’t expect? What can we do better next year? Coaching 101.

January is the time to set your year in motion. In 2021, get ahead of the game. It’s best to plan 6-8 weeks in advance of a holiday. Here’s a rough schedule of the major holidays:
• January — Plan your Valentine’s Day promotion. Valentine’s Day is February 14. Be ready one week in advance.
• March — Plan your Moms, Dads and Grads. May is Mother’s Day, June is Father’s Day and Graduations.
• September — Plan your Halloween schedule. Halloween is October 31st. Be ready one week in advance.
• November — Plan your Black Friday and Holiday schedule. Thanksgiving is November 25, 2021. Have all marketing ready to go by November 24.

You may also want to think about Independence Day (July 4), Labor Day (September 6), Boss’ Day

(October 16), and Veteran’s Day (November 11). And if your town has any local holidays or celebrations, you’ll want to work those into your schedule.

Gift cards are the #1 requested holiday gift around the world. Obviously, they“We didn’t lose the game; we just ran out of time.” — Vince Lombardigenerate incremental revenue. Equally important, how-ever, they work as a referral program from your most loyal customers to get friends and family to try your wash — maybe to join your unlimited wash club.

Did you hit your 2020 sales targets? Did you hit your club member acquisition goal?

Gift card competition is fierce, but our industry has an edge over other industries.

First, it’s an affordable gift. How many establishments besides Starbucks offer a personal experience and great value for under $15, $20, or $25? Very few. How many can provide multiple visits for under $40? Even fewer.

Second, a clean car makes people feel good. A car wash is a longer lasting “feel good” than a meal or a new shirt.

Third, be prepared. Your gift card program demands attention. Think about three things: (1) incentivizing customers, (2) building loyalty, and (3) driving purchase behavior.

How to Win Your Unfair Share of Next Year’s Holiday Gift Card Sales

Let me share some broad gift card program statistics:
• Blackhawk Research reported 59 percent of consumers surveyed usually spend more than the card’s value.
• NRF Monthly reported 73.4 percent of adults 18+ intend to buy at least one gift card during the holiday season. And people who will buy gift cards plan to buy 3.4 gift cards on average.
• NRF Monthly also reports the average holiday dollar amount per gift card is $44.83.

•Restaurant Business reported that in 2016 about $1.9 billion was loaded onto Starbucks cards. One of every six American adults received a Starbucks card as a year-end gift.

I’ll go out on a limb here and say we all appreciate Starbucks gift cards, but some people don’t like the coffee, some feel the coffee is overpriced, some welcome an alternative gift, and teachers must be up to their eyeballs in Starbucks cards and Bath and Body Works candles.

As with any successful initiative, the first step is to implement a winning strategy. An annual strategy that makes it easy for you and your marketing agency to plan

and implement. And a strategy that makes it easy for your customers to know that a gift card program exists. Promotions and gift cards should be easy to buy during the busy, holiday sales times.

Make it Known. Make it Easy

If you don’t tell people about your gift card program, they won’t know about it. Update your digital menus and pay stations with gift card promo ads. Have gift card promo signs at the vacs and on your driveway. Post on your social media. Create a rack card. Update your website banners. And if text messaging is an option, update that too.

Then, make it easy for customers to purchase and replenish the gift cards on your website and at your pay stations. Make sure every employee is trained to talk about your gift card promotion and knows how to do the sales transaction.

Make it Personal.

The more relevant and personalized you can make the sale, the better. Some operators offer perks such as a free exterior wash with a purchase of $50 or more in gift cards. Others provide volume discounts such as buy 10 wash cards and get one for free. Whatever way you slice it, appreciate the customer buying the card. They’ll end up gifting your car wash service to a larger number of people on their shopping list.

Prepare Holiday Sales Tactics in Advance

Tie into a Promotion: How about a $20 gift card for $10? That’s a nice incentive.

BOGO: The good ‘ole buy one-get one. Buy a $20 wash, get a $20 gift card.

Reward the Purchaser: $5 off your wash with the purchase of a gift card.

Black Friday: You know, the day after Thanksgiving. Next year, the hope is that everyone will again be out and about looking for a deal. Think about discounted multi-pack gift cards, along with a brief media advertising campaign. Or have a sign up by the road saying, “Black Friday gift card sale” and you may be surprised at the traffic you pull in.

Stocking Stuffer: Gift cards are the perfect “stocking stuffer.” Promote it this way!

Get Your Employees Onboard

Train employees to actively promote and sell promotions and gift cards. This should be a year-long training initiative. Consider giving employees an incentive to help boost gift card sales. Set up contests like sell $1,000 in gift cards, get a cash bonus. Or sell the most gift cards, get a gift card to another establishment.

You may have to experiment with different contests and rewards until you find one that works best. Having your employees onboard will factor into the success of the program and your overall profit.

It’s Not Just for Christmas

Creating a program for local businesses to gift their employees a wash on Labor Day? Now that’s a great idea! Get creative.

Some washes pull off a pet promotion for National Pet Day (April 11) with cross promo on social media. These 30 seconds of fame from posting a pic of a customer’s dog going to the car wash has a life all of its own.

Most washes I know with strong holiday sales actively promote gift cards every day. Many — after only a few years — have a line of customers waiting for the holiday promotions, resulting in a huge spike in revenue.

Think Big

The earlier you start however, the better. Gift cards are an enormous opportunity to acquire new customers and/or get existing customers back. Implementing a program requires a little work and a little creativity but the payoff can be huge.

Don’t be put off by the discounts extended to grow sales. The owners that have put time and effort into site signage, online presence, and staff training reap the revenue reward. And even better are those that convert discounted gift-card trial customers into monthly unlimited wash club members. This can produce thousands of dollars in recurring revenue — the type of leverage you can take to the bank.

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 over 30 years, Anthony was the director of operations for a 74-location national car wash chain prior to joining the company.