Why would a customer choose your car wash over any other?

Just a few years ago, building a car wash in a market was its own barrier to other competitors entering. Construction, permits, staffing, and promotion represented significant investments in both time and money. These same factors still exist. The difference is money was tight and the risks appeared to be higher. Delivering a consistently clean car fast and affordable was enough to deter competition.

I suppose similar factors influence most industries if you go back in time far enough.

As a consumer, I pass more than a dozen gas stations, coffee shops, grocery stores, and every other type of retail imaginable on my way home from work. I love when a new shop opens that’s easier to get to, has nicer amenities, or a better product selection. If the value proposition is there, I have no hesitation in giving the new establishment a try.

In the last couple of days, I received two “Top 50” lists in my inbox. One list was“If you don’t have a competitive advantage, don’t compete.”– Jack Welchfor grocers with the top chain representing 4,700 locations. That’s a whopping 11.75 percent of the estimated 40,000 total locations. The other list was for the top 50 car wash chains. Our industry’s largest clocks in with 318 locations representing anywhere from 1 percent to 2 percent of all conveyorized locations depending on who you talk to.

When Amazon appeared on the 2018 grocers list at number 8 following its takeover of Whole Foods, the predictions were that, with its estimated 62 percent of American households as Prime members, it would quickly climb the list in 2019. Instead, it has fallen to the number 10 spot.

It appears in part that Amazon’s entrance into the industry inspired other large chains to accelerate investments in strategic, more sophisticated technology and partnerships to enhance their appeal to consumers. Independent grocers furthered their commitment to customer service, unique features, and serving the communities in which their shoppers live.

Which brings me back to my first question: Why would a customer choose your car wash over any other?

Some of you already have a list of competitive advantages in place along with procedures to ensure they are known by every customer and employee alike. For anyone just getting started, here’s a short list of tactics I feel are most important.

Make it Easy to Buy from You (and Serve Them)

“Make your product easier to buy than your competition, or you will find your customers buying from them, not you.” – Mark Cuban

Can your customers buy an unlimited plan trial offer from an ad on their phone and activate it quickly and automatically at the pay station — without interacting with an attendant — across locations? The technology is readily available to deliver easy payment options for customers.

Being able to conduct business with your customers via a smartphone or watch is no longer “nice to have.”

Digital capability is the baseline expectation of customers choosing your wash. Get with your supplier to make sure you’re taking advantage of the latest options available to stand apart from the competition.

You also want to look beyond technology. Evaluate your hours of operation, rain-or-shine. You want to do your best to be open when customers feel it’s a convenient time to visit a car wash.

Next evaluate your menu. Have you carefully crafted incremental value into a limited number of wash packages that’s easy to understand? Have you made it easy for people to choose add-ons? Do your graphics and branding guide a person to desire the increased shine and protection of your top packages? Or does your offering leave people confused?

Digital signage has reinvented what’s possible. Digital has also made it easier to change things on the fly. Take advantage of it. I also recommend that you take time to audit your car wash site’s signage. Make sure you’re updating welcome signs and service signs often. These are affordable to update, and they keep your site looking fresh.

Outshine the Competition

Is the finished product you deliver so exceptional that customers feel compelled to share the experience?

In a perfect world the depth of shine and wash quality is so breathtaking they share a picture of their freshly washed car on social media. Although that might be the goal, every part of their experience on site can be photo worthy.

Lights, foam, and signage — what are you able to do to create an experience inside your tunnel that warrants a shareable picture? When was the last time you updated your landscaping and curb appeal from the street? Amenities at the vacuum station — do you have the features that are “so cool” or helpful that customers want to tell others about it?

Evaluate every corner of your property for your unique opportunities to stand out in your customer’s mind and you’ll be rewarded with increased frequency and revenue.

Create Shareable Moments

Before you make plans to deliver a unique customer value proposition, invest time in planning how you’ll help customer’s spread the word. Many of us struggle just to keep up with responses to online reviews. Unfortunately, that haphazard approach to social media sentiment barely works if you’re the only wash in a five-mile radius — a situation that will become increasingly rare as competition heats up in most regions.

I for one intend to remain relevant no matter who, or however many, build in my market. That demands engaging with customers online and creating promotions they want to share with their friends.

Think about it, the holidays are coming up. Unlimited plans are a great gift to give someone as the gift that keeps on giving! Promote this and make it easy for customers to promote it for you. Provide the right photo and caption. Your customers can snap a shot of it, share it, and provide a subtle hint to those that aren’t sure what to get the person that has everything.

Funny videos and contests are also an approach I’ve seen work well. Personally, I’m a fan of creating shareable moments through community service projects and fundraising partnerships.

Today’s POS technologies make it easy to share discount codes, sell fundraising wash books, and get creative with your programs. Ideas such as offering online coupons in exchange for supporting a cause can open the floodgates to a flow of new customers and “free” advertising.

Fifteen years ago, I had to go out of my way to go by a conveyorized car wash on my way home from work. Today, depending on the route I choose, I can pass up to three.

Today’s professional car wash is a real-estate-based business opportunity with limited labor and inventory. Add to that the predictable ROI, low barrier to entry, and the lack of a single chain dominating over 10 percent of total locations. It’s no wonder investors are flocking to our industry.

Things are heating up, no question about it. What won’t change is the fact that it’s extremely difficult to outcompete a business that has actively embedded itself in the community they serve.

In a nutshell: make it a hassle-free purchase process, have an ongoing commitment to customer service, and appeal to customers in ways that serve their local community. In a short period of time, you’ll dominate any market you choose.

Anthony Analetto has over 35 years’ experience in the car wash business and is a partner at SONNY’S The Car Wash Factory. 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.