Why should a customer choose your wash over any other? If you closed your business today, would the community remember it?

 I’m writing this on June 4, 2022. Six years ago today, one of the greatest brands that ever existed died. I only know this because the better part of a decade has passed, and a colleague forwarded me that brand’s obituary from June 4, 2016. I like boxing. So do they. I assume it must have popped into one of their social media feeds. Maybe someone else forwarded it to them. Doesn’t matter. What matters as a business owner is understanding the insight it provides into crafting a brand that endures. Muhammad Ali wrote it out for us precisely in his statement on “How I Would Like to Be Remembered.” So much so that I’d like to reprint it here. Read it. Study it. It sums up everything you need to know on how to build a brand so strong others will find it difficult to compete:

“I would like to be remembered as a man who won the heavyweight title three times, who was humorous, and who treated everyone right. As a man who never looked down on those who looked up to him, and who helped as many people as he could. As a man who stood up for his beliefs no matter what. As a man who tried to unite all humankind through faith and love. And if all that’s too much, then I guess I’d settle for being remembered only as a great boxer who became a leader and a champion of his people. And I wouldn’t even mind if folks forgot how pretty I was.”

Following his loss in the famed “Rumble in the Jungle,” George Foreman said: “Muhammad amazed me, I’ll admit it. He out-thought me, he out-fought me. That night, he was just the better man in the ring.” That fight happened in 1974. More than a few of you reading this weren’t even born at the time. Yet, almost 50 years later, I’m willing to wager that nearly everyone has heard either the tagline “Rumble in the Jungle” or “Float Like a Butterfly, Sting Like a Bee.”

George Foreman is a powerhouse brand in his own right. But the point I want to make using his quote above is about making sure you really are the best at what you do. “He out-thought me:” What is your strategy to win every customer? “He out-fought me:” How do you intend to deliver a cleaner, dryer, and shinier car than the wash thinking to enter your market? Amazing performance first. Enduring brand second. Reverse that order or discount performance and no amount of marketing magic can overcome over time.

Customer’s Choice

So, why should a customer choose your wash over any other? Go ahead, give it a try. Not so easy, is it? I’m going to call this short phrase your “brand promise.” The first time I tried, I barely uttered: “We deliver a clean car fast and affordable.” A generic commodity. 

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. Here is a thought question another colleague gave me many years ago to help formulate a brand for my wash: If I told you to go and buy a 2×4 piece of lumber, where would you go to buy it? Without hesitation, I answered my preferred home improvement store. They pushed me to answer why. What about the store draws me in? The answers rolled out without thought. Easy returns. Product selection and organization that makes sense to me. Seamless online account management. Ads, logos, and taglines I connect with. My ‘aha’ moment came once I realized that brand trumps commodity. What can you say or do that competitors either don’t do or don’t claim to do?

Are You More Convenient?

Like most things at a car wash, owning the convenience position starts with labor — or more accurately, the absence of labor. Convenient hours of operation, rain or shine.

Consistent service time. Things far easier to master when you remove labor from the wash process.

Menus, wash packages, and club memberships must assist customers in making quick confident decisions. License plate recognition, online account management, and well-trained staff must make the transaction so easy they fear going anywhere else.

Community Involvement

Fundraising programs are an essential component of community involvement but aren’t the only path to owning this distinction in your market. Be creative. There are endless opportunities to align your car wash with community interests — just don’t forget to share your effort with followers on your social media networks.

That said, hosting charity wash days with a percent of the profits going to the organization can both increase traffic and present a great opportunity for media coverage. Another favorite is for kids to sell wash books and keep a part of the profit. Leverage technology to improve performance. Most pay stations have some mechanism for a customer to enter a code to donate a portion of their payment to a favorite charity. Imagine all the students and parents involved in your fundraising event sending out electronic codes to friends and relatives across the Internet to buy your top package. Picture thousands of potential customers planning a trip to your wash to help the people and causes that they care about.

Quality Wash Plus

The relentless pursuit of perfection in delivering a quality wash is only one part of the challenge. You’ll need to focus equal, if not greater, effort on creating a memorable customer experience. Start with uniforms, signage, landscaping, logos, taglines, and everything that a customer can touch or see. Inside the tunnel use LED lighting, coordinated scents, and clean wall paneling to reinforce the sense of clean and quality. Analyze staff interactions and develop standardized greetings and procedures. From bowties to fire breathing dragons and wash themed comic books for the kids, I’ve seen it all. The common denominator for those who succeed is that they actively train every employee with their customer service philosophy to support it.

Write Down Your Brand Promise Today

Hopefully I’ve sparked some thoughts about what sets your business apart from every competitor in the marketplace. Read your brand promise out loud. Keep it short and simple, communicate with clarity and repeat and refine it until you feel it’s so compelling that customers hearing it will believe your car wash offers a value proposition that’s important to them and distinct in the market. Hire a marketing agency that can create logos, signage, messages, menu boards, rack cards, and architectural building enhancements to reinforce your core message in your customer’s mind. Train your employees to live, breathe, and believe in your proposition. From that base, you can float like a butterfly, sting like a bee, and rest assured your customers will find you, remember you, and return.

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.