Think about the biggest launches of the decade: Every new Chick-fil-A that pops up, Apple iPad, Apple Watch, Game of Thrones, Dollar Shave Club, Peloton, Tesla, E-cigarettes. What do all these launches have in common? They marketed before, on, and post opening day.

Many businesses plan and focus so much on the Grand Opening day, they forget to focus on the pre- and post-activities. It is events like the local-community feel of a Chick-fil-A grand opening that teach us how to successfully launch and grow a local business.

The challenge truly lies in where you spend your time. Ask yourself a few key questions when reopening after an express conversion: What’s the best way to generate buzz? Attract new customers? And create goodwill?

Kickstart Your Grand Opening

Establish the date you’ll reopen as an express wash and work backwards about two to three months. At this point, put the focus on people with an emphasis on the “friendly” customer experience. By friendly, I mean the core driver of your express wash is to take out the complexity of washing a car — ease of use, speed of service, convenience, VIP with LPR, free vacs, quality, and value.

Make sure these same qualities are crisp and clear in all your marketing materials and start communicating to your customers ahead of your express conversion grand opening. People are naturally curious about change. Do not underestimate the number of eyes you have watching your wash construction in progress, and take this as an opportunity to build the buzz.

Get Your Customers On-Board Early

How does Apple sell out of new iPhones before they are even available? They get everyone talking about a product before it goes on sale. How do they do this? Well, they are Apple. But the strategy is one anyone can use. People, especially your loyal customers, like to be the first to know. And when they are the first to know, they share. These are your influencers and there is no better way to build the excitement than having your loyal customers market for you.

Hire Help

Know where your weaknesses are or where your time is limited. Spend money to shore things up. Hire a marketing consultant or agency to help with the marketing you can’t or don’t want to do yourself. The marketing you do should help drive sales so you can do more with your business, faster. It’s well worth the investment.

Take Pre-Sales with Digital Base

This may be one of the most overlooked grand re-opening strategies out there. Your wash has been around for a while. You have a set of customers already. As soon as you share your plans to convert into an express wash, your customers will be eager to join your new wash club or try out your tunnel. So, let them! Harness the enthusiasm. Have your website and e-commerce set up. Communicate with flyers, rack cards, and antenna signs. Tell the people visiting your wash during conversion what your pre-grand opening promotion is and provide specific directions on how to sign-up.

Establish Your Local Presence

Chick-fil-A gets it, so can you. Although Chick-fil-A is a national brand, each location works hard to connect to the local community. From kids’ nights to community specific events, the brand gets involved in local customs. They decorate with local marketing pieces, provide in-store promotions and activities, and get involved in community events. All of this provides great potential for word-of-mouth advertising as customers chat it up within their peer groups, effectively reaching the local, target market.

Turn Your Grand Opening into an Event

Flags, balloons, signs — as the time nears to reopen as an express, let everyone that drives by know something important is happening and they need to pay attention. If you make a big deal about your pre-grand opening and grand opening day, existing and potential customers will take it more seriously, and it will be reflected in your sales.

Social Media is Word-of-Mouth on Steroids

People love social media. It’s a powerful, informal way to spread information quickly and effectively. The key is creating shareable content that socially benefits the person posting. Remember this: it’s about them (your customers) more so than it’s about you. Use hashtags specific to your business or promotion as a great way to encourage followers: “Use this #hashtag to enter to win a monthly wash membership” or “share your wash post on Facebook/Instagram tagging @YourCarWashName to enter to win a monthly wash membership.” All are great ways to increase visibility of your car wash.

Three Days Before Re-Opening

The beauty of technology. Years ago, you might have washed all cars free for a day and missed making a splash with most of the market. Now with the advent of license plate recognition, you have options to run a “Free First Car Wash Campaign” over a period of time. These systems can automatically identify which cars are first timers and adjust everything at the pay station automatically.

So, all those COVID-quarantined customers, sitting at their computer at home, now get a digital ad to come in for their first wash free. Yelp, Facebook, Instagram, Nextdoor, YouTube, and Google all have paid advertising. When hiring an agency to manage everything, focus on how they report results. This is incredibly powerful stuff, but it’s not set it and forget it. You need to constantly review performance to make sure the money you’re spending makes sense.

The Bottom Line:
Plan Your Re-Opening

Be deliberate about your re-opening launch plan. Specifically, what are you going to tell people? Who are you going to tell? How are you going to tell them? And when is the plan going to roll out?

Grand Re-Opening Day

The goal of your grand re-opening event is to get the community talking about your car wash. Make sure it’s a conversation about how fast and convenient your service is. How astonishingly shiny their car is. What an amazing deal they are getting with the unlimited wash club at one low price.

Post-Grand Opening

Armed with your e-commerce enabled website, social media presence, and digital marketing, you have the tools you need to create buzz and drive traffic on-going. Need to boost your membership program? Try offering the first three months for $10 a month or 50 percent off the first month of your top plan. Start a refer-a-friend program, anniversary rewards, or connect to the community by hosting fundraising events.

Control the Conversation

Never risk customers posting a one-star review or negative comments without you having a notification within seconds and the ability to respond quickly. You can beat it to death with expensive admin labor that personally replies to every online review. Or (like I do) subscribe to a reputation management service to do much of the heavy lifting for you.

Your grand re-opening as an express wash is your introduction to your new normal. Dedicate the amount of time, detail, and resources it deserves.

Good luck, and good washing.

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