It’s October. My son just sent me the creative samples for the holiday gift card program he’s putting together for his wash.

Signage, social media ads, flyers, sales training and targets, KPIs — the works. The phrase “Winter is Coming,” popped into my mind. The glorious time of year that brings people to the car wash in droves. Whether it’s getting the salt off the vehicle after a snowstorm in the north, the influx of snowbirds to the south, or visiting relatives for the holidays, the fact is, in most markets, people wash their vehicles more in the winter.

New customers. Infrequent customers. By definition, the seasonal uptick in volume means you’re staring at many opportunities to win your unfair share. You need to deliver an experience that exceeds expectations. You need to sell gift cards for customers to give to their friends and family to try your wash. You need to help your customers realize they’d be foolish to purchase a single wash when, for a low monthly price, they can join your unlimited plan.

Consistency and Quality

Without a foundation of delivering a consistently clean, dry, shiny vehicle, everything else is an uphill battle.

Pick a slow Tuesday. Run a subcompact, an SUV, and a pickup truck through each of your wash packages. Don’t prep. Don’t wipe. List all the deficiencies. And then, note from one to 20 how visible they are to a customer.

Next, increase the chain speed to process your busiest day — the kind we all dream about — and list all areas missed for each vehicle profile again. Compare the lists. Retrofit, supplement, or replace any part of the wash process that isn’t up to snuff.

Take a ride through the tunnel for each wash package. Are you impressed with how clean the walls, cloth, and equipment are? Are you proud of the foam applications, scents, and signage? Are all the LED lights in place to elevate the show? Does the customer experience reinforce the value of each incremental application to justify the increase in price? To build volume year-round, you want to use the winter months to win first-time and infrequent customers.

Facility Appearance

Every detail matters when crafting a customer experience. Once your tunnel experience is dialed in, turn your attention to every corner of your facility. Your site must be clean, well maintained with paved surfaces, curbs, and anything a customer sees in good repair.

Attractive and trimmed landscaping, well-groomed employees in uniform, and freshly painted buildings are the bare minimum.

Elevating the vacuum area before the uptick in volume during the winter can really pay off. Now’s the time to act. You may want to add matt cleaners, blow guns, new vacuum nozzles, or replace canopies with a new color to highlight your brand. Show customers that as a car wash, you care about the overall experience, and this will leave them with a positive lasting impression.

Are You Prepared for the Perfect Storm?

The first hours after the roads clear and customers are in dire need of removing that hazy salt film are priceless. Get your contracts in place for snow removal now to ensure you’re first in line to reopen after the perfect storm. Make sure you’re stocked to the gills with chemistry and critical replacement parts before the first flake falls and disrupts deliveries. The surest way to grow volume during the winter is to be open after a major storm.

Review your hours of operation. Is your car wash consistently available when your customers want to wash? Perhaps you’ve had the same hours or offered the same early-bird and happy-hour promotions for years.

Are you sure those times still fit your customers’ schedules?

Some operators have captured large car counts during hours they were previously closed. Look at your reports and demographic trends in your market. A change in hours, or the timing of hourly promotions, may be the perfect investment to grow your business this season.

You also want to start sharing your seasonal hours on social media, your website, pay stations, and rack cards. And as the season gets closer, you want to focus on targeting customers in the vicinity of your wash. Having this in place and put together before the season starts humming means you’ll be in the full swing of things when the opportunity presents itself.

Show Customers Some Love

Rewash guarantees, free vacuums, customer satisfaction surveys, towel exchange programs, custom air fresheners — the possibilities are endless. I’ve known operators that hand out dog treats to customers’ pets and swear by these tactics.

Once you’ve decided on the items you’d like to invest in, hire a marketing company to help promote them across your site. Your customers will feel connected to your wash and be more likely to return. Too often I’ll see a wash with perks such as a “48-hour Rain Guarantee” but they hide it on the bottom of the menu like it’s a disclaimer they hope nobody will notice. That’s a mistake.

Tell customers about your great programs to let them know you love them!

Get Found First Online

“Car wash near me.” “Car wash coupon.” What do you think those infrequent and new customers driving volume in the busy season may search for? Also think about holiday shoppers searching online for ideas. “Car wash gift card.” “Best gift card idea.” Your best investment this season might be in digital marketing and social media to get found first. Afterall, reviewing a Holiday Gift Card blitz campaign our marketing agency put together is what gave me the idea for this article.

First Impressions

Customers must be greeted with a smile and sent off with a smile. If that isn’t happening, then you must reevaluate your training procedures and hiring practices until it is. And it never hurts to have mystery washers audit your wash. Give your friends, family, and neighbors the gift of a free wash for honest feedback.

Make sure all employees at all locations are trained on your processes and procedures and they understand how to actively promote and sell gift cards. 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.

Having your employees onboard will factor into the success of the program and your overall profit.

Plan Early

From my experience, have your plans in place in early October to maximize the profit potential of the winter season. Those that plan early enough will likely toast in the New Year with a significant gain to their bottom line.

Anyone hoping to take in their unfair share of business during the upcoming busy winter season would be wise to let this quote credited to Abraham Lincoln guide them to success: “Things may come to those who wait, but only the things left by those who hustle.”

If the depth of your preparation begins and ends with doing the required maintenance to make sure your wash doesn’t shut down on a busy Saturday, my guess is that you’ll only find yourself with the things left by those that truly hustle.

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.