Carwash Marketing and Customer Retention – Back to Basics
Creating marketing and promotions that work are a great challenge for car wash owners and operators. The fundamental problem that many car washes run into is that they will never generate the level of customer loyalty that they are hoping for unless they meet the basic needs of their customers first. If a wash owner can identify consumer behavior, he or she will be in a better position to target products and services at them. Buyer behavior is focused upon the needs of individuals, groups, and organizations.
It is important to understand the relevance of human needs to buyer behavior because marketing is about satisfying needs. Mazlow’s Hierarchy of Needs is taught in psychology classes around the world and the theory outlines the very basic human needs that must be provided in order to truly experience higher emotions such as achievement, respect, and self-esteem. At the lowest tier of this hierarchy are the basic needs such as food, air, water, heat, and the basic necessities of survival need to be satisfied. You cannot move up to higher levels of the hierarchy unless your basic needs are met.
Consumers also have a very specific set of needs that must be addressed. To understand consumer buyer behavior is to understand how the person interacts with your marketing message.
Consider that every consumer is going to be influenced by their culture and word of mouth, attitude towards washing, their ability to learn by instruction (customer education), and their perceptions of the wash facility. There are a number of NEEDS that must first be met before a consumer can move to making a purchasing decision, location choice, brand choice, and any other choices they will inevitably make.
At the very basic level a car wash operator must appeal to the basic needs of their customer before they can consider focusing on establishing customer loyalty.
The decision making process for a customer of a car wash will be to first determine which car wash facilities they will use followed by comparing the available choices against a number of other criterion.
Basic Need 1: Quality
This is where it comes down to truth in advertising. You need to provide the very basics for a customer to properly wash their vehicle. If you cannot clean the car with soap and water your failing as a business that specializes in vehicle care. It should be no surprise to a wash owner that people will stop using your wash if it does not get their car clean. The second aspect of quality is when a customer has access to problem-free equipment. If wash equipment is damage or in disrepair this will impact whether a customer will use your facility.
Basic Need 2: Appearance
Most wash customers rate cleanliness as one of the most important factors of a car wash. Locations with dirty walls, peeling instruction signs and faded decals will see a noticeable drop in customer retention.
Basic Need 3: Safety
Customers that visit car wash facilities next consider their safety when using a wash facility. Locations with poor lighting and excessive loitering will drive customers away and keep them from coming back if they did not feel safe when using the wash facility.
Basic Need 4: Value
In order to create a loyal customer a car wash owner needs to create value in the service that they provide. Value is going to be perceived differently by every customer and as a wash owner you need to evaluate your demographics to find out what will be the most important to them.
Examples of Value Propositions:
Environmentally Friendly – A car wash that focuses on environmental stewardship, water conservation, energy conservation, sustainable chemicals, and promotes this will create value for a wide demographic.
Charity Support – Car wash owners have the opportunity to get involved in their local community by supporting local charities and organizations. Car wash operations have a huge opportunity to be known as the community-based wash business in town.
Car Wash Club – By taking advantage of a loyalty card system car wash operators can give customers a reason to ‘buy-in’ to their loyalty program through incentives and promotions. Consumers have been trained by big-box retail to be a card-carrying customer and operations that take advantage of loyalty card programs are highly competitive in their local markets.
Rain Guarantees – Many full service and express wash operations offer a rain guarantee which gives a consumer piece of mind and security in their wash purchase.
Unlimited Wash Programs – Programs that allow for unlimited washes in exchange for a monthly payment or an annual subscription have been found to be highly successful in certain markets.
Low Price Guarantee – There has been a huge explosion in the number of low-cost express washes opening up around the country. This model will not work for every owner or even every market, but the growing trend is worth watching. Some markets are having record-breaking profits and others struggle to make ends meet with such low margins.
Superior Customer Service – Having great services has long been one of the big selling points for going to a full service carwash. Whenever you have employees on site you have a wonderful opportunity to provide great customer service.
Customer loyalty is something that is earned by a business by satisfying your customers needs as a consumer. If you can meet the basic needs, establish value in your services, and remain consistent in the delivery of your service your customers will remain regular customers.
What does success look like?
In order to appeal to the widest number of customers your focus should be to focus on getting back to basics. Once you can be the clean, safe, quality carwash that offers simple value statements to your customers you can then focus on additional value added promotions to bring customers back.
The difference between a successfully promoted business and a business that fails to promote successfully is that in the long run you are remembered by your customers for what you’ve done for them. Far too many car wash businesses think that by slashing prices and giving huge discounts will win over new customers. Discounting only goes so far when you are trying to bring in new customers because discounting is temporary and long-term price cuts hurt your bottom line. As long as you are meeting your customers basic needs a successful promotion will engage your customers and community in ways that will endear themselves to you and your business. A successfully promoted car wash business will not be known as “the cheap wash” in their community. The successful wash in town will be known as “the charity wash”, “the fundraiser wash”, “the wash that drives the funny car in the local parade”, “the fast wash”, “the convenient wash”, or we can hope at the very least the wash is known as, “the wash that gets my car clean”. These are the value statements that we should strive for within our local communities and with the customers we do business with.