September 18, 2019 | Todd Davy
The unlimited wash plan is no longer a new concept. Rather, it has become an industry standard. Still, we often hear questions from operators about how to run a successful monthly car wash plan.
Whether you’re new to the industry, just now deciding to create a plan for your established wash or looking to get more out of your existing plan, these tips will help you achieve maximum profitability.
Wash Plan Levels
We’re often asked how many different options an unlimited monthly plan should have. A simple rule of thumb is to offer an unlimited version of each single wash package you sell. So that begs the question: How many single wash options should you have?
Our research shows that the ideal number of single wash packages is three. When you give customers more than three choices, they often become overwhelmed and pick the lowest-priced wash by default.
When pricing your single wash packages, make the gap between the middle- and highest-priced washes smaller than the gap between the lowest- and middle-priced washes. A good span between the two highest-level options is $2. For example:
- Good Wash – $7
- Better Wash – $12
- Best Wash – $14
When the customer realizes that the top two washes are only $2 apart, they will be more likely to buy the “Best.” Therefore, you’ll see a higher ticket average with this type of pricing structure.
Once you’ve established your single wash package structure, you can move on to your unlimited plan pricing.
Wash Plan Pricing
It’s important when pricing your unlimited plan that you create a win-win situation. Customers have to feel like they’re getting great value, but it also has to be lucrative for your wash.
A common recommendation is to apply a multiple of two to the price of each single wash package to determine the price of its unlimited counterpart. For example, if a single Good Wash is $7, the Good Wash unlimited plan option should be priced at $14. This pricing structure is easy to explain and sell: If the customer visits the wash just twice in the month, they’ve gotten their money’s worth.
Don’t get hung up on your dollar per car metric or worry about customers “abusing” the plan. If you do it right, the large number of monthly plan members will make up for it. In fact, you want to encourage new members to use their wash plan a lot in the first month. Our research shows that members who use their plan four or more times in the first month stay in the plan longer, resulting in a higher yearly revenue per customer and a more profitable wash for you.
Following with our single wash pricing strategy above, you’ll want to play with the multiple to maintain the $2 difference between the Better and Best plan options. For example, the single wash pricing above of $14 – $12 – $7 might become $29 – $27 – $19 for the unlimited plan packages. Again, this pushes more consumers into buying your “Best Plan,” which leads to a higher dollar-per-customer.
Another consideration is family plans for those who may want to wash multiple vehicles under the same plan. Instead of having them buy another full-price plan, you can give them a discount on additional vehicles.
Finally, for those large fleet accounts or Uber/Lyft vehicles, consider offering a “Renewable Wash Credit” plan. In these plans, the customer purchases five washes with their credit card. When the customer redeems the fifth wash in the plan, the system automatically sells another five washes to the consumer and charges it to their credit card. For fleets or rideshare vehicles that may wash 20 times in a month, you can increase your revenue by selling them this type of plan.
Maximize Customer Convenience
A major benefit of joining an unlimited wash plan is the convenience of not having to pay every time you need a wash. You want to do everything you can to enhance that convenience factor.
If you have pay stations, make sure the plan is clearly defined and priced on your menu. Be sure to point out the benefits and value. It should be super simple to sign up at the pay stations, as well as on your website and mobile app.
Once customers are signed up, provide a friction-free experience. The best way to do that is to employ an automatic vehicle identification system that automatically lets them through the gate and communicates the correct wash to the tunnel.
- RFID – Until recently, Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) was the only option. In this type of system, a reader scans a tag placed on the windshield to identify the vehicle. There are some drawbacks to this method. Some customers don’t like having a sticker on their windshield, and it can be intrusive to have an employee reach in their car to place it there. It also adds a manual step to the signup process. Finally, a number of factors (window tints, multiple RFID tags, car technology, etc.) have made it harder for tags to be read.
- License Plate Recognition – This newer technology identifies plan members by scanning their license plates, eliminating the need for RFID tags. LPR also allows car washes to identify non-member vehicles, providing opportunities to personalize marketing messages. You could use it to encourage non-plan members who visit your wash often to take advantage of an unlimited plan.
Be sure to select a technology provider that can help you navigate these options and provide you with solutions that are reliable and scalable.
Managing Your Unlimited Wash Plan
With the right point-of-sale system, ongoing management of your unlimited plan should be minimal because the POS will automatically recharge members’ cards to renew their memberships monthly. You will need to decide when members should be charged each month. Many car washers find that performing recharges on members’ anniversary dates is the best way to go because you don’t have to prorate as you do when you select a blanket date for all recharges.
Make sure that the POS has a protocol for anniversaries on the 29th, 30th or 31st of the month. When a month comes up that doesn’t have the original anniversary date, the system should automatically move the anniversary/recharge date to either the 1st or the 28th of the month going forward.
Additionally, you’ll need to decide what happens when a member’s credit card is declined. A good POS system will continue to retry the card for whatever length of time you determine. It’s up to you to decide what that period of time is and whether you’ll allow the member to continue to wash while the card is being retried.
Even though your plan can basically run on auto-pilot once it’s set up, you should use the reports provided by your POS to monitor membership and usage numbers regularly, making adjustments where needed. For instance, if you find that your lowest level is the most popular, you may want to look at your pricing and feature structure to make your high-priced packages more attractive. If you notice that certain times of the year are slow for new memberships, you may want to run promotions during those times.
Speaking of promotions, marketing is another huge factor in the success of your unlimited plan. It doesn’t matter how great of a value your plan is if no one knows about it.
Basically, any methods you use to market your car wash in general can be used to boost your unlimited plan memberships. Here are some marketing ideas that have worked for car washers who have implemented successful plans.
- Pay station screens – Make sure that the plan is prominently and clearly displayed with features and prices of each level. Point out how they will only have to wash twice a month (or whatever the calculation is for your plan) to get value from joining.
- Signage – Utilize the signage you have at your site: menu boards, wind signs, digital signs, gate signage, etc.
- Website and mobile app – Provide calls-to-action in these areas to promote the plan. Make it easy to join, upgrade and manage plans online.
- Social media – Post about your plan often, especially when you have special discounts available. Consider using Facebook ads to further promote these deals.
- Email – Encourage customers to sign up for emails for discounts, news, etc. You can then utilize email marketing for your unlimited plan promotions.
- Advertise – In additional to social media advertising, you can leverage search engine advertising and place print and media ads.
- Employees – Train employees well on selling unlimited plans and consider providing commissions or bonuses for doing so. You may want to put attendants at the pay station to assist customers and educate them on the value of the plan.
- Partner with other businesses – Have coupons printed on the receipts of local grocery stores. Work with car dealerships to offer a free month on the plan to new car owners.
- Direct mail – Send out coupons for a free or discounted month. Run special promotions for those who have just moved into the area.
- Flyers/Brochures – Include coupons and hand them out at events. Give them to your best customers to share and give them to Uber or Lyft drivers to pass out to their customers.
- First-timer discounts– Offer a discounted or first month to encourage signups.
- Uniforms – Put an unlimited plan message on the front and/or back of uniforms so employees are walking billboards for plans.
- Grand opening trail periods – Offer a week or two free during your grand opening. Be sure you capture customers’ email addresses so you reach out to them if they decide not to become a paid member.
Just don’t forget to market your unlimited plans! Set aside a marketing budget each month to help promote and grow your membership base.
Establishing and running a successful unlimited car wash plan does not have to be difficult or frustrating. By following these tips, you can offer a plan that both you and your customers love.