April 20, 2021 | Jason Baumgartner
Whether you’ve owned your car wash for a year or it’s been in your family for decades, you’ve put your blood, sweat and tears into your business. And now you hear a competitor is moving in, threatening everything you’ve worked so hard for.
Your concern is reasonable, but believe it or not, you’re in the driver’s seat. The key is to use the time you have to strengthen your car wash against any competitor that might come your way.
Focus on Your Site
You can’t control what the competitor does, but you can make sure that your site is the best it can be. Take a critical look at your wash. Is it outdated? Does it need cosmetic fixes, such as painting? Are the branding and signage attractive and inviting? Make whatever improvements you can to ensure your site has good curb appeal.
Next, turn your attention to the inside of your wash. Is your equipment up to date? Are you using the right chemicals? Are you producing a clean, shiny and dry car? You don’t want to copy your competitor’s setup, but you do want to make sure yours is up to par. If you provide a C-minus car wash experience, you’re going to have a hard time competing with an A-plus competitor.
You also want to make sure you’re providing a unique experience. Think about your branding, lighting and other elements that you can highlight or add to make your wash special.
Boost Your Unlimiteds
Once you’re confident that your site is ready, it’s time to focus on your unlimited wash plan. Hopefully, you already have a healthy membership, but now you want to maximize it to lock in as many customers as you can. As long as your quality, experience, price and value are comparable to your new competitor, your members will have no reason to switch.
“Competition is inevitable,” said Bryan Watts, co-owner of the family-owned SolarShine Express Car Wash. “A healthy unlimited plan is the best insurance plan you can buy.”
Consider running promotions early and often while your competitor is still trying to get up and running. At Suds™, one of the more aggressive promotions we’ve helped deploy is a buy one, get one year free deal. For one client, we sold almost 1,000 plans in a matter of a few weeks. When a new wash moved in directly across the street, those customers were locked in with our client for two years because they had prepaid.
You don’t have to get that aggressive with your plan strategy, but you do need to have a strategy. The point is you want to do what you can to build your unlimited base. If you engage Suds, we can help you understand the risks and upsides of discounting your plans, recommend the best strategy and most importantly, help you execute your strategy.
Don’t Neglect Existing Members
While you’re chasing new members, don’t forget about your existing membership. Make sure you continually make them feel special and valued. It doesn’t have to be anything big or expensive. You could simply give them free towels (that you charge non-members a premium for) or provide a cleaning station with window cleaner and other supplies where they can self-detail their cars.
Also, make sure that you are collecting good contact information when they sign up for a plan. This allows you to communicate with them throughout their membership. This is especially important as you upgrade your site so you can share the improvements with them, allowing them to see the continued value in the plan.
Be Fast and Reliable
One thing that will have your customers looking for an alternative faster than anything is wasting their time. Your wash should always be up, running and moving cars through as fast as possible.
- Select reliable equipment and technology and make sure it’s well maintained to reduce downtime.
- If you have a tunnel, utilize NoPileups™ to increase capacity and reduce in-tunnel collisions that shut your tunnel down.
- Install self-serve pay stations.
- Consider members-only lanes so those on unlimited plans aren’t stuck waiting behind pay-as-you-go customers.
Lean into Local
If you’re a locally-owned and/or family business, you have a particular advantage in this situation. Over the past several years, there has been a big “buy local” trend across the country that has been boosted by the coronavirus pandemic.
Make sure your website and social channels tout your local ownership. Share throwback photos of your site to humanize your business and show that you’ve been part of the community a long time. Be authentic, friendly and active in the community.
SolarShine Express Car Wash, based in Monroe, NC, has done a particularly good job with this. Their About Us page talks about how they planned the car wash business around the family dinner table and introduces each of the family members who are part of the wash. They also highlight their family and their commitment to the community on their social media profiles.
“As the industry trends towards consolidation, we've found that being locally owned and family run is something that resonates with our customers,” Watts said. “Through social media and being ‘around town,’ we've been able to connect with our customers and community in a more direct way than a larger chain or national organization might be able to. It's a real advantage in an industry that has traditionally seen itself more as a commodity than as a place for strong brands and unique experiences.”
Hearing about a new wash moving in nearby can be a big blow, but you have the upper hand. Time is on your side. It takes time to build a wash, and that’s time you can use to prepare and fortify your site.