Turnaround Tactics for Underperforming Car Wash Sites

March 26, 2024

If you’re running a successful car wash business, it can be difficult to see one of your sites struggling. You know you can run a great car wash – you have plenty of other sites to prove it. So why is one site not performing as expected, and what can you do about it? 

The good news is that with some analysis and targeted actions, you can turn your underperforming site around. 

Identifying Underperformance

First, how do you know if you truly have an underperforming site besides a gut feeling? There are a few key metrics to check: 

Capture Rate 

This is the percentage of non-member visitors converting to memberships. Your capture rate should be 10%+ if you’re running a membership promotion. If your site is falling short, make sure your attendants are engaged and motivated and that they are properly conveying the value of membership to customers. 

Churn Rate  

Churn rate represents the percentage of members not renewing month-over-month. Anything over 5% is a red flag. You want steady growth with spikes for promotions. Flat or declining numbers signal an issue. You need to determine what’s driving customers away. 

Traffic Volume 

This is simply the number of customers coming to your site. Your team may be awesome at converting customers to members, but if you aren’t getting enough traffic to your site, you won’t be able to meet your revenue goals. To evaluate this key metric, compare your site to industry averages. You can also compare the traffic volume at this site to your other, more successful sites.  

Root Causes 

SUDS, DRB®'s analytics, software and design-driven car wash marketing agency, has almost a decade of experience helping operators boost performance at sites. Through trial and error, we've found that causes for underperformance tend to fall into one of four categories.   

1. Location 

No matter how well your site is run, issues like poor visibility, difficult access and lack of proximity to high-frequency retail can impact your traffic volume, severely limiting your site's potential. Consider running a site analysis report such as SUDS’ SiteSelect that will provide projected member count and projected revenue based on the location factors. 

Having a less-than-ideal location doesn't mean you can't grow. It may just take longer and require more effort. One simple remedy is signage to catch the attention of those driving past your site, especially when you’re running a promotion.  

You can also raise awareness with digital advertising rather than relying on drive-by traffic alone. Your ads can drive potential customers to a landing page that provides your location and directions so they can plan a visit. 

2. Customer Experience 

High churn, negative reviews and inconsistent customer interactions could mean there are gaps in your operations and customer service delivery. Here are some ways to find out if customer experience issues may be impacting your site: 

  • Third-party feedback – Are your standards and expectations for customer service being met? Getting feedback from a third party, such as a secret shopper, can open your eyes to what is actually happening at the site. 
  • Online reviews – Pay attention to your online reviews (Google, Yelp, Facebook, etc.). Make sure you have a process in place for responding to those reviews and addressing customer issues. Make note of issues that are mentioned frequently in reviews. 
  • Customer surveys – If you truly want to evaluate your customer experience, go straight to the source with a survey. To get customers to complete the survey, you may want to incentivize them, such as a chance to win a free year of membership, to get customers to complete a survey.  

With all this information, you should be able to identify areas to improve. You may need to coach and retrain your staff. You may need to address throughput issues. Or it could be as simple as adjusting your store hours to better meet customer needs. 

Don’t forget to make customers aware of changes you’ve made in response to their feedback. For example, if you do change hours to address customers’ needs, place a sign on-site that says, "Now Open Later.” 

3. Market Awareness 

If you have the operations locked down but still suffer from low traffic and membership numbers, it likely indicates that your local market doesn’t know you’re there. This could go back to a location issue, or it could just be a lack of proper marketing.  

Look at your online presence. If you don’t have many reviews or social media followers, try more paid advertising and community engagement, such as fundraisers. Do an SEO audit of your website. Are you coming up in search results when people search for a car wash in your city? If you're not, you probably need to upgrade your onsite SEO and look at those keywords. Additionally, make sure you have claimed your listings on Google My Business, Yelp, etc., and that they are complete and accurate. Those little things add up.  

If you didn’t start with a strong go-to-market campaign, that may also be coming back to haunt you. You can make up for lost time with some new promotions and campaigns, utilizing a multi-channel approach that includes online advertising, social media posts, onsite signage, email marketing, etc. 

4. Pricing 

Pricing issues can be harder to detect on your own, but there are signs to look for: 

  • 40-60% of customers are flocking to one wash package, particularly if it’s the lowest package. 
  • You’re experiencing high membership churn after the first month. 
  • You have decent traffic but a low capture rate. 

If you see these signs at your wash, we recommend that you do a PrecisionPricing analysis with us to optimize your pricing, improve ticket averages and improve overall revenue. We have found that, on average, optimizing pricing can add an additional $2 to $3 in both retail and member ticket average. That really adds up. Make sure to support your optimized pricing with strong menu and pay station screen designs that drive customers to choose your top package. 

Turning it Around: An Example 

One multi-site operator SUDS worked with had a location with just 619 members despite a projected potential of 2,700-3,200 based on a SiteSelect location analysis. They also had very low capture rates under 5% and moderately high churn. 

After analyzing the root causes, we identified market awareness and pricing as the two main issues holding this site back. We restructured their pricing to create more compelling options and convert more customers to higher wash packages. We also executed a grand re-opening campaign with signage, website upgrades and marketing pushes to increase exposure and awareness. 

The results were dramatic. Within a year, membership more than tripled to over 2,600, capture rates more than tripled to 13%+ and churn was cut in half. Our interventions allowed this site to unlock its full potential. 

Don’t Give Up 

That example shows that an underperforming site can be revived. No matter what ails your underperforming site, working through a structured process to pinpoint the root causes and developing a targeted action plan can pay huge dividends in optimizing revenues and profits. If you'd like help evaluating your sites, please request a SUDS consultation today

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