Determine What Your Market Demands

By  Anthony Analetto, President, SONNY's/The Car Wash Factory

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Life would be easy if customers were robotically logical and rational. The business that offered the highest-quality commodity most quickly, at the lowest price, would win every time. Unfortunately, customers don’t appreciate the work it takes to offer fast, affordable quality—that’s the bare minimum of what they expect. If you sell gas, it had better work in their car. Trying to sell fresh fruit? Don’t waste your time if you don’t make sure that it’s fresh and sweet every time. And if you wash cars? Well, if you don’t give them a reasonably clean, dry, shiny product every time, you’re just spinning your wheels.

So for this task, the determination of “what your market demands” is not to identify that they want a clean car. To be perfectly blunt, if they own a car, chances are that they want it to be clean and shiny. What you’re looking for are clues that tell you what your market values most about the experience. That’s the money question. Understanding your customer’s priorities and values is the foundation of growing your car-wash business. Let’s take a look.

Observe, Ask and Listen!

When looking to understand your customers, don’t overlook the obvious—just ask them. Listen to what they say. Watch what they do. But before walking up to them after they’ve washed their car, or while they’re at the pump after not buying a car wash, develop a list of questions to help you segment your market. In other words, ask questions that will help you understand which customers are your most profitable, when they like to wash, what they value most (time, wash quality, shine or maintenance/protection)and what other services available on your property they consume. This knowledge will influence your menus, wash packages and promotions, so get out there and ask! You may be surprised at how forthcoming they are about how you can help to serve them better.

Research Your Potential

Observing and interacting with customers on your property will aid you in getting them to buy more expensive car washes more often. But what about the people in your market you’re not currently serving? Before investing in a huge digital reader board, signage or direct marketing campaign to increase the capture rate of potential customers near your wash, first determine what that potential is. It starts with getting a demographic site report for your market. Simply search online for “demographic site report” and you’ll find a list of companies that can provide the information you need. Reference that data with estimated capture rates for your property characteristics, and you’ll have a platform for developing strategies to acquire, retain and cross-sell customers.

Research Your Competition

Quick: Without thinking about it, write down one competitive advantage of your car wash. Many business owners in nearly every industry struggle with this issue, which means that their customers will struggle to know why to choose them over the competition. Your competitive advantage lies in your ability to deliver a superior value. Do you offer the most convenient hours, easiest access, best quality wash, most attractive surroundings, fastest service, richest loyalty program or best cross-promotion discounts? Once you can promote a clear advantage that your competition either cannot or does not claim, you’re on your way to maximizing car-wash profits.

Survey Your Customers

In its easiest form, there’s really only one question you need to put on your survey: Would you recommend this car wash to a friend (scale of 1-10), and why or why not (leave room for an answer)? Putout a sign that says, “Get a free (cup of coffee, fountain drink, etc.) when you buy a car wash and fill out our survey.”Hand out this survey to every customer who buys a car wash at the register. At the end of the day, you’ll have learned how to earn repeat business while significantly increasing your car-wash revenue for the day. Now that’s effective marketing.

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