The car wash industry is getting more competitive than ever. In the last few decades, it’s seen incredible growth and a larger customer base, thanks to more favorable opinions about the value of professional car wash services. As the industry grows, more companies are entering the playing field. Every new business can eat away at your customer base, slicing up the local market into smaller pie pieces. Making your business more attractive to clients compared to other nearby car washes in an evolving market requires a comprehensive strategy. Follow these tips to build out yours.
Know Your Competition
Your competitors offer something different from you. They’re located somewhere else, have a distinct service menu and price range, and may cater to another demographic. Knowing what their advantages and vulnerabilities are and how they stack up to yours is critical. It helps you bolster your own strengths and exploit other companies’ weaknesses. The more research you can conduct, the better off you’ll be. As you learn about your competitors, ask yourself these questions.
Are There Local Car Washes Around?
The answer is likely yes. Most car washes have at least one other competitor in their service area. According to 2019 research, nearly a quarter of car washes compete with six to 10 other car washes, and competition has only increased in recent years. More than half of car wash operators were considering or planning to open or purchase a car wash in 2019.
Your direct competition includes any car wash within a three-mile radius of yours. In a small town, you might look at fellow operations in the neighboring areas, even if they fall outside your radius. Those along the same main route as yours, even miles away, could also be formidable rivals.
What Is Their Reputation?
Every car wash has a reputation with their regular customers and even those who have never been there. Their standing comes from how they market themselves, the types of cars that pull into their lot, the building’s overall look and the general feelings they invoke with the locals. For example, a franchise with nationwide branches might seem too slick in a small town with a robust small and local business economy.
As you look at each competitor’s reputation, one place to look is local news reports. These can tell you about some press-worthy events related to the business. Did the car wash fight tooth and nail with city hall to open their doors? Do they run regular charity events with high school sports teams? The local news often reports on these factors and may even interview people for their takes on the matter. These reports can give you an indication of the general public’s opinion.
Next, look at online reviews to see what their customers think. They could be known for their luxury service or the best prices in town. You can even survey your customers to see if they’ve tried other nearby washes and what they think of them. Looking at your reputation compared to your business rivals can give you an idea of where to improve and how to target your competitors’ customers most effectively.
What Do They Offer?
In the car wash industry, everything from the wash facility to the soap affects the customer experience. Look at the types of car washes in your area and what their business model offers customers. The basic types include:
- In-bay: An in-bay wash offers a quick wash with the convenience of equipment or employees doing all the work. The car pulls up to a bay, where automatic equipment or employees spray down and wash the vehicle. Customers pay a mid-range price for in-bay washes.
- Tunnel: A tunnel or conveyor wash requires cars to pull up onto a track that moves the car through a lineup of wash equipment. A tunnel wash’s price range depends. An express tunnel may cost just a few dollars, while a higher service level may bring the cost per visit into the $10-$20 range.
- Self-service: A self-serve car wash offers a cheap, do-it-yourself experience with high-pressure hoses and concentrated cleaning chemicals available in a wash bay.
- Flex: A flex facility is a type of tunnel wash that offers a fast basic wash. It will have add-on services to let each customer choose what kind of clean and level of attention they need.
- Full-service: A full-service facility uses the tunnel wash model, with employees performing handwashing services alongside the automatic equipment, depending on the purchased package. Full-service washes have the highest ticket price.
- Automatic: An automatic wash uses equipment rather than manual labor. Usually, automatic washes bring speed and convenience while sacrificing some of the personal attention to detail.
- Manual: A manual wash can provide a human touch and more thorough detailing. It includes any wash that’s performed by hand rather than machinery. The price range varies greatly, from DIYers washing their cars for free or paying the neighborhood kids a few bucks to a professional luxury detailer that could charge several hundred dollars.
- Friction: Any car wash, whether manual or automatic, where hands or brushes touch the car is a friction car wash. Some customers may find that an automatic friction wash jostles their car or creates a lot of unpleasant noise. Others see physical scrubbing as essential to getting the best clean.
- Frictionless: A wash bay can use high-pressure water and powerful cleaning chemicals to wash a car without any direct contact. Customers may find these quieter and gentler, and they’re generally found in in-bay car washes.
Evaluate all the unique car care facilities in your radius, and rank them in terms of competitiveness. Are self-service car washes profitable when the nearby in-bay washes charge the same price? How about when the others charge just a dollar or two more? The profitability and competitiveness of each nearby business can depend on the car washes around it and the customers they serve.
Besides the services, price range and experience each business offers, you can also look at the packages and add-on services available. Are the vacuums free or paid? Does the business have an unlimited wash club? What kind of waxes or sealants do they offer?
Identify Customer Pain Points
Your customers come to you because you solve a particular problem — a dirty vehicle. Some customers clean their cars to keep them shiny and new. Others want to extend their car’s lifespan. Understanding your customers’ reasons for choosing a car wash can help you cater to them best. Some customers worry about maintaining their vehicle and are unaware that professional cleaning can keep their cars on the road for longer. Educating these customers lets you address a pain point they didn’t realize you were qualified to solve.
If you can quell each customers’ pain points better than the competition, you’ll turn them into loyal patrons. This involves two steps. The first step is to understand why customers get their vehicles washed. The next is to understand the pain points customers experience coming to your facility and then removing friction. You’ll approach commercial clients’ and consumers’ pain points slightly differently.
Commercial Fleet Pain Points
When landing a commercial client or working with an existing customer, you usually have the opportunity to talk to the client about their pain points as part of your sales process. When sitting down or chatting with commercial fleet managers, ask them:
- What is your company’s most significant obstacle to growth?
- What is your biggest obstacle personally?
- What matters the most to your manager or supervisor?
- Which tasks take the most of your time?
- What complaints do you receive?
- What might be the reason for any recent customer losses?
Every business is unique, and fleet managers may be juggling many concerns. If you want to sign and maintain contracts with fleet customers, you must understand and approach their pain points individually. As you learn about these struggles, identify ways your car wash can solve them. For example, if a fleet manager faces pressure to cut costs, ask yourself if it’s worth working out a special discount or pricing model. It may be worth landing a sizeable commercial account for less than you usually charge if it means undercutting the competition.
Another fleet manager might want to save time and cut down on wash frequency. For this client, you might suggest an upgraded sealant or wax that keeps the vehicles clean and shiny for longer.
Consumer Pain Points
A few years ago, Professional Carwashing & Detailing Magazine interviewed real car wash customers to get honest feedback about the experience. The responses they received can offer some insights into your own customers’ pain points. Some of the study’s recurring comments include:
- Low-quality washes: When spending their hard-earned cash on a car wash, customers feel disappointed driving off the lot with a dirty car. If your clientele share this concern, consider upgrading to better cleaning formulas like the JBS Industries COMPASS hyper concentrates. Also, consider talking to customers about their concerns before servicing their cars. This way, you can make sure your team addresses the dirty areas each customer came for. Remind customers that you’re always happy to provide more cleaning services to those who ask.
- Incomplete drying: Automatic dryer complaints pop up a lot for car wash customers. A complete dry is integral because it prevents a freshly washed car from exhibiting water spots a few hours later. Customers may feel the automatic dryers aren’t working, or the allotted time isn’t enough. Consider upgrading or redirecting your dryers. You can also let customers pay for extra dry time. If customers are consistently disappointed with the dry times, you might consider increasing the base time limit.
- Missed spots during vacuuming: For full-service washes, interior vacuuming can be a profitable add-on. However, if a competitor offers free self-service vacuuming, you must work harder to justify your services. If customers feel like your employees aren’t thorough, they’re more likely to go somewhere where they can control the vacuum. Train your employees to vacuum every car thoroughly. Again, talk to each customer about their expectations, and promise to redo any area if necessary.
- Stress and confusion driving onto the tracks: Getting on the conveyor can be confusing. It’s not a skill most motorists practice every day, and many aren’t sure when to put the car in neutral or how to safely enter the tunnel. Others are worried an attendant will yell at them for doing it wrong. To ease this concern, make sure customers aware an attendant can position their car for them. Attendants should always assist customers with a smile and gently guide drivers. Yelling and rude comments are unacceptable.
- Long lines: As an operator, you wait all week for those coveted busy times when the line stretches over your entire lot. However, a long wait could deter some customers from stopping by, and those that stick it out may have a worse customer experience. Understand your weekly rushes and how the time of year, current promotions and the upcoming weather affect them. Whenever you expect a busy day, make sure you’re fully staffed and your equipment is ready for heavy usage. If you can, design your lot for optimal traffic flow, making the line and the wait seem shorter.
Find out what your customer’s biggest pain points are when visiting your facility. You might do this with customer satisfaction surveys or by reading your online reviews. Address each complaint quickly.
Adopt Strategies to Beat Out Local Competitors
One strategy many car washes use to beat out their competitors is undercutting the price. Using this strategy, soon every company lowers their rates to match, and businesses struggle to turn profits. Here are some sustainable strategies to use instead.
- Cater to your customers: Your most loyal customers stick with you for a reason. Find out what it is, and continue doing what they love. Your local market may have several types of car wash clientele. Instead of trying to reach all of them, double down on the kind of client who already loves you. Conduct surveys and talk to your customers to find out what they want to see from your wash.
- Play to your strengths: After some research, you probably have a good idea of your competitors’ biggest strengths and weaknesses and how you compare. If a rival offers the lowest price, while you provide higher quality and personal attention, focus your efforts on that. Ensure customers know that yours is the facility to go to for excellent service and an even better wash.
- Use effective marketing: Your marketing could be your greatest asset in a competitive market. With the right mix of promotional strategies, you can make more customers aware of your services and your unique advantage. Read up on car wash marketing tips and techniques and identify areas to invest in. Try community fundraisers, social media and email marketing, search engine optimization or a loyalty program.
- Invest in better chemicals: With everything a car wash provides, the most important will always be a clean car. Upgrading your cleaning chemicals or wash equipment could help you achieve a spotless clean and the brightest shine. High-concentrate chemicals will help you wash cars more efficiently and achieve a high-definition clean while also providing operational benefits. You’ll save money using fewer chemicals and less water per car, which can also give you a leg up over your competitors.
- Add new services: Many car washes benefit from expanded services and offering something other businesses can’t match. You could add a pet washing station, establishing yourself as the place to go for dog owners. This could also bring the added benefit of selling more interior packages like pet hair removal. Your options for unique add-on services are vast. You could offer light maintenance services like oil or air filter changes. Or, try some light autobody services like scratch and dent removal and windshield repair. Your interior services could include professional vacuuming, deep carpet cleaning and leather reconditioning.
Be Open to Change
As a business person, you’re a visionary who dreams of doing things differently and better than anyone else. Staying relevant in a competitive market like the car wash industry requires constant evolution and adjustments. Anytime a new wash opens up, or one of your business rivals adds a new service, it’ll tempt your customers to check it out. To bring them back, you’ll need to keep pace with new services, a brand refresh or something else new and innovative. Build on the success of your current business model, tweaking it to make it even better.
As the industry comes out with newer technologies, adapting quickly keeps you on the cutting edge. In general, the car care industry is slow to adopt new technology. Stay up-to-date with the trends, and maintain a flexible business model that lets you change and incorporate new technology faster than your competitors. One area to focus on now is online marketing. Your email list, website and social media presence all help you attract and retain loyal customers. The right strategy places you first in a new customer’s mind or the top of search engine results when they need a car wash.
Another budding technology in the industry is intelligent chemical monitoring. The analysis from our ACUVU® Chemical System gives you real-time data on your chemical usage. The technology can help you increase efficiency, using only as much of each formula as you need given the current customer volume and weather conditions.
Work With JBS Industries to Stay Competitive
To be a local market leader, partner with fellow industry leaders, like JBS Industries. We’ve been innovating quality car wash chemicals since 1979, and our leaders are experienced car wash owners themselves. We understand what you need to stay competitive and what your customers want to see. You can get it all with our innovative, high-performance cleaning chemicals.
We help you provide a visibly cleaner, shinier car for every client with ceramic finishes that guarantee 30-day shine and concentrated cleaning chemicals. Our solutions will also set you apart with scented, tricolor foams, which turn your customers’ everyday errands into unforgettable experiences. Let us be your trusted partner and help you achieve your growth goals. Contact us to talk about our offerings or to place your order today.