Auto Atlantic - Car Wash Marketing Tips

Increase Engagement And Profit With Retail Zone Marketing

The impacts of the last several months navigating the COVID-19 pandemic have without a doubt forced our industry to look at what we do, and how we do it through a different lens. 

By Chad Bartlett

Consumer buying behaviors shifted, some washes were forced to close their doors, and the economic landscape around the world changed. As we begin to see markets open and start on our paths to a new normal, there are best practices we realize in hindsight, that provide an opportunity to come back stronger.

While we have all witnessed increased education focused on staying healthy, and cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting all things we interact with, we have the same opportunity to increase engagement with carwash customers regarding the wash services they purchase. We have seen several trends in car washing, some that demonstrate clear and compelling benefits, while others lean on buzz words or catchy names to stimulate impulse upgrades. There is no right or wrong, but there is a best practice, which ties back to… you guessed it – consumer education.

With speed and through-put becoming an increasing expectation, carwash consumers have even less time to be influenced on a purchase decision. Carwash chemical applications with clear and compelling consumer benefits can help support and accelerate the purchase decision and provide positive validation through the wash experience.  The concept of a retail zone marketing program can help align targeted messaging across multiple touchpoints that consumers interact with onsite. 

Auto & Trucking Atlantic - Car Wash

As consumers, we live and breathe retail zone marketing and often don’t even realize it. Subconsciously, our purchase decisions are influenced by the retail messages and experiences we encounter. Through interactions with 1000s of messages daily, too many messages or messages that do not convey a story, consequently, can become noise and will be ignored.

Through my visits to washes, I’ve seen a wide variety of not only the number of pieces promoting services, but the number of different or conflicting messages telling the consumer what they “need.” Carwash marketing should be focused in multiple areas of engagement with the consumer, promote one or two services at the most, and should align directly to your goals as a wash owner. This could be promoting a monthly unlimited membership, driving top package sales, or adding incremental sales of a new application or service to name a few.

Every carwash property can be dissected into six key zones or areas of the property that can facilitate a touchpoint with the consumer. This can be a variety of interactions, including signs, banners, engagement with a cashier, or something as simple as a purchase receipt. The key is that the zones are connected in a way that allows your story to be told. You want to take your customers on a journey through your property, and leave feeling satisfied with their purchase and having had a positive experience. The six key zones of retail zone marketing consist of the following:

Zone 1

Welcome: Capture the attention of potential customers and inform them that your carwash is open and ready to serve.

Zone 2

Education: Increase the consumer’s carwash knowledge and guide them toward a purchase decision that aligns to their needs as well as your goals and business objectives.

Zone 3

Decision Point: Leverage your menu, service advisors or pay stations to enable the purchase selection. 

Zone 4

Confirmation: Validate the purchase and services they will receive. 

Zone 5 – The Show: Wow the consumer as they experience their purchase first-hand through chemical and mechanical application, along with any theater elements that may be part of the wash process. 

Zone 6 – Departure: Thank the customer and communicate reminders or offers for future visits to increase loyalty. 

Through an effective retail zone marketing approach, you will lead your customers to their desired need, while delivering on your business goals. Utilizing touchpoints across these six key zones will help you:

Accelerate purchase decisions that will help increase throughput

Educate your carwash customers on specific wash package or application features and benefits

Increase loyalty through a consistent story that builds consumer confidence

Reinforce your customers experience as competitive differentiation

Strengthen your wash’s popularity and reputation as customers leave satisfied and delighted

Drive infrequent customers into loyal club members

As you build your retail zone marketing strategies, you will first want to prioritize your goals and capture a baseline of what your marketing program will deliver, remembering that trying to activate too many messages across too many goals could end up being counterproductive. 

Remember to avoid using too many buzz words or catchy phrasing that may not be easily understood. In a recent consumer focus group study, commissioned by Zep, we learned that some terms that are intuitive to carwash industry professionals, do not resonate in the same way for the end consumer. Newer innovations such as ceramic-based chemical applications, as well as earlier innovations such as triple foam were not consistently understood in terms of what was being applied to the car and what benefits the consumer will receive. Though unintended, the consequence of using flashy names to promote services without proper education, could mean that the consumer will opt-out of a higher package or additional service option.

Once you’ve got a grasp of your messaging, you’ll want to assess your site and identify areas of opportunity across the six key zones. Today, there are more options than ever on how you can leverage each zone to enhance your marketing and interactions with your customers, including video, printed signage, onsite staff interactions with your customers, and the list goes on. Be aware of any municipality restrictions that may be in place for large signs and banners. As opportunities are assessed and components are chosen, it’s time to implement and install.  

Your retail zone marketing program implementation doesn’t stop after the installation. By aligning your messaging and touchpoints to your business goals, you’ll want to proactively measure the success of your new retail zone marketing program to quantify the return on your investment or make modifications as your goals shift, or the seasons change. 

Recall the thousands of messages that consumers interact with daily. You will want to refresh or rotate your messaging, even if it means a fresh spin on the same message. Consumers will eventually become blind to seeing the same pieces or designs. Keeping your messaging fresh and current will help to ensure you maintain engagement with your customers.

In summary, what could be considered the most basic means of communicating to wash consumers, could be the most under-utilized. Consistent messaging that is strategically placed on the wash property will take the consumer on a buying journey that can move a consumer from “just needing a basic wash” to jumping up a package or two, or maybe purchasing a membership. When done correctly, your wash revenue will thank you.

Chad Bartlett is a senior marketing manager at Zep Vehicle Care. He has over 10 years of marketing experience in the carwash industry and can be reached at   

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