Once they are in your car wash, first impressions might make or break the relationship. When they enter off the street, your site should have informative signage to direct them to the self-serve washes, the automatics or vacuum islands. Narrow aisles, confusing signage and dirty lots will discourage them from returning. Inside the wash, open spaces with no dark corners make customers feel safe and secure. Constructing self-serve bays at least 18 feet wide means that customers don’t get dirty moving around the vehicle.
Signage needs to be as large as possible, reflective, visible and directional on all sides if regulations allow. Mike Black, owner of 10 Valet Washes with head office located in Cambridge, Ontario, strongly suggests using a professional company to design and create your signage as most owners skimp on this feature. He also suggests using unusual colors on your building to make it pop and stand out. Dan Findlay, car wash manager of P.D. McLaren Limited located in Surrey, BC, added that signage adds personality to your site. He adds that signage is an excellent tool to focus customer purchases on services that provide you the most profit. Dave Schulthies, owner of AutoSpa in London, Ontario, adds that the more information that is given to customers, the easier it is for them to understand the process. His street sign gives him the opportunity to offer seasonal specials. He changes it frequently and keeps it clean.
Building a taller building with additional profiles and added unique design features also sends a message of being substantial in many ways. Signage can be seen from a further distance and using materials like brick, stone, or stucco to enhance your facility will make it stand out and distinguish your business from the competition.
Security bars can be designed for your site so it doesn’t look like a jail. Break resistance glass, beefed up door jams and locking bolts on overhead doors can all be hidden into the construction. Using overhead chase way tracking to carry hoses and chemical lines tucks them out of sight, but they are still fully accessible for repair.
Designing your facility with open line of sight and a sense of spaciousness, including attention to landscaping and negative spaces, creates the flow of vehicles in and around your site. These spaces, such as islands, canopies, pay stations, meridians and curbs all need to be maneuvered and fit in to the design. They shouldn’t look like an afterthought.
Having your lot professionally landscaped and maintained is strongly advised. Black said using your employees to cut the grass and maintain the shrub beds is not a good idea as it never gets done. Schulthies makes sure his flower beds are mulched fresh each spring and bushes and trees are trimmed. He also repairs his asphalt each spring. The same principle holds for snow removal in the winter. Both owners use a professional landscaping company to maintain their multiple sites.
Of course, nothing says beauty and love like equipment that is working well and not malfunctioning. Fix components when they break, change light bulbs, replace peeling stickers and worn foam brushes when they need it.
Lighting is another very important area to beautify your wash. Whether it’s new LED lights, fluorescent or halogen lighting, bright lights will profile your facility and provide security. If you are building a new facility, incorporating natural light windows is encouraged for architectural features as well as adding warm light.
You also need a preventative maintenance program. Seeing a pay station with tape over it, or a message saying part of it is out of order or peeling labels is a wrong first impression. People perceive that the broken equipment also means the wash equipment and quality of the carwash is substandard. Whether you use a carwash maintenance company or do it in house, adopt a program that repairs equipment on a timely basis.
The easiest way to make the wash attractive is to clean it. A clean facility ensures the customer feels comfortable. Create a cleaning program with checklists including overhead doors, washrooms, lobbies, self-serve bays, parking lots and automatics bays with daily, weekly and monthly cleaning schedules.
Besides the daily cleaning duties, Schulthies and Black also suggest extra cleaning in sloppy weather. Schulthies power washes the aprons on a regular basis. Lot cleaning should also include large garbage cans in the vacuum areas, according to Findlay. The majority of trash is discarded in this area and there should be a system in place to empty it regularly.
Keeping washrooms fresh and stocked is important. Black suggests using a nice tile, a cleaning log for employees, and incorporating a fresh scent by using an odor dispensing machine. Clean uniforms on staff also sends a message of organization and professionality.
If you have a lobby or vending area and offer other services or products, it is advisable to advertise or display them correctly and keep them stocked. Your customers might not even know they are there. Customers will avoid the area if it is not attractive, well maintained or clean. Black suggested amenities like a children’s area, beverages, comfortable seating, and a television and magazines in a lobby environment.
Posting an emergency or contact phone number can help give your customers validation should an issue arise that needs to be dealt with. You can also post your website and have a form to get feedback. Just make sure to return the call, otherwise it’s a turnoff.
Attracting and retaining customers to your wash will be a continuous journey in your business that requires you to be creative and systemic with your staff and site. Having systems and checklists in place will make the path easier. Enjoy your love affair with your wash and others will too.
Nancy Schmautz is vice president of Odessa Consulting Inc. She has 37 years of experience in the car wash industry. She is past president and founder of The Canadian Car Wash Association, Western Chapter and a past director of the CCA.