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8 Tricks to Increase Customer Traffic to a Carwash

Updated: Apr 19, 2020

In June of 2006 I was asked by Professional Carwashing & Detailing® to answer a question submitted by an anonymous reader regarding the best marketing ideas for bringing customers to a carwash quickly. Here is what I submitted…

Question: What are the best marketing ideas to attract customers to a carwash quickly? So, you just opened a carwash or have an existing one and want to increase your customer traffic and revenue quickly. I took this question to the International Carwash Association’s (ICA) 2006 Car Care World Expo and asked a number of carwash owners and operators to give their response. This article is a result of those conversations as well as other creative carwash marketing ideas, all designed to increase customer traffic and sales quickly. The first response of those asked this question is that the carwash must be well-located, clean and attractive. Whether you own a full service or self-serve wash, the business must have “curb appeal” – a nice-looking building, attractive landscaping, friendly and professional–looking employees. An easy to read marquee or sign board is also essential for marketing one’s carwash and special promotions. If you have the location and appearance covered, the rest is in the marketing. Here are eight creative ideas to quickly increase your customer traffic and sales.

1. Direct mail

Direct mail is a great way to promote your carwash quickly to a specific target market. Strategically choose when your mailing arrives at your customers’ doors – shoot for later in the week if you want to increase your weekend business or consider a targeted promotion to drive up sales on slow weekdays. Be sure to look at the long range weather forecast for the best chance of the weather cooperating with your promotion. A strong offer with a clear call to action will persuade people to respond to your direct mail offer quickly. One idea is to have a 2-for-1 day. If a customer has a friend, spouse or coworker follow them to the wash, they receive two washes for the price of one. It’s a great way to gain new customers by having your existing ones recruit for you.

2. Door hangers

Have a contest where employees pass out door hangers in their neighborhood and around the carwash. The hanger could be designed as a personal invitation from the employee and contain special discounted offers so customers feel compelled to visit. The employee who brings in the most customers wins a prize. In addition, the customers could be given a chance to win a free carwash or a year’s worth of free washes – two free carwashes a month – via a drawing. One full service carwash owner at the Car Care World Expo noted they had a 12 percent response on a door hanger promotion they did in their community.

3. Sticky coupons

This idea is similar to the door hanger promotion. Everyone is familiar with sticky notes or Post-it® notes. Design a creative sticky note in the size of a dollar bill with a special offer on it and have employees stick it on dirty cars in parking lots and on front doors of houses. Reward the employee whose “dollars’’ brings in the most business.

4. Cross-promotion

Increase business quickly by partnering with another local business, such as a car care facility or a busy restaurant, for cross-promotional efforts. Pizzerias are extremely busy on Friday nights. Offer to supply a pizzeria with their box-top flyers on Fridays that contain both offers from your carwash and their pizzeria. Make sure you have a full staff on hand Saturday to handle the traffic! One Car Care Expo attendee said they partner with a busy restaurant and offer $1 off a carwash for a receipt brought in the same day from that restaurant.

How about this creative idea? Another expo attendee co-brands and cross-promotes with a local car dealership. The promotion goes something like this: when a new vehicle is purchased at the dealership, the customer receives 26 free carwash vouchers to be used at the partnering wash. It’s a year’s supply of free washes at one wash every two weeks. In exchange for the vouchers, the carwash receives free advertising and marketing by the dealership promoting its free carwash program. This idea is a great way to keep your name in front of current and prospective customers at the advertising expense of the dealership.

5. Buy one, get one

Tie a strong offer to any promotion and you will have customers quickly knocking on your doors. Offer a “buy one carwash today and get an exterior wash free on your next visit” deal to your customers. When the customer returns for their free wash have your employees trained and prepared to up-sell additional services and offer the customer an opportunity to purchase a prepaid carwash card if you have such a program. The “buy one, get one” promotion can be rolled out quickly by advertising on sign board marquees, door hangers, newspapers, direct mail and radio.

6. Win free carwashes for a year

Award every 25th car that rolls through your carwash a pass for a year’s supply of free washes. The pass or gift card contains 12 peel-off coupons valid for one free carwash a month. Have employees celebrate around the 25th-customer’s car to attract attention from pedestrians and other customers. Run this promotion over a weekend or two and when you kick it off, invite a popular local radio station to broadcast from your location.

7. Fundraisers

Non-profit organizations are always looking for ways to raise money fast. Partner with a local non-profit organization (i.e. school, church, sports team, etc.) and for every car they send you on a particular day donate a designated percentage of your sales to the cause. Strategically schedule the fundraiser to be run on specific days of the week – particularly on your slow days or, if you are working with a church, maybe a Monday or Tuesday. The organization, school, parents, etc., will do most of the advertising for you. You can also let people know on your marquee that on particular dates they can support their community while getting their car cleaned.

8. Prepaid carwash program

If you don’t have a prepaid carwash program you need to seriously consider one. Not only can you increase your revenue quickly upfront, but you also establish long-term, loyal customers. Offer pre-paid programs to your customers every time they come to your wash. These programs can be used to drive customers to your wash quickly if you have fundraising groups or employees sell them door-to-door or business-to-business in the area. There are many ways to have a prepaid program, such as with Peel-A-Deal®, peel-off coupon cards, punch cards or coupon books, without incurring a large start-up cost.

And then some

Getting a quick response and good return on one’s marketing dollars is the goal of every carwash owner and operator who advertises. However, getting a customer to your door is only part one of the challenge. Part two is retaining them. One marketing principle to keep your customers coming back is the “and then some” principle. If you ingrain this principle into your employees, and if they carry it out, your customers will choose your carwash every time over the competition down the street. The principle is simple: whatever your employees do, they should always do their best and then some. Your employees work hard, and then some. They conscientiously clean cars, and then some. They clean the door jambs, and then some. The tires and rims are spotless and shiny, and then some! If you go beyond your customers’ expectations you will not only have customers flocking to your carwash, you will have them promoting it to their friends and family. Customer retention is the name of the game. Use these marketing ideas to attract customers quickly. Use the “and then some” principle to keep them for life.

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