If you own or operate a physical car wash, traffic is definitely an important factor. However, hand in hand with a great location is advertising. After working in digital marketing at a software company for the past 4 years, I wanted to share few ideas for ramping up your digital advertising presence that really work.
While digital advertising is essential, traditional advertising can still play an important role in this industry, and shouldn’t be overlooked.
When it comes to advertising in general, selecting the best medium to put in front of your target audience is key. Whether that is a TV commercial or banner ad, there are tons of ways to place your value proposition in front of a potential client but not all of them may be effective depending on who you’re targeting.
In this blog, I’ll share a few advertising basics to help you increase leads (or business) by incorporating a wide range of digital and traditional techniques. This is mainly for those who have a physical location (self serve washes, automatic bays, or full service) but many of these principles can be applied for mobile detailing businesses as well.
Digital Advertising for your Car Wash
Digital Advertising takes on a variety forms, and many are highly effective in reaching large numbers of people usually at a much lower cost than traditional advertising like TV or print. Digital advertising is constantly changing, based on where people spend their time online. This is a roadblock for many older american industries (like car washes). Too many only create a Facebook page, and expect customers to line up.
But there’s so much more upside, even with social media.
The thing to know about social media advertising is that it is becoming increasingly pay-to-play. This means it’s not enough to simply have someone ‘like’ your Facebook page to get 15% off of a car wash, because when you post to the page, Facebook doesn’t always make this visible in your follower’s timeline.
The days of free Facebook traffic are largely over, but Facebook ads are not. There are a ton of tutorials on YouTube for setting up your first Facebook (and Instagram) ad, targeting your audience by location, and so much more.
All you really need is to sign up for a Facebook business account (and create a Facebook page) and getting started with ad creation is pretty straightforward. There are a ton of free step by step tutorials on YouTube that have been helpful for me.
Facebook is a great place to start if you do not have a website (which you really should) since your page will contain everything customers need to find and contact you. Imagine if you could show Facebook ads to users within a 10 mile radius of your car wash on a sunny, 80 degree day on a Saturday afternoon? With location-based targeting using Facebook ads, you can do that!
Especially if you are a single location business, display ads are a great strategy for local websites that get frequented (news sites). From a brand awareness standpoint, a sidebar or banner ad is still effective for driving traffic to your physical location or website.
Many local websites (and websites in general) have a section for advertisers with a breakdown of how much it costs to run ads on their site. Most of the time they will just need a signed contract, and ask for the image files for the ads you want to use.
Quick Tip: If you don’t have a graphic designer on your team, you can always outsource ad creation by finding designers on sites like Upwork.com.
Ever visited an e-commerce website, looked at a product, and a few minutes later saw an ad for the product on a completely unrelated website? That’s basically retargeting.
The goal is to bring people back to your website (to retarget them) by showing your ads on other websites they are visiting. Retargeting can be based on website visits, a lists of leads you may have, and even show up based on a user’s location.
If you have a list of potential leads, list-based retargeting is something to explore, since you can display ads to people who have already expressed interest. This ad strategy falls under the category of Account Based Marketing , where you already have a targeted list of potential customers that fit a certain profile.
Online Images and Video Content
Video is one of the best mediums for driving conversions according to Facebook. If you are looking to collect leads on your website, producing a few video clips with a compelling offer at the end is not a bad strategy. Facebook found that the video ad format was found to increase conversions by 1.3x compared to their control group.
Small scale video production has decreased significantly over recent years, making producing videos like the one below very affordable:
Images on the other hand were the most effective at driving traffic to your website. If you do not offer online booking, running image-based ads are still a highly effective way in getting your name out there.
Email marketing is traditionally known as a way to nurture leads through a sales cycle, but can be used for advertising as well. Using it more as an advertising channel is a great strategy since you can send out out promotions, coupons, or discount codes redeemable at your location.
Email newsletters are one of the most effective ways to do this every month. Instead of blasting subscribers with unwanted junk email, a monthly overview email is a great strategy to reduce unsubscribe rates while keeping your brand in the mind of customers each month.
This strategy I use all the time, just to keep subscribers up to date with what’s going on in the industry.
Traditional Advertising Methods
Location is everything in the carwash industry, but getting the word out is easily a close second. Traditionally yard signs and colorful ads are attention-getters, but you always want to make sure you put them in strategic locations where it can stand out on it’s own.
Before you get started with any type of paper advertising medium, be sure you understand what the laws are in your city or town in terms of where you are allowed to place materials. Flyers fall in the category of free speech, but many cities will still designate certain areas for this (and even enforce littering laws).
But when done right, they can be effective. Here are a few locations where signage may make sense in the car wash industry:
- College campuses
- Apartment complexes
- Community bulletin boards
- Post offices
- Curbs (yard signs)
- Vehicle wrapping
Flyers, Yard Signs, and Business Cards
When it comes to delivering basic information (like your hours and location) having a good arsenal of printed materials is still extremely cost-effective. Whether you are planning a grand opening for your car wash, running a sale, or information on membership, professionally done graphics can really make a huge difference if you are having problems with traffic.
Your local print shop may also be able to design these for you, even if you don’t have an official logo.
Coupons and Vouchers
If you own and operate a conveyer-based wash (or have employees at a full-service) allowing coupons for first-time customers is an excellent idea, especially with a great discount or free offer. Paper coupons are also still a great idea to either hand out, leave in public places, or run in local publications.
While coupons are a traditional marketing method, print-at-home coupons (with an expiration date) are a better option if you have a website. You can also create these for a Facebook page if you need to.
You also may want to check out a website called AppInstitute.com, that allows you to build your own mobile app with coupon redemption available. This is an excellent option to experiment with, since they allow you to publish an iOS and Android app to the app stores for less than $100 per month.
For smaller businesses this can be a great starting point for going mobile before spending several thousand dollars to have an app developed.
In some local markets, local TV advertising is still a pretty good option for brand awareness if you have the budget. Creating a video that showcases the types of services your car wash offers (and what makes you different) is key.
My local news station runs online video ads all the time, and the same used car dealerships get tons of exposure with these ads. These commercials seem to air much more often during streaming news broadcasts than they do on actual TV.
Billboards are a good option for large businesses with marketing budgets. If you are situated near a major interstate, I would definitely price out the cost of billboard advertising. A Nielsen study in 2017 found that 40 percent of 4,000 survey participants said they had visited an advertiser because of a billboard.
Depending on your traffic and proximity to a major highway, billboards can be an extremely effective advertising medium for establishing brand awareness. At a minimum, they can cost several thousand dollars for a few weeks, but are effective if you are having a grand opening or need to increase traffic during summer months.
Car Wash Signage
One area that is very important for a physical car wash location is signage. Where I live, there are a couple of car washes: one that looks like it was build in the 80s (with white letters and a brown roof), while the other is lit up like a Las Vegas hotel at night.
When it comes to signage, you have a lot of different options that vary by price. Illuminated car wash signs can be expensive, but in my opinion are worth it in the long run. Whether you just have backlit letters or an arrow made of glass tube lights, people will notice when driving by at night.
Car washes can sometimes get a bad rap, which is why the one’s that spend money on professional branding seem to always be packed. If your budget allows, opting with a sleek, eye-catching logo is better than plain white letters on a roof.
No, direct mail is not entirely dead…yet. With a media push for supporting small businesses on the rise, a well-designed postcard in the mail welcoming new residents to a subdivision or apartment community is a small gesture that can make your carwash not just another car wash in town, but the carwash in town.
Sites like Vistaprint make this process really easy nowadays from designing your card, to building a mailing list, to actually mailing it out for you!
I have used this service personally, and is still some of the cheapest marketing you can do to reach a lot of people. Even if it goes into the recycling bin, it’s a highly effective medium for getting your brand out in front of potential customers for a few seconds.
Pro Tip: Use Data To Advertise More Effectively
No matter the method you use to advertise your services offered, good and accurate data simply needs to be part of the equation as you begin to scale. Understanding who your core demographic is, their age, income level, and various other factors are critically important.
Based on my experience, surveys work best when attached to an offer. “Receive a free car wash by completing a short survey” or “take 50 percent off by completing a survey” is a surefire way to help boost the amount of submissions (or leads) your website can get.
If you’re completely new to lead generation, you may want to look into a good Marketing Automation software, like HubSpot. This will allow you to send emails like newsletters or surveys, collect leads on your website, and market to your customer base.
My Recommendation for Car Wash Owners
Everyone’s business is a little different, and it really depends on your budget to determine if you can afford to pay for advertising services. Here are my recommendations:
Medium to Large Car Wash Chains
If you are more established car wash, hiring an ad agency to help you create these advertisements, run these Facebook ads and perform retargeting is usually a good choice. Hiring in-house talent to handle your website (and website marketing) is also an option if you can find the right talent.
Offering an internship, or paying a design student that can help you is also not a bad idea if you are a medium-sized business with a couple of locations.
Most of the time your local advertising agencies will take on smaller clients, and offer services a la carte like:
- Ad creation
- Logo design (if needed)
- Social media services
- Content creation (blogs, etc.)
- Video production
- Lead generation
- Website development or auditing
Single Location and Small Business Owners
However if you are a one or two person shop, it’s probably out of the question to hire an advertising agency. What I would suggest for getting started is to set up a basic Facebook page and website using Wix or Squarespace, and read up on how to run a few Facebook ads.
While you can’t do everything, focus on one advertising strategy at a time, instead of trying to learn everything at once.
As always, measure your success before and after you put time and effort into advertising and getting your name out there. What ad campaign worked best? Which one didn’t perform? These are critical to maximizing your budget.
Many people get frustrated by the lack of success they have with advertising, so set some realistic goals (including on your conference call with an agency if necessary). Give it time.
With the right blend of digital advertising and tradition techniques, you can set yourself apart from the competition this summer in an industry where there are a lot of opportunities to stand out among those dreary, seen-it-before type of car washes.
Because who doesn’t want more loyal customers and a crowded parking lot every day?