Increasing the Bottom Line With More Than Just a Gift Card Loyalty Program
Wash tickets, annual passes, and loyalty punch cards have been around forever. The concept is not new, but with the advancement of technology with computers and the internet there has been a significant improvement in administering these types of programs. With the old-fashioned, labor-intensive paper programs there are lots of disadvantages. Wash tickets require finding a trustworthy printer and inventorying all the tickets, which includes distributing tickets to attendants and keeping track of tickets sold by each attendant. Operators also have to deal with the dilemma of missing or stolen tickets. Then there is the added expense of having continuing printing costs for the loyal customers who always purchase wash tickets. Paper annual passes have always been hard to control. Attendants must verify that the customer redeeming the annual pass is in the right car for the pass and not washing his whole family’s fleet of cars or letting the neighbor borrow it to wash his car. Chances are that employees do not have the time to do this, especially on busy days. Car wash operators have a love-hate relationship with loyalty punch cards. They like the fact that they can reward a customer with a free wash for their loyalty. Some even go out and spend big bucks on a custom card puncher to make it difficult for cards to be fraudulently punched, but this still doesn’t stop an attendant from completely punching a card, putting it in the cash register, and then giving their buddy a free wash or just taking the money themselves.
Technology and the new card programs can eliminate these problems and help increase the bottom line at a car wash. Because these programs are PC or server based programs, everything is done electronically. Employees have to log into the system and every transaction they perform is tracked under their login. If an operator needs to review a customer’s card for any reason, they can see who issued the card and all the employees that handled transactions with that card. Unlike wash tickets, cards do not have to be inventoried because they have no value until they are programmed. This eliminates the dilemma of what to do if a customer comes in with a stolen card. They would simply be told that the card doesn’t have any washes on it and asked if they would like to add some washes to it. With the new programs, the annual pass can be a bar code on the windshield or an RFID tag on the vehicle. When the tag is scanned, the vehicle’s information comes up, which makes it easy for the attendant to verify the customer’s information and know that the pass is being used on the correct vehicle. Tampering with either of these tags causes them to be destroyed so they cannot be “borrowed” by family members or neighbors. Because the program is electronic the pass will automatically expire one year from its creation date. Since everything is tracked by the employee’s login, operators are able to see if an employee scans a buddy’s loyalty card 10 times in a row to give him a free wash, eliminating fraudulent use of the loyalty card. Let’s take a detailed look at how technology has been used to improve the well-known paper programs at car washes and the new features that it provides, as well as some marketing tips.
Loyalty Cards Loyalty Cards are great for customer retention. Operators can create different ways to reward customers, such as a free car wash after 10 paid washes, a free wash on their birthday, or a 24 hour clean car guarantee. Loyalty programs allow operators to build a data base to see who their customers are, how often they are frequenting the car wash, and from what geographic areas they are coming. This data base allows for intelligent decision making regarding where to spend marketing dollars. The information can also be used to direct market existing customers. Operators can use this information to create programs like rewarding the top 20 most frequent car wash users with a discounted or free detail. They can cross market with a retailer near them, such as a gas station or appliance store, and have a contest, for example, everybody that washes their car in the month of July and uses their loyalty card has a chance to win a flat screen TV, or a $100.00 gas card. The point of a loyalty program is not just to give something away, but to be used as a powerful tool to retain customers and get them to wash more frequently at your wash.
Gift Card Gift Cards are very versatile and they can be marketed many different ways. There are two types of gift cards. Prepaid wash cards work like the old-fashioned wash booklets. For example, buy 10 car washes for $40.00 save $10.00 and each time a customer comes in, one wash is removed from the card. There is also a gift card that works like a cash card. In some cases car wash operators will put a bonus structure in place, the more money that is put on the card, the bigger the cash bonus. For example, a customer buys a $50.00 cash card and a 10% bonus will be added making it a $55.00 cash card to be redeemed at the car wash only. The question with gift cards is how to market them so customers will buy them for themselves and not think of them as only gift cards that they have to buy for someone else. The only time they should be marketed as gift cards is around the holidays or for special events, such as graduations or birthdays. The rest of the time they should be marketed as prepaid cards or cash cards. Some operators will put their own spin on it and give the card a special name, such as “Frequent Sudzer Discount Card.” One unique benefit of prepaid cards is that they can be co-branded with other businesses, such as oil changes or gas stations. An oil change can have its logo put on the prepaid card with the car wash’s logo. The oil change then will buy the car washes up front and give them out to their customers who purchase oil changes. The great thing about these cards is that they can be recharged, so now car wash operators can recycle the co-branded cards with the oil change or the gas station and not have the additional printing cost of printing new cards. Co-branding with a charity is an excellent way to advertise your car wash. Having the name of your car wash and the charity’s name on the same card reinforces to your customers your commitment to the community in which you do business. The charity, for example the Boy Scouts of America (BSA), would go out and pre-sell cash cards. When the sign-up forms are turned in with the money, the cards are created and returned to the charity for distribution. A portion of the sales is then given to the charity. Now you know that cash cards are more than just gift cards.
Annual Pass Annual Passes to car washes have been around forever. The benefit of them being incorporated into a card program is that now it is electronic and annual pass fraud is pretty much a thing of the past. When an annual pass is created you know who created it, and it will automatically expire a year from its creation date. There are several different ways to administer the pass, from a simple card to a bar code on the windshield or a costly RFID solution. Annual passes are a little harder to sell because of the price, but there is a market for it.
Monthly Club Pass The Monthly Club Pass is easier to sell over an Annual Pass, and you can charge a customer’s credit card monthly or accept cash each month to recharge the club pass. Most operators prefer the auto recharge method where you swipe the customer’s credit card once and the system automatically charges the monthly fee on the first of every month and resets the club pass for another month’s washes. The Club Pass can be administered just like an Annual Pass (card, barcode on the windshield, or RFID). Some programs allow you to change the expiration date on the pass and make the club program a quarterly pass or promote it as a summer pass that changes into a monthly in the fall. Most car wash customers usually abuse the pass for about the first month and a half then go back into their normal washing habits. There is a small percentage of customers who will wash even on a day it looks like it will rain. There are a few benefits of having a club program. First, you have locked a customer in to washing at your car wash. Second, you are guaranteed that money on the first of every month, so if you have inclement weather that month your labor and utilities will be lower and having that money upfront helps the bottom line. When pricing out your club program you need to look at the demographics of the area. A good starting point for an exterior basic wash is anywhere from $29.95 to $39.95 and price the upper packages from there. Remember it is always easier to lower your price than it is to go higher, so if you are too high at the beginning, you can always lower your price, but make sure you dial in the price that is right for you, that you are making money, and that the customer still finds value in the program.
Fleet Pass Fleet Passes are great for corporate customers. Anyone who is authorized to wash on the company’s account will either have a card or a bar code on the windshield of the vehicle. This makes it easy for everybody. For the car wash operator there are no more clumsy clipboards to get signed and for the customer the transaction is fast and convenient. When it’s time to bill the customer it is also fast and convenient. Select the customer from the data base and the invoice is automatically created. That beats having to photo copy signatures and manually add up washes and hope the right person signed the clipboard. With some card programs fleet customers have access to their accounts via the web. Corporate customers like this because they can see which employees at their company are washing the most and what they owe. Fleet passes just make life a little easier for everybody.
Family Fleet The Family Fleet card is a combination of a cash card and a fleet card. Every member of a family gets issued a card. A pool of money is put into the family’s account. Every member of that family can wash their car from this account as well as replenish the money. This gives families with multiple vehicles the convenience of keeping their cars clean.
These types of computer controlled card programs can truly help the bottom line at a car wash. Car wash operators can gain customer loyalty, increase the frequency of washing, and with the right marketing of these programs, increase their customer base. There are also other side benefits that help the bottom line. Most of the card programs that are out there allow for recharging the cards saving on printing costs. Another benefit to a card program is that it is computer controlled, therefore operators know who created the card and can go back and review transactions which helps cut down on employee theft.
Ken Allmacher from ALLMACHER LLC has been involved in many facets of the auto wash industry over the past 22 years, from selling chemicals to building carwash, owning and operating car washes, and developing a low cost card program called the VCARD. ALLMACHER LLC is a technology company that develops hardware and soft ware for the auto wash industry and has authorized resellers in the U.S. Canada, and Australia. To Learn more visit www.allmacher.net .
By Ken Allmacher / Allmacher LLC / Vcards