BY SANDY SMITH
For other car washes, events have been used to meet a specific need in the community or to showcase a new location. While much planning goes into the actual event, it is one that can pay dividends well beyond the day. Social media channels and local media coverage can get the word out in advance and help with ongoing benefits.
When Silverstar turned one of its locations into the Halloween event, it was such a huge hit with the employees and customers that the desire was immediate for another, Vetos said. A winter wonderland – complete with synchronized lights – was put together quickly.Both paid off in raising the visibility. The car wash hit into an often-hard-to-reach demographic: attendees’ social media contacts. Vetos said 99% of customers who came through were taking photos, videos and livestreaming their experience. “Any event that gets customers excited and talking about their experience is a win in our book.” But sometimes, car washes must take the marketing into their own hands – finding ways to get the word out in advance and reap the rewards after.
LETTING THE COMMUNITY KNOW YOU’RE THERE
As Express Wash Concepts opens new locations, all are tied to a philanthropy event “that directly benefits the new location’s community,” said Beth Martin, Marketing Director of Express Wash Concepts, the 25-location parent company of Dayton, Ohio-based Flying Express Car Wash, Central Ohio-based Moo Moo Express Car Wash and the upcoming Clean Express Auto Wash. “We always give away our best car wash for free to everyone during our Grand Opening Week, which is typically a 10-day period, and in turn ask our customers for donations.”
In 2019, that generated more than $150,000 for local nonprofits while providing 43,000 free washes. Success is typically measured in dollars raised and washes given, but the company also issues press releases and creates website posts. Key executives and community leaders – along with the requisite “big check” and the brand’s mascot – provide another opportunity to invite media out.
“While we promote these things on social media, it’s never our expectation that we are going to receive media coverage,” Martin said.
Express Wash Concepts also host quarterly Donation Weekend Campaigns that benefit local nonprofits and rallies around support efforts if a community crisis occurs. “We try to be flexible enough to respond accordingly and raise money for causes.”
The car washes also create events around holidays, such as giving out candy at Easter and Halloween, or flags at Independence Day. Movie nights and environmental cleanups also are supported. “We support/sponsor as many community-related events as our schedule and marketing budget allows,” Martin said.
LETTING THE COMMUNITY KNOW YOU CARE
For Mike Gornak, it was a specific response to a need. When he heard on the news that children in his community would go without a holiday toy, he jumped into action. His Rainforest Carwash in Hattiesburg, Miss., would offer free car washes to anyone who brought in a toy worth $10 or more.
He used relationships with local media – aided by the fact that he advertises heavily throughout the year – to get the word out. He had a few things working against him: It rained the day selected and despite significant efforts to get the word out, time was short. He collected about 500 toys – about half of his initial goal.
Those who did show up were extremely generous. With the $10 minimum – a bargain still with a $16 car wash – “people were going out and buying bicycles for $50,” he said.
Undeterred, he’s planning for this holiday season and has made changes to his strategy. “We’ll do it for two days instead of one,” he said. “We’ll start earlier, too.”
Time is one of the most important factors in getting attention for an event – both before and after. Before the event, Gornak recommends starting a couple of months early, to get it going. After the event, sending out information or sharing photos also must be done in a timely manner.
OFFSITE’S ALL RIGHT
Lance Odermat, Vice President of Car Wash Enterprises, Inc., which operates Brown Bear Car Wash in Washington state, said the company’s name made a natural tie in with the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle. The company has sponsored an exhibit area which features a brown bear.
“Because we have a mascot as part of our trade name, it lends itself to certain opportunities within the zoo,” Odermat said. “It’s been a longtime partner.”
Brown Bear participates in several events at the zoo and brings its own mascot – a brown bear, of course – to interact with kids at the zoo.
Most of the promotions are held offsite, except for one – a free car wash day the third Thursday of every August.
“We feel it’s the most important piece of advertising that we do all year,” Odermat said. “We really try to make it a great customer experience.”
Brown Bear may wash as many as 30,000 vehicles at its more than 50 locations on that one day in August. Marketing is done by press release, and thanks to Brown Bear’s long roots in the communities in which it works, getting the releases published isn’t a problem, Odermat said.
Giving back pays off in the long run, Odermat said. “The amount of goodwill you can generate is hard to measure. Good community involvement and support never seems to go unrewarded.”
BENEFITS PAY OFF
While events may pay off in getting the word out, there is an intangible often overlooked: employee engagement.
“In the absence of having a large marketing team – as most washes won’t have – employees are your best ambassadors to represent you at company events,” Martin said. “Working events with a mixture of home office and site staff truly builds camaraderie and strengthens communication between our teams. When we put the call out to staff events, we never have an issue with employee response.”
And sometimes those employees take the initiative to up the ante. At Rainforest’s toy drive, employees up in elf costumes and put the pictures on their Facebook accounts,” “It helped everyone with their Christmas spirit,” said Gornak.
Gornak focuses his charitable giving in two areas – animals and kids – and is considering additional events this year in addition to the holiday toy drive. “It’s hard to know whether people see the good work that we do and hard to tell if we get more business because of it. But it’s something you have to do,” he said. “It makes people feel good about spending money with you.”
That, Vetos said, will only grow in importance. “We recognize that Millennials prefer to spend their disposable income to engage in real life events rather than objects or possessions. These events play right into that trend,” he said. “We get them to our wash through the event with the hope that they will choose us to be their wash of choice in the future.”