The Car Wash Show is one of our favorite events of the year – Thanx put together a panel to speak about the challenges of technology, marketing, and loyalty in the car wash industry.
From lack of on-site staff touchpoints to decades-old technology stacks, we turned to Lanese Barnett (of Trademark Car Wash) and Jimmy Starnes (of Wash Me Fast) to unravel some of the challenges faced by car wash operators. Here’s what we learned:
1. Technology in the Car Wash Industry
We started off our conversation talking about how technology has catalyzed improvements in the way car washes can do business — even when operating alongside older POS systems.
Jimmy: From the Wash Me Fast perspective, we have 5 locations, close to 5k Thanx members. Our program growth is crazy. The data we have from Thanx is brilliant. How do we take what Thanx offers and what ICS [our POS} will give us and leverage that for our customers? You don’t want the customer to try to sign up, redeem an intro reward, and then reach a point where it’s difficult to redeem.
That’s the brilliance of Thanx — the customer doesn’t need to feel our pain points. The customer should never feel the pain. We shield the customer from pain.
Lanese: We have a little bit of pain around the POS. We can better harness the capabilities of our POS data using Thanx, while also keeping the customer experience as effortless as we want it to be.
The idea is to make the customer experience easy. We want you to be able to come through and experience it as simple and easy. We want people to know that it’s simple to use your free $20 wash — it adds to the simplicity of the experience.
2. What do your marketing programs look like today?
Lanese: I’m the director of marketing for our 4 stores, and we have a good service that’s provided quickly. We want to showcase those things that we offer. We’re really having to get our name out and promote — social media, flyers, giveaways. No couponing, just giving away free washes.
This year, we did paid advertising through Yelp. I’ve noticed among other car wash operators, it’s a hot-button issue. We saw that this time around, we wanted that high-level awareness.
Jimmy: Our marketing initiatives are customized on a per-location basis, especially as we grow into different geographies. The location determines how we go after the market. The reason that we use Thanx is that we can drive additional visits.
Before Thanx, we had tried everything: TV ads, direct mail, billboards… the hardest part about all of that stuff is unless you can compile the data that attributes traffic to each marketing channel… our sales might be growing, but we can’t always pinpoint why. Adding Thanx for us created a consistency that people wanted to see. Our customers’ ticket average is higher when they’re Thanx members. That’s a good indicator of success. We get the email list, we get the birthday list… Our Thanx customers even respond to our emails at a 20% higher rate because they’re just more engaged.
Unless my customer comes in and allows me to hone all of their data… Thanx is adding tremendous value to our existing customer base.
3. What does it take for you to change up your marketing stack?
Jimmy: I’ve probably spent $100k on marketing… but I’d take it all back and re-invest it in Thanx. Thanx took all of our pain points and provided about an 80% solution.
For us, what we realized is that WE NEED DATA, AND WE NEED IT NOW. I’m not going to spend $700k to revamp my POS systems. I needed an add-on solution.
Lanese: it’s a possibility to change our POS systems, but it’s too big of an undertaking. You cannot just throw down $1mil every time someone changes the game. That’s definitely while we implemented Thanx — not jumping on all of the bandwagon changes. We held onto our literal punchcard for 12 YEARS. We didn’t want to be changing all the time and confuse our customers. We thought this was an industry shift that was worth getting on board with.
4. The Importance of Customer Feedback
Lanese: I know that the biggest thing we have enjoyed is having that direct line of feedback — we don’t have the headache and heartache of dealing with feedback. We have the flexibility of how we can communicate since it’s a direct line, and not public.
Jimmy: We started with Thanx in 2015 and we’ve all grown together. People who want to find you and scream at you… they have avenues to do that. Before, they’d go to our Facebook page and scream. The healthy person comes through the website or Thanx. We respond to feedback within 4 to 6 hours.
With Thanx, our general managers are tasked to respond within an hour. We love that we get that feedback via email. We try not to let that customer get off the property if we’ve been rated less than a 6. It’s great, it works, as an industry average we’re 20-30 points above the average… we actively solicit this feedback.
Our merchant success manager made a word cloud for us… our core values really shined through that positive feedback. Every thanx customer has the opportunity to leave that feedback, and that’s important to us
5. How are you using feedback?
Jimmy: Our general managers are bonused and paid based on how quickly they respond and the feedback they get— we keep a scorecard!
We need to get on the same page, where the scorecard is a physical to a scorecard/dashboard. Our people are absolutely paid on that. About 30% of our overall scorecard is based on Thanx data.
Lanese: Getting in front of bad Yelp reviews — I think that when customers see that we respond quickly, they know their voices are being heard. With other review channels, they leave feedback after they’re gone. The overall experience is worse for customers because it’s not happening in real time.
Jimmy: Especially when you’re dealing with damage claims, it helps when they come directly to you. We absolutely want to deliver what we’re promising to deliver for you. We have never had someone who had left us a negative review that wasn’t COMPLETELY taken care of later… because we were able to identify them and address it quickly.
6. How important VIPs are to your business
Jimmy: Our rewards program is pretty solid already. We give our top wash just for signing up, then you get a free wash for ever $100 you spend.
We have setup Wash Me Fast so that if you’re a Thanx member and you take advantage of what we offer, there’s no better program in the state of Georgia or Alabama.
For our VIPs, we know them personally — we do steak dinners and bottles of wine.
7. Business Intelligence
Jimmy: Our Thanx members spend 2-3x more than other customers. They visit more. They don’t want to give you feedback every time they go through the wash. They appreciate the idea that we care about their feedback. They love the idea that they can tell you, on a scale of 1-10, how we did… and it’s seamless.
Our customers appreciate that it’s an app, not a punch card. Our Thanx members are really engaged with what we’re doing in the organization.
Lanese: Once you get over the curve of Thanx adoption, the reception and feedback have been really positive. They get that it’s intended to make their lives easier. We use the statement credit so they don’t have to do anything beyond signing up… we use emerging technologies to make their lives easier. We had to have talking points specifically in terms of figuring out ways to make it simple for staff to explain. We appreciate the 3rd party support from Thanx so that we don’t necessarily have to be the Thanx experts.
Jimmy: With high cash locations, we do cash receipts and customers DO use it.
8. How do you see the car wash industry changing?
Lanese: We’re very focused on the experiential component — how can we make getting your car wash more of an experience and less of a chore? We want to deliver added value beyond just the car wash. We focus on making the environment welcoming — we have fruit water, beer, wine, coffee… we want to make ourselves different.
Jimmy: Better before bigger. Deliver on your brand promise. Commodities can be killed if you take away the idea that everybody is the same. We donate a lot of our money to bigger causes… we’re really trying to make the world a better place. We believe that Thanx helps us do that.