Create Your Very Own Pot of Gold

Create Your Very Own Pot of Gold

April 23, 2024

6 minute Read
Apps Enlighten Operators with Data Insights, Help Optimize Operations

Mobile apps are an integral part of day-to-day activities. The average person uses nine mobile apps per day and 30 different apps per month.  These tools handle everything from ordering food, scheduling rides, paying rent and buying anything online. Car wash operators are also discovering the convenience, practicality and revenue benefits of mobile apps.

Having a mobile app has shifted from a “nice-to-have” to a “must-have” for retail businesses, said Adam Trien, co-founder, CTO and president of AMP Memberships. “While the car wash space lagged a bit behind other industries when it comes to apps, it is catching up quickly, and AMP is seeing a surge in demand,” he said. “Recent economic conditions have accelerated this trend as operators seek to optimize operating margins and revenue growth of existing assets.”

One car wash business that has added an app to better serve customers and increase revenue is Woodie’s Wash Shack, which opened in 2019, and quickly grew to 16 locations. The business launched its app in April 2023. The strategy to build the app from scratch was explored because the owners wanted to maximize the use of their proprietary data, but the initial and ongoing costs led to partnering with an app development company to create the Woodie’s Wash Shack App. 

“We can customize the app to fit the needs of our business and our customers, and it is a more manageable approach long-term,” said Jake DeGeare, vice president of sales and marketing for Woodie’s. Data collected via the app is used to learn more about customers to design and target marketing messages to convert retail customers to members and retain wash program members with loyalty rewards. 

Over 65% of car wash members at the time of the app’s introduction moved to the app in the first six months, and all new members use the app, DeGeare said. “As people learn more about the convenience of using the app, use of the app increases,” he said. “Our end goal is to reduce the number of POS kiosks at each wash from the existing two or three to one.” Eliminating hardware will reduce costs for the equipment, but it cannot be completely eliminated, he pointed out. “We’ll always have one POS as a backup to handle retail customers or in case a member has difficulty with the app.”

Woodie’s app also improves the fleet user’s experience, DeGeare said. “The portal is easy to manage and our customers can easily update information such as car color or license plate numbers of cars in their fleet.”  

While Woodie’s Car Wash offers its app to car wash members and fleet customers, Express Wash Concept focuses on its fleet business as a way to develop and test an app. The EWC Wash Me! app was developed by the company and is only offered to fleet customers for use at any of the 94 locations in the company’s network of car washes. “Fleet is less than 1% of our overall membership, but it provided an excellent way to pilot a mobile app and improve service to these customers,” said John Roush, CEO of Express Wash Concepts. “We decided to build our own mobile app because our POS provider’s app does not offer the capabilities we need, and there are no off-the-shelf tools that allow us to build for future needs as well as what we need today.”

Wash Me! was introduced in December 2023 and all 850 fleet administrators and 5,000 individual fleet users were transitioned to the app in January 2024. “As we introduced it, we were able to correct things that we did not think about during development,” Roush said. “A user with an old flip phone wasn’t able to display the code, so we created a way to print a one-time ticket before coming to the car wash.”

Apps can also be customized based on the types of services offered.

“Our primary target market is convenience stores with in-bay automatic car washes,” said Mike Jorgensen, sales manager at XpresWash. “Our app can support their loyalty programs, which is a feature that we did not see requested five years ago.” The company does provide RFID tags to make the washes vehicle-specific as well as a mobile app that can be used to purchase the wash, set up monthly memberships and prepay for services. “We have some customers that offer both options to their members,” he said. “The benefit of the mobile app, even if it is paired with an RFID tag, is that it simplifies the process of members setting up or paying for their washes with little or no employee interface.”

Go Beyond the App

“If you want to launch an app just to have one, you are missing a huge opportunity,” said Ofer Sadka, chief product officer at EverWash. The data generated by an advanced app provides valuable insight into who your customers are, how many visits are made, length of memberships, how different factors affect behavior and how members can be incentivized to continue or upgrade memberships, he said. “These business metrics are valuable, and if you are also a part of a larger platform that provides benchmarking information, you have the keys to actionable insights that can help you improve your business.”

The most common app features requested by car wash operators tend to include membership capabilities for recurring revenue, the ability to incentivize non-members with unique offers and loyalty rewards, as well as the ability to administer fleet accounts effortlessly using the app as the primary delivery tool, said Alan Nawoj, a senior director at DRB Systems and founder of Beacon Mobile. “These features will certainly differ from operator to operator depending on their business goals, the type of car wash, and their local competitive landscape. For instance, in-bay automatic operators who implement an app-based membership program will typically place a limit on the total number of washes that can be redeemed in a given period compared to tunnel operators who typically offer unlimited washes due to their ability to deliver higher wash volumes.”  

Because there are many different types of mobile apps, Jorgensen suggested that car wash owners evaluate a variety of options. “Almost every entry system has an app but look outside your entry provider and test other apps,” he suggested. “Agnostic apps, which are not limited to one manufacturer or one platform, might provide features and benefits that are more appropriate for your business. Visit booths at conferences to test other apps, see how they work, and determine if they are easy to use.”

After selecting the car wash app, don’t forget your employees. One of the most critical needs when introducing a mobile app is training for employees, DeGeare said. “We started with a soft launch to allow us to train employees with the live app and give them a chance to work directly with members to download and test the app,” he said. Before the marketing campaign to announce the app, Woodie’s employees asked members if they would help by downloading and using the app. “Saying that this is new and that everyone is learning gave members and employees an opportunity to use and evaluate the tool.”

At a new location that was opening at the same time the app was launched, many of the new employees had experience using mobile apps at fast food restaurants, such as Chic-Fil-A. “These employees learned how to use the app quickly, because of their previous experience,” DeGeare said. “We also had a detailed operating procedure that provided extra support for employees, which was very helpful for veteran employees who had no experience with apps.” 

Looking to the Future

“Machine learning will likely have a notable impact on the app landscape in the next several years,” Nawoj said. Apps are a powerful data collection tool that can serve as a key data source to machine learning algorithms that will help operators improve marketing campaigns and make strategic business decisions. 

If data were gold, harvesting it via an app could fill the pot to overflowing. 

Nawoj also believe that running car wash apps on the vehicle console will eventually become a reality in the next several years, which will further enhance the car wash customer experience.

“Artificial intelligence and natural language processing have to be the biggest disrupters to the app landscape over the next several years,” Trien said. “It will impact everything from in-app interactions, personalized deals and retention offers, automated customer support, vehicle recognition and the speed at which app companies can get new features to market. We are already leveraging AI heavily and seeing tremendous benefits.” 

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