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Rooting for the Home Team

Rooting for the Home Team

February 28, 2024

9 minute Read

Car washes partner with athletes, and sports teams to reach new customers, and drive brand loyalty.

As the leading scorer on the University of New Mexico women’s basketball team, Jaedyn De La Cerda could create her own shot and seize an opportunity, so she shared a lot in common with Champion Xpress Carwash, which has been making some winning moves of its own lately.

Champion Xpress had 30 locations across five states operating this summer and plans to add at least 10 more by year’s end, according to Lindsey Joy, chief marketing officer of the Lubbock, Texas-based company. The portfolio includes 17 locations in New Mexico, where the lack of a professional sports team keeps college athletics, especially the New Mexico Lobos, in the spotlight.

In October 2021, just prior to De La Cerda’s senior season, Champion Xpress signed her to a name, image and likeness (NIL) contract, becoming one of the first car washes to do so. Just a few months earlier, the Supreme Court had ruled that the NCAA couldn’t prohibit student-athletes from endorsing products and earning money. 

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Champion Xpress Carwash signed a NIL contract with the lead scorer on the University of New Mexico women’s basketball team, Jaedyn De La Cerda.

While some companies made a mad dash to sign star football and men’s basketball players, Champion Xpress went with De La Cerda, a young woman with an infectious smile, a reliable three-point shot and a strong social media following. She also had deep roots in the state, having grown up in Roswell, N.M., where she led her high school to a state title. 

“We got a lot of really positive feedback about doing an NIL deal with a local, female athlete, and that was something that I didn’t necessarily anticipate,” Joy said. “We received excellent engagement on social media, and it certainly boosted our presence in the state.”

Champion Xpress held a photo shoot for De La Cerda so the company and the athlete could promote each other on Facebook and Instagram. She also made several visits to car washes to shake hands with customers and employees. The posts were tied to promotions for discounted washes, enabling Champion Xpress to track the effectiveness of its partnership with De La Cerda. 

“We were very pleased with our ROI and certainly made a profit on our investment,” Joy said. 

While some professional athletes are known to have big egos, De La Cerda was a pleasure to be around, and as a college student, she appreciated the opportunity to make some money, Joy said. College athletes typically get paid much less for endorsements than do pro athletes, so they’re an attractive option for small businesses like car washes, especially those with mostly rural locations, she said.

“These athletes really are local celebrities, so it’s a perfect way to be able to make a splash and build a strong connection with the community for a relatively small investment,” Joy said. 

The deal also provided team-building opportunities for Champion Xpress. When about 30 company executives and employees attended a work event in Denver, they stuck around to watch the Lobos’ road game, forming a sizeable cheering section with homemade signs. They met with De La Cerda and the Lobos after the game, and she subsequently joined them at a Denver Nuggets game, Joy said.

“There’s monetary value in these partnerships, but there’s also a lot of community value in building these relationships,” she said.

After the season, De La Cerda graduated and launched her pro career in Australia, ending her partnership with Champion Xpress.

“We’re still looking for another great fit like Jaedyn,” Joy said.

Here’s a snapshot of how other ICA members are partnering with athletes and sports teams to reach new customers, drive brand loyalty and support local charities.

Going Pro in Cincinnati

After some lean years in Cincinnati, the Reds and Bengals are legitimate contenders again, which is good news for Mike’s Car Wash, the official car wash of both pro teams. Through those partnerships, the Cincinnati-based company has used its 38 locations to raise funds for worthy charities and built its brand as an important part of local communities.

Every Tuesday and Wednesday during the Major League Baseball season, customers get $5 off Mike’s top two wash packages, and on Wednesdays, the company donates $1 from each sale of those packages to the Reds Community Fund. Since 2015, Mike’s and its customers have raised more than $470,000 for the charity, which introduces kids to baseball and softball and offers educational opportunities. 

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Mike’s Car Wash is the official car wash for both the Reds and Bengals.

A similar program during the National Football League season raises money for the Anthony Munoz Foundation, which provides scholarships and other programs for local youth. Since 2015, the promotion has raised more than $475,000 for the Munoz Foundation, named for the Bengals’ Hall of Fame offensive tackle, and the Marvin Lewis Community Fund, named for its former coach.

When the promotions end, Mike’s uses digital signage to thank customers for participating and updates them on the amount raised. The company presents the charities with giant checks and includes photos of those events in marketing emails and social media posts, according to Bethany McAlister, Mike’s director of marketing and customer support.

“We get feedback from customers that they like the offer and the fact that it’s tied to local charities,” McAlister said.

The teams’ mascots have appeared at Mike’s grand openings to greet customers, and Mike’s messaging is featured on digital signage at the stadium during games. In addition,rooting IG graphic there are advertisements in print, social media and on the radio spreading the word about Mike’s weekly promotions.

Mike’s also sponsors FC Cincinnati and Fort Wayne FC of Major League Soccer, as well as the men’s college basketball teams at Xavier, Louisville and Northern Kentucky, among others. At one home game each season, Mike’s typically will hand out thousands of free license-plate frames featuring the team and company logos, a popular promotion that builds brand loyalty, McAlister said. 

“They’re a really big hit,” she said. “You’ll be driving down the road, and you’ll see them on quite a few vehicles.”

As an in-game promotion, an entire row of fans may be selected to win free car washes, and that giveaway is shown on large screens throughout the arena to maximize its marketing impact.

“We partner with sports teams in each of our markets that have a strong following, and we usually tie it to some sort of activation or discount day,” McAlister said. “We run the numbers, and we know it works. There’s entry-level pricing for smaller companies. I have found sports teams to be good at working with you to tailor a program that fits your objectives and your budget.”

Bring in the Closer

From a marketing perspective, Super Star Car Wash benefits when the San Diego Padres or their opponents have to go deep into their bullpen. The Phoenix-based company, with 75 locations in Arizona, California, Texas and Colorado, sponsors in-game pitching changes at Padres games, so when a fresh arm takes the mound, the company is featured on large video boards in the stadium.

Super Star also has sponsorship agreements with the Arizona Diamondbacks, the Arizona Cardinals and Grand Canyon University, according to Jonathan Kierman, executive vice president. At Diamondbacks games, the video board displays a number that customers can text to receive a free car wash. At Cardinals games, the owner of the dirtiest car in the parking lot is highlighted on the video board and gets a free year of washes. 

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Last season, Super Star gave out free washes after Cardinals home wins, but the team struggled to a 1-8 record at home, limiting the impact of that promotion.

“We’re changing that up a bit this year so we can give away car washes at every game, as opposed to it being tied to the Cardinals’ performance,” Kierman said, adding that details were still being finalized. 

This year, Super Star has gotten a strong response from fans after designing limited-edition air fresheners branded with its logo and that of either the Padres or Diamondbacks. By associating itself with those teams, Super Star is hoping to convert die-hard fans into loyal customers, Kierman said. 

“Devoted fans are going to come and get their car washed to get that air freshener,” he said. “They’ve been very well received in both markets.” 

Kierman said that in evaluating sports partnerships, Super Star looks for three components: branding opportunities, customer activation and a chance to give back. The company sponsors youth camps run by the Padres and Cardinals, and the children of Super Star employees often get to attend. Tickets to games are awarded to customers and workers as another way to boost morale.

The partnerships allow Super Star to use team logos in marketing materials, including advertisements and digital displays at each location. The company’s uniforms also feature the local team’s logo, and many workers take pride in that association, Kierman said.

“They’re proud to wear the shirts, and it’s hard to put a dollar figure on what that’s worth,” he said. “It’s one of the ways our team sees us as an employer of choice.”

The Old College Try

When you’ve got 280 locations across 24 states, you’re bound to have a major presence in a number of college towns, and each one has a loyal fan base to target. That’s the strategy for Plano, Texas-based ZIPS Car Wash, which has signed sponsorship agreements with 15 colleges and universities in the past year, according to Mark Youngworth, chief marketing officer.

Youngworth said aligning itself with beloved local brands and top-tier programs like Kentucky, Arkansas, Tennessee and North Carolina is helping ZIPS to differentiate itself from the competition. Since most car washes give customers a good service at a fair price, car washes sometimes find it hard to build brand loyalty, and customers simply go to the closest wash. 

But in college towns, fans see their schools’ distinctive colors in ZIPS advertisements, signage, in-game promotions and employee uniforms, and they feel more connected to the brand, Youngworth said.

rooting web graphic 4“We’re getting people to notice us more and see us a little bit differently than in the past,” he said. “You build immediate brand credibility when you associate your logo with the school. And we’re finding ways to create a meaningful experience for customers beyond just the function of car washing, which is really important to us.”

Marketing efforts include Car Wash Convos, a video series in which one student-athlete interviews another while going through a ZIPS tunnel. Questions are mostly lighthearted and are designed to bring out the college athlete’s personality while introducing viewers to the brand, Youngworth said. The videos have gained traction on social media sites such as YouTube. 

Youngworth said the idea was to have a little fun and offer authentic, engaging content versus traditional advertising, and he compared the videos to the popular Carpool Karaoke segments on “The Late Late Show with James Corden.”

“We wanted to do something kind of unexpected but authentic; something that would be fresh and interesting,” he said.

Youngworth said ZIPS is expecting to sign deals with additional schools as this marketing strategy enters its second year. So far, it’s been popular with both customers and employees. 

“I see this as an investment in our future that allows us to maximize our presence in these markets, drive traffic today and build long-term brand equity,” he said. “Our goal was to jump into this with both feet. Not only have we seen some great early returns, but we know this is making a meaningful difference to customers, and it’s making a meaningful difference to our team members at the site level.”

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