General Article

Car Wash Web Sites - Investment or Expenditure?

I've often come across clients, both in the car washing industry and other industries as well, that were surprised when I would present them a proposal for the development of a professionally built website. They would first mention how expensive it was and then go on to say how a friend, relative or local freelance web designer could do if for under $1000.

Now if you're reading this article and agree that spending more than $1k, $2k or $3k is way too much to spend on a website, then I am going to assume one of two things or both:

  1. You're thinking of a website as an expenditure and not an investment.

    • An expenditure brings about no financial return...it's money out the window. It generally does not need to be tended to or nurtured
    • An investment brings about a real return on the monies put forth, whether measureable (hard cash) or less tangible such as the acceptance of your brand or degrees of customer loyalty. An investment needs to be nurtured. If it's not, then your investment turns into an expenditure.
       
  2. You feel a website is not a viable marketing platform or that it can actually produce a Return On Investment (ROI)?

First of all, for $1k bucks, there are tons of folks who will build you a web site. You might have a friend or relative that’s familiar with HTML and how to use an FTP program. They'll set you up with a website that displays your hours of operation, pictures of your locations and even up load an image of a coupon. And there you have it...a website is born. Unfortunately, it's most likely there is no Internet marketing foundation behind it where you wind up with an "expenditure" and a monthly bleed of about $25 per month to host its existence.

You can even approach freelance designers and for the same $1k, they'll say “sure…I can build you a website. When do you need it done by”? I’ll almost guarantee that they won’t even be concerned whether or not you run a fully staffed Flex-Serve or an un-manned In-Bay automatic...a metric that affects your Internet marketing efforts. Oh, yeah...beyond registering your web site with the search engines, was an Internet marketing plan even discussed?

Here's a real issue when dealing with a freelancer, friend or relative. There will eventually be a point and time where the freelancer will move on to greener pastures or your friend just doesn't want to do this web stuff any more. This is just a reality that will surely come to pass and you will find yourself looking for a reliable and stable web design company to help you with your website maintenance needs. 

Ok. You’ve got your site up and running, so what's next? If you don't have a plan of attack to ensure your hard-earned money brings back a ROI, it's no longer an investment...again, it's an expenditure...and fundamentally a waste. And what's worse, if your web site was not thought out in advance, you not only wind up with a website that is considered a "one-hit-wonder" but you just might be compromising your "brand" as well.

The Web Site Expenditure: The One-Hit-Wonder

Whether you like it or not, your customer demands a more "interactive" experience when visiting your web-site. Compared to just a few years ago, the standard by which people define a useful website has jumped by leaps and bounds! Anything less than meeting those expectations is just unacceptable to these consumers.

Beyond looking for information about products and services, they demand the immediate gratification of being able to take action on those items and do it from the comfort of their own homes:

  • Immediately purchase a pre-paid gift card for Fathers Day or Christmas so they can check it off their list of to-do's
  • Communicate their "experience" at your facilities to someone and if bad, receive a response to their complaints.
  • Take advantage of any discounts that you might be offering that week without having to hunt for it in the local newspaper or on the back of a grocery store receipt.
  • Easily join a VIP Wash Club without holding up the line or having to get out of the car to fill out an application

If your web-site does not fulfill these needs and expectations, then it becomes a one-hit-wonder...they visit your site once and do not see a reason to visit again.

Can you imagine if consumers went to http://www.Walmart.com and all they had on their site was hours of operation, some pictures of their facilities and an “About Us” blurb? People would freak-out and say “what the heck is this” and go to http://www.target.com.

It just doesn't matter how big or small you are. The expectation of being able to do business with you online exists.

The real tragedy of a one-hit-wonder is that should you learn from this "expenditure" and "invest" in a well planned Internet marketing system, it's really tough to get that visitor to come back again. How many times have you gone to a web site expecting to find something, didn't find it and never went back again? Did you register your email address to be notified of their new offerings? Did they give you a good reason to register? Was the facility to register even available?

Now that's a real shame for them. You were on their site! If even for a moment, they had your attention! Your credit card was in hand to buy their widget...Oh...I see..."please call between the hours of 9am and 5pm to place your order". Ok, never mind...

This is one of the most common pitfalls that many carwash operators fall into as well as vendors and distributors alike. They contract with a web designer to put up a website with their hours of operation, some pictures of the facilities and why their carwash is so great...yada-yada. The most common scenario is that the designer fulfills his duty, collects the final payment on the design and wishes the new website owner the best of luck.

It's likely the site has no online purchasing (ecommerce) or marketing capabilities (collect and make use of visitor's email). Even more probable is that the site isn't using search engine friendly code for its design nor has it been SEO'd (Search Engine Optimized). And then the $1k dollar questions...what's next?

And that's it...an expenditure is born. Since the website doesn't generate any real interest from its visitors and no real ROI for its owner, it sits there hovering in cyberspace hoping somebody will pay attention to it.

  • A quick note on SEO: For car wash operators, optimizing a web site for the general search engines isn't important as optimizing it for the local search engines such as http://local.google.com, http://local.yahoo.com or http://local.live.com. Location specific keywords (such as city and street address) as well as content related key words such as car wash, carwash, detailing, car wash coupons, etc. combined with "registering" each location with these local search engines should yield some pretty darn good results.

    Why? Because frankly, there are not many operators who are optimizing their sites for the local search engines. If you do it and do it well, you're just going to rank high in the results of a search. This is more of a challenge for vendors and distributors who need to focus much more on SEO'ing their websites relating to the products and services they offer (a more intense but necessary practice).

The Web Site Investment: An Internet Marketing Program

In order to get your web-site investment to produce a ROI, there are a few fundamentals that must be defined:

  • Plan on how you are going to market your car wash through your web site
  • Determine what "facilities" need to be built into your web site in order to "support" your marketing plans
  • Decide on what "sticky applications" you want to include on your site to keep visitors coming back on a regular basis
  • Determine what "facilities" need to be built into your web site to "immediately" convert visitors into customers (do business with you online).

Just by defining the list above, you can see a planned "process" is being established (a.k.a. Internet Marketing Campaign).

Here are just a few examples of car wash operators who are implementing these processes and are moving forward to maximize their Internet marketing investment:


Remember, your investment is not in just the website and the marketing process. It's also an investment in ensuring your “brand” is professionally established on the Internet.

If you’re coming out with new car washes in areas where your brand is not established, a lot of folks local to these facilities will find these washes through the "local" search engines such as Google, Yahoo and Windows Live. It's probable (and the facts support it) that your web site will be their first introduction to your company’s brand. You want to ensure that it’s properly represented, conveys the highest level of professionalism and promotes consumer confidence!

A side-note on the wording used in this article...

You may have noticed that throughout this article, I've use the words website, web site, web-site or carwash and car wash. Being an article designed for the web, this was purposely done.

I "needed" to take into consideration how individuals might use the search engines to find information relating to car wash web sites. Take a peek at your own website and see if it uses different variations of potential "key-words" that one might use to find "your" business on the web.