How Authentic is Your Carwash?

Kyle Doyle Comments
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Web sites, signage and promotions are not what will make your carwash successful. That might be a strange thing to hear from a marketing guy, but it’s true. In fact, the best marketing tools in the world will be rendered useless if you’re missing one key ingredient: authenticity.

Authenticity comes from the Greek word authentikos and basically means “original.” To be authentic is to be worthy of belief and trust. We live in an increasingly skeptical world where we are constantly bombarded by advertisements, lofty claims and desperate pleas from Princes of Nigeria. It’s a world with 20 options for bottled water, all of which claim to be from some pristine natural source from some exotic locale.

So it’s no wonder that consumers continue to gravitate toward brands they view as honest and authentic. It’s the reason we have to get BBQ in Kansas City, Tex-Mex in El Paso and pizza and bagels in New York City. If we have the option of enjoying something authentic, it makes us feel like we’re experiencing something that is one of a kind and, therefore, valuable.

Of course, this is a difficult thing to do in carwashing since an owner in Seattle can buy the same exact equipment and chemicals as an owner in Miami. Authenticity in carwashing must come from more than just the equipment and soap.

I recently visited a client and friend who I consider one of the best carwash operators in the nation. One of his closest competitors is a well-known carwash with a much prettier building, better Web site and better signage. Guess who washes more cars?

The site with inferior marketing washes more cars than you would expect and more than the nicer carwash. The reason is simple, but not easily duplicated: the carwash is authentic.

This carwash does an excellent job of cleaning the car but also is passionate about providing a great experience through outstanding service and a unique style. When you add up all of the little things they do well, you get an authentic carwash that customers prefer. Even in this economy, when numbers are down a little, this carwash still washes a staggering number of cars.

Guess what happens when you add great marketing to the mix? Good things.

Authenticity trumps shiny but shallow marketing. Following is a guide to being authentic and how to use your marketing tools to demonstrate that authenticity.

For the record, I am not saying Web sites, signage and promotions are irrelevant, only that they should be built on a foundation of authenticity to be most effective. If your story is boring or insincere, speaking louder or clearer won’t help you win customers.

Care about Something

Before you can be authentic, you have to tell the world who you are. For a carwash that means making specific claims and then proving you’re authentic, but many carwashes fail to do this. The reality is if you’re going to be perceived as authentic, then you have to choose one or two things to hang your hat on and then dedicate yourself to their pursuit. Choosing which one or two things you want to pursue comes down to figuring out what matters to you personally because your personal motivations have a lot to do with your marketing.

Celebrity chef Gordon Ramsey has a television show called Kitchen Nightmares on which he helps failing restaurants get their businesses back on track. At the end of a week, each restaurant looks transformed, the menu revitalized, the staff motivated and the owners are in tears over how much Ramsey has helped them plug the holes in their sinking ship.

However, when you look into the results several months later, many of the restaurants Ramsey consults wind up closing due to the very reasons Ramsey supposedly fixed. Why?

In these cases, several weeks or months after the famous chef leaves, the owners slip back into their old habits and their problems return. The bottom line is it doesn’t matter how passionate Gordon Ramsey is about keeping the menu simple or buying quality ingredients or offering great service. If the owners do not personally believe in these changes, the transformation will be only temporary. A small business reflects the personality of the owner, and no consultant in the world can force an owner to believe in certain things.

In 1994, Starbucks faced its greatest crisis according to CEO and founder Howard Shultz in his book, Pour Your Heart into It. There was a frost in Brazil that year and coffee prices went up 330 percent. Starbucks had to decide whether or not to buy slightly cheaper coffee to offset the increased costs. From the beginning, Shultz and other key executives believed personally in the importance of high-quality coffee. Therefore, they chose to continue to pay more per pound of coffee than almost anyone in the world. They chose not to save millions of dollars even though they estimated just 10 percent of their customers would be able to tell the difference.

In his book Shultz writes, “If you can raise profits by shaving costs on your main product and 90 percent of your customers wouldn’t even notice, why not just do it? [The reason is] because we can tell the difference. Inside Starbucks we know what great coffee tastes like. Authenticity is what we stand for.”

Starbucks figured out early on that serving high-quality coffee was important to them on a personal level. Commitment to that belief in a time of crisis, especially when it meant a temporary reduction in profits, helped

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