Car Wash Vacuums: Should I make them free or paid?

Man using car wash vacuums

Finding new ways to create revenue is important to any business owner. For the car wash business, the question of having paid or free vacuums is very divisive. There are benefits to both systems and it simply comes down to how well your other services do. In this article you’ll find the benefits and drawbacks to this model. Ultimately, the decision will usually come down to how much revenue you would forgo or generate with your vacuums.

Pro: Possible Increase in Traffic

It is no secret that people like free things. Word of mouth is a powerful marketing tool. It can generate far more traffic for your operation than any paid advertisement could. That’s one of the main reasons some car wash owners forgo their vacuum revenue. The added value from free vacuums opens the door to customers using any of your other amenities. The traffic generated could lead to an increase in sales for other services. Though the placement of your vacuums can have a huge role in this outcome. If a customer comes in looking to use the vacuums and they have to first pass by your in bay automatic wash or your self-serve bays, they might decide to quickly wash their car before taking care of the inside.

Con: Lost revenue

The biggest drawback of offering free vacuums is the revenue you will lose. This is undoubtedly the toughest sticking point for many car wash owners with vacuums. While offering vacuum services for free can be a huge consumer confidence and loyalty booster, you will be losing the revenue from customers that would have paid for the vacuum anyway. Vacuums are also a great way to generate revenue when the wash services aren’t performing as well. On cloudy or rainy days, when customers don’t feel the need to clean their exteriors they could still clean their interiors. It is important to consider how popular the free vacuum service would become. The congestion from lengthier usage could cut into revenue from your other services by decreasing throughput.

Pro: Improved Customer Experience

Every single customer will enjoy being able to vacuum their cars for free at your wash. Since customers spend much more time in their car, the interior is bound to get dirty quickly. Winter and spring months mean shoes covered in salt, gravel, and mud. Though you can capitalize on this with paid vacuums, offering them for free would place you in a better category in your customers’ minds. If you offer a necessary service for free, your customer loyalty will increase and lead to more sales. Not only that, but your customers will have an overall more pleasant experience. No more ‘beat the clock’ syndrome. It is incredibly important to keep your regular customers happy and offering free services is a great way to build a good image around your brand.

Con: Increased Upkeep Costs

Since the sales from paid vacuums used to offset the costs of maintaining them, offering them for free could potentially mean far more upkeep and servicing. These costs include garbage disposal, hose cleaning, motor maintenance, and other time consuming tasks. Offering free vacuums can significantly increase these costs. Your vaccums will likely get far more use than when they were paid. The increased operation costs combined with the loss of revenue could mean that free vacuums are simply not a viable option for some car wash operations.

Car Wash Vacuums: Conclusions

While there are very good arguments for both sides of the vacuum debate, operators have to consider how the service would be affected in their specific location. Some areas will have a tendency of only using the free services. Other areas may lead to more paying customers through the door. Research into your customers’ spending habits is a great way to estimate how removing or adding paid vacuums would affect your profits and costs. If you are thinking of switching over to free from paid, a good test could be offering free vacuums as a promotion or for a selected period of time. This way, if the results are not as favourable as you’d like, you can always switch back to having paid vacuums.   


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