Eight Reasons Car Washes Should Bust Into Seasonal Entertainment

Should your business start accepting ACH?
Don Steinberger on 09/27/2021

Special events aren’t just for revenue generation. They’re for marketing, community outreach, visibility, and so much more. There are endless varieties of seasonal or non-seasonal events that car wash management can host. With adaptable infrastructure like parking spaces, open asphalt areas, tunnels, shaded bays, restrooms, payment processing, air conditioned waiting rooms, and more, a manager or hired event planner can come up with hundreds of ideas . . . if they have the right creativity and market awareness.

You could promote an Americana-rich mini Classic Car Show for the Fourth of July. You could furnish folk musicians as a charity stages and deploys their Thanksgiving food drive. You could plan a traditional German-style outdoor Christmas market—or, heck, any kind of pop-up holiday market. With the resources car washes have, the only limit is your imagination (and perhaps zoning regulations).

Among the U.S. holidays, Halloween has become big business. In the three years leading up to Covid-19, the percentage of individuals planning to participate in Halloween activities was between 68% – 72%,[1] and annual U.S. expenditure was around $9 billion.[2]

We’ve all heard of live Halloween experiences in church basements or by community groups. In the last several years, perceptions of that mini-industry have expanded to include pop-ups staged in restaurants, by retailers, and in other brick-and-mortars. But there’s another business model you may never have heard of. Beware, the haunted car wash!  Wait, what?

Yes, you read that correctly: “haunted” plus “car wash.” The first surprise is when you see those two things put together for the first time. The second surprise is that, as a concept, it works fantastically well. In this day and age, no one is surprised by “flexible” uses of spaces: by day, drive-in theaters become flea markets while by night, blank walls of high rise buildings become movie projection screens. Italian, Korean, and Ethiopian restaurants host bingo, trivia, drag shows, murder mysteries . . . anything people will patronize. If you build and market fun, they will come.

Here are some reasons why “car wash as temporary event space” works:

REASON #1: Helping charities fosters goodwill

Special events aren’t always about revenue . . . they’re about generating positive impressions. Tapping into a customer’s favorite cause might make them drive past three competitors to patronize the car wash that hosts fundraisers for Adorable Fluffy Kitten Rescue. Whether the cause is disease research, children, nature, or arts, people develop loyalty to businesses that support what they value.

REASON #2: Revenue generation

On the other side of the coin, sometimes producing an event is about making money, pure and simple. Maybe your city lacks holiday entertainment and bored families will shell out an extra dollar per ticket. Or maybe there are arts and crafts vendors who are willing to pay for table spaces. Whatever your revenue generation model, just be sure you’re not placing short-term cash above your opportunity to make a long-term good impression. Which brings us to Reason #3.

REASON #3: Positive associations

Why do vendors give away “swag” at festivals? They want to stick in people’s memories and form positive associations. And if Jane Doe remembers her children smiling at free candy and her husband snickering at pun-laden signage, she’s more likely to patronize you in future. In short, customers like you after you’ve given them good feelings.

REASON #4: Free advertising

News outlets love novelty. They might not give a drop of ink to ho-hum events, but local media loves to cover interesting events. So send press releases about your one-of-a-kind offering, and if you make them compelling enough, you could wind up with hundreds or thousands of dollars in free advertising.

REASON #5: Visibility, word of mouth, & “top of mind” awareness

Attention begets more attention. It might be worth extra expenditure on whacky novelties simply for the sake of getting shared on social media. The expression “there’s no such thing as bad publicity” may be an exaggeration, but visibility is great for your end-of-year numbers. The more events you create—and the more they catch car owners’ eyes—the more likely you are to be the first car wash that comes to mind during pollen season.

REASON #6: Compatible with social distancing

In 2020, Covid-19 precautions made outdoor models like parking lot “trunk-or-treat” or haunted forest trails even more popular. Holiday entertainment can be set up so that patrons keep their windows closed the entire time, and “drive in” live music events can even be broadcast into cars via radio. Whether payment is arranged via website link or chip card reader, it’s feasible to stay “no contact.”

REASON #7: Infrastructure lends itself to entertainment

The physical set-up of tunnel car washes is surprisingly appropriate for entertainment. After all, it’s a dark tunnel—which allows you to dictate where light goes—moving guests at slow speed, just like classic “dark rides” at Disneyland.

A huge challenge for immersive entertainment is the timing as visitors progress from feature to feature. Too early, and they see spoilers from the guests before them; too late, and they miss the focus of each scene. But with timed conveyors, your actors know exactly when they come into line of sight.

Could you replace the zombies with colored lights, reindeer, elves, and a Santa Claus? Yes, you could! Could you decorate for Easter and watch families enjoy as they hippity-hop down the bunny trail? If you’ve built a following of patrons during the bigger holidays, it’s possible. With effective promotion, some businesses produce surprisingly niche events that still see good participation.

REASON #8: Can be done cheaply

If you’re putting on a formal masquerade ball, people have preconceived notions; it’s gonna flop without a budget for ice sculptures and a string quartet. But no one has set-in-stone expectations for what, exactly, constitutes a good spooky car wash. Zombies, creepy brides, and scary clowns can be outfitted from thrift stores, and high school theater clubs can perform jump scares with signed parental consent forms. Use old bed sheets as fabric and mix up fake blood cheaply with corn syrup. Because people are used to seeing homemade plywood and wire decorations in people’s yards, visuals for any holiday are allowed to look a little crude.

So, what should you do?

Looking at dozens of options can feel overwhelming, but try to keep it simple.

Questions to ask:

  • “What’s my facility suited for?”
  • “What’s my community interested in?”
  • “What logistics are involved?”
  • “How should I spread the word?”

Those are the big decisions. The smaller questions following those will help you attract people to your holiday fun and encourage them to become loyal customers.

[1] Planned Halloween Participation

[2] Annual Halloween Expenditure

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