Soapy Joe’s has been soaping up cars and trucks in Southern California’s San Diego County for nearly a decade, growing from one car wash to today’s 13 locations. The company also operates two 7-Eleven franchises and an unbranded convenience store, each co-located with a car wash. One car wash location also performs auto service.
Soapy Joe’s offers four wash options with monthly and annual unlimited wash clubs at reasonable price points. The company’s smart pricing is supported by online purchase ability for all of those wash levels, a pre-loaded gift card option and appealing, cute graphics. It all makes for an attractive in-person and online presence.
CStore Decisions talked to Anne Mauler, vice president of marketing for Soapy Joe’s, to get her take on best practices, promotions and people.
CStore Decisions (CSD): Do you treat the car washes and c-stores as separate entities, and do you apply any cross-promotion between them?
Anne Mauler (AM): Creating a cohesive brand experience is always top of mind for us, and that is true for both customers and employees. We are always looking at ways we can incorporate the c-store employees into the Soapy Joe’s culture through communications, recognition programs and community engagement.
Our c-store customers often ask to purchase our signature Soapy Joe’s air fresheners, so we are in the process of creating hangtags for them to be merchandised in the c-stores. Our company vision is, “A Soapy Joe’s air freshener in every windshield in San Diego” — so this cross-merchandising opportunity reinforces that vision.
We also advertise a per-gallon fuel discount through custom point of purchase (POP) at the gas pumps, further pulling-through the Soapy Joe’s brand.
CSD: Can you tell me about your most successful car wash promotions?
AM: One of our most popular promotions is our annual Soapy Joe’s Day, which is celebrated each year in April. This year we gave more than 7,000 free washes to our health care and first responder heroes. We were honored to contribute to the Rady Children’s Hospital Foundation, which was matched by a COVID-19 relief fund, turning our $10,000 donation into $20,000!
Also in April, we upgraded our entire member base to our top wash and treated our top members to a free wash for a friend. To win back and retain members, we created the “Soapy Gives $100 to 100 Members” promotion, which ran in May. Every day, we selected four members for a gift: $100 to local businesses, which totaled another $10,000 benefitting the community.
We followed that up with an even bigger giveaway: a 2020 Ford Mustang! We promoted the California Dreamin’ Car Giveaway throughout the summer on radio, billboards and social media. The promotion made a tremendous impact on our ability to attract new car wash members.
CSD: What are the most recent car wash industry innovations? Which have Soapy Joe’s adopted, or which does it plan to adopt?
AM: One thing that has gained a lot of traction lately is the concept of “employee experience.” We’ve been focused on culture for years, and an important part of that is ensuring the entire leadership team is aligned around a core set of values. We are focused on hiring organizational leaders who will further the experience you want your employees to have.
Another key thing Soapy Joe’s has done is create intentional learning opportunities, formal career paths and ways for employees to keep advancing. With millennials and Zoomers (Gen Z) in the workforce, we’re conscious that they value the opportunity to advance, and it is a reason to stay with a company vs. seeking advancement elsewhere.
Taking the time to do the research, pausing for introspection and organizing for the path forward are well worth the investment and have far-reaching benefits from employees through to customers.
CSD: How do you handle the maintenance of the car wash units? In house, contracted, a mix?
AM: Our maintenance is handled primarily by managers on-site, supplemented by an in-house maintenance crew. This is a team of experts we have trained and developed through the management pipeline, with a custom curriculum that covers everything from repairs and maintenance to renovations and new site builds.
During the high season, it is imperative that we act fast, troubleshoot and achieve as close to zero downtime as possible. As a fully integrated part of our team, the maintenance crew members receive tickets and track their jobs through a cloud-based portal. This enables real-time communication and issue resolution.
A key objective for us is keeping our customers informed if there is planned or emergency maintenance, so the real-time systems are critical in connecting maintenance to staff to customers.
CSD: A good portion of your business is comprised of your fleet operations. Do you have a dedicated sales team for fleet customers?
AM: Fleet is an exciting part of the Soapy Joe’s portfolio with high growth expected to continue off a solid base including government, education and small business sectors.
We’ve built our fleet business by homing in on an organization’s decision-making personas such as fleet managers and accounting clerks. By appealing to the needs of both, for example, convenient hours and locations for the vehicle drivers and easy monthly billing for accounting, we’re able to show value and win accounts.
There is a saying in sales: “Always be closing.” We joke that it should be adjusted to: “Always be connecting.” We try to live that every day at Soapy Joe’s.