Day Spa for Cars

By Lee Maschmeyer
Agency: Freelance
Client: Sky Wash
Category: 2005

Carwash Category The carwash business is a high-margin (~30%) growth industry due to increasing car ownership and consumer time pressures. The assumption, therefore, is to operate on speed. Because the average person cannot see the difference between cars which have been through a $200 wash versus a $20 wash, carwash operations have little reason to compete on service and wash quality.

Company Frustrated with the service at his local wash, Michael Ferguson questioned that assumption. I realized there was zero emphasis in the industry on innovative service, which would make people feel like it was an experience and not a chore. At 22, Michael moved to Atlanta to start planning Sky: a place that would revolutionize the way we bathe our Benz.

When Sky Wash Detail opened its doors in 2000, it spared no expense. A well-known design firm created Sky's identity from its logo to its sales and marketing literature, while a top architect designed the one-of-a-kind facility. Sky also installed an advanced detailing system that includes a touchless wash tunnel, non-acidic chemicals, recycled filtered water and rubber tracks (guaranteed not to scratch rims). This proprietary system moves at half the speed of competitors, yielding far fewer vehicles per day. So, instead of quantity, Sky's benchmarks of daily performance are quality, service, and vehicle safety. Sky eschewed speedy service for affordable indulgence with washes beginning at only $11.99.

However, after three years of operation, Skys revenue hit a glass ceiling. Michael asked me to build a more compelling brand to solve this problem.

My assignment was to provide definition and direction to the Sky brand, and help it become distinct in a low-involvement, commoditized marketplace.

Consumer Truth: \"Car Care is Skin Care\" From reading trade publications to talking with dealerships, wash-product manufacturers and professional detailers, I realized car care had come a long way since the bucket and hose. Far less about washing off dirt, it is now about nourishing one's car. New Silicon waxes create \"mesh\" nets of chemicals for a \"wet\" look. Moisturizing lotions keep leather soft and supple. The industry term isn't even \"wash\" anymore, it's \"treatment.\"

During consumer interviews, I learned that most car owners still view car care the old way. But there was a passionate sub-group who saw it differently. They were people who lovingly look at their cars as they walk away; the type of owner Sky wanted to cultivate. Whether it was about paint, leather, or rubber, words like \"soft,\" \"clean,\" \"shine,\" \"moisturized,\" \"gentle,\" \"waxed,\" \"rinse,\" and \"smooth\" were used. To these people, car care was remarkably like skin care.

Most people treat their cars like laundry; toss 'em in the wash when dirty. Some people however, treat them like their own skin; something that should be continuously cleaned, toned and protected. This is the difference between reactive and proactive care; it is the difference between a car with rough faded paint and cracking leather and one that always looks new.

Sky Truth: \"Sky is Refreshing\" I shadowed Sky employees, worked at the store, and interviewed both regular and new customers. The level of service mattered to the customers. When employees greeted one customer by name, she felt like she was walking into a friend's house. \"People just don't remember names anymore, so I'm impressed when anyone does, especially a company.\"

Body language spoke volumes as interviews shifted to personal Sky experiences. People became animated and told stories of horrendous service from other businesses. These people valued outstanding service. To them, it wasn't just expected; it was appreciated. Whether or not it was explicitly stated, Sky clearly offered them a refreshing experience.

Strategy With its treatments and personalized attention, Sky's service was more akin to a day spa for cars. Like a day spa, the Sky experience was refreshing. Both services aimed to restore life and energy in customers. Sky made cars look new, broke category conventions, and offered customers a more personable experience - not just a routine service. Moving forward with this idea of injecting life and energy into all Sky does, \"Rejuvenating Experiences\" became the strategy.

Work We successfully applied the strategy toward the business objective to make Sky's brand distinct to consumers. The first move was to create a subscription service called Sky One. For a flat monthly fee, a member can wash his or her car any number of times. We also developed Sky branded booklets that, through local dealership partnerships, were given to new car owners at the time of purchase to teach them about care for their specific car. Included was a free one-month subscription to Sky One. This service drove loyalty and interaction and broke the seasonal boom-bust cycle of most washes.

To change perceptions, and signal a rejuvenation of experience, we had to redesign the lounge. Day spas were our inspiration. For example: Convention is a blaring radio; Sky now has Ipod Relax Stations. Convention is a vending machine; Sky now has a fresh food café. Convention is cashiers and washers; Sky now has valets, porters, and concierges. Convention is customers who sit and wait; Sky now offers luxury car test-drives while yours is washed.

We also created the Topical Sticky Note - essentially sticky note ads placed on cars. We identified wear and tear that, unless treated, causes damage. Wear and tear included intense sunlight, the acid in bird droppings, dirt and tar build up, etc. Each sticky note had short copy that, in a \"Did You Know?\" fashion, educated the owner on the potential damage, what treatment would fix it and a call to action: Sky's phone number and location. One note per car was placed next to the relevant wear and tear.

Results In the first year and a half, cars washed per month increased 79%. Average net revenue increased 81%. Revenue from waxes and leather treatments (proactive premium services) increased 498% and 861%, respectively. Sky One subscriptions became so popular that the Sky One program now guarantees $100,000+ of monthly income on the first day of each month before a single car is washed. Rolls Royce, Maserati, BMW, Mercedes, and Lexus dealerships use Sky as their exclusive pre-delivery wash and detail shop. Finally, Sky has broken ground on a second location.

Judge's Comments \"Thinking outside the box, the spa analogy and looking outside the category is what makes this case really cool.\" - Catrina McAuliffe