When I washed cars as a young boy, I charged seventy-five cents. I worked for 30 minutes to clean up the average car and dry it, wash the windows and vacuum the inside.
To me, that was what I thought a great car wash was worth. I had five customers and spent a part of every weekend, if it wasn’t raining, taking care of them.
One of my customers asked, “Will you wax my car next weekend?” Without thinking, I said “sure!” which was a surprise, since I didn’t know how; I didn’t have wax and I didn’t even set a price.
During that next week, I walked over to the car wash a few blocks from my junior high school and I asked if they wax cars. They did. I asked how they did it, and the manager walked around to the back of the building where two guys were waxing cars.
How To Do It
He explained how they first wash the car and remove road tar before buffing wax on the finish. I watched how they rubbed off the dried wax with a towel, revealing a high gloss as a result. After watching for about 10 minutes, the manager came back and asked me “Are you looking for a job? We need someone who can work afternoons.” I said, “Thanks for the offer, I’ll let you know.”
Before I left, I wrote down exactly which wax they used and all the tools of their trade. My dad drove me to the hardware store and I bought a bottle of car wax and a tube of chrome polish. Mom gave me a few old towels, and I was all set.
My neighbor Frank Kirshenbaum was waiting for me that next Saturday morning as I walked up to his house. I went to work right away. I spent two and one-half hours on that car and it shined like new when I was done. Frank came out, looked it over and seemed pleased. He inspected everything, pointing out a missed a spot where I wiped away some residual wax immediately. He opened his wallet and handed me ten dollars.
I tried not to look surprised, but I realized I never set a price, in fact, I didn’t even ask what the carwash charged. I thanked him and mentioned “you should probably get this done again before it snows” trying to sound like I knew what I was talking about and he responded, “Good idea, remind me in October.”
I had just about tripled my wages for the same amount of time. $10 versus $3.75 from the same customer. And, I still came back a few weeks later to wash his car too.
I went to my other clients and four out of five agreed to a full wax job for $10.00. I couldn’t be happier…. until I found out our local carwash charged $19.95! Double my rates and honestly, they didn’t do it as well as I did.
An Experiment That shaped My Idea of Value and Pricing Forever!
I received two phone calls from other neighbors who found out from my customers that I waxed cars and did a beautiful job. They wanted to schedule their car for my handiwork. I couldn’t raise my price because I didn’t want them to think I was taking advantage of them. These jobs went really well, and I asked each of my two new customers if they would let their neighbors know about my services.
But for strangers, I wanted to raise my prices, but I didn’t know how without sounding awkward. I wrote a note addressed to “Dear Neighbor” and I asked my dad to run it through the mimeograph machine at his office. That night, he came home with 100 copies and a great story of how he stained his shirt with blue ink in the process.
I realized I couldn’t handle 100 new customers so I thought I would raise the price higher than before and sell Quality instead of quantity. My small but growing clientele had nice things to say about my service. My flyer said: “If you are thinking about having your car waxed, consider that a hand wax finish is far better than an electric buffer.” I went on to mention that with my service, all cars are completely washed and vacuumed first, the mats too. I explained how I clean all the windows, then polish the chrome. Finally, I wax the exterior with several coats and hand buff carefully to insure their car looks like new. I set the price at $20.
That evening, I walked door-to-door and put my flyer in the mailboxes of our neighbors on the two adjacent blocks. I sold seven wax jobs from that flyer. Two of the seven gave me a tip on top of my fee. Most agreed that I should come back in early spring to wax their car next year.
Then winter came and I went back to praying for snow so I could go back to my snow-shoveling business as I had for several previous winters. But this time a bit smarter and more careful about how I priced my services.
Timeless Lessons Too Valuable to Forget
- Most people prefer quality to quantity. Focus on those who will pay for quality. They are better clients anyway.
- Price test before promoting. There’s no reason to leave money behind because you were too lazy to check what the market will pay for your services.
- Get referrals by over-delivering great work to your clients.
- Don’t be afraid to schedule the next service or upgrade service while you still have your client’s attention.
- Ask for a referral. There’s no reason why your happy client wouldn’t provide one.
Why This Is Valuable To You.
The ideas in this story from my boyhood are simple. Yet, because I lived them at a young age, they shaped my thinking about business and human relationships as I entered my work life. Understanding the basics of follow-up, price testing, testimonials and referrals are timeless business principles that when applied always work to generate more revenue from existing clients and more new clients in your target market. The only remaining element is to get your existing clients to buy from you more often.
It works locally, it works globally, it works for everyone. Can it work for you too?
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