Auto Laundry News - December 2011

Be the Best at Something — Taking an Ownership Position in Your Market

By Anthony Analetto

A new year is upon us. A new opportunity to reflect on the changes we need to make to get where we want to be. Driving to work recently, I heard a promotion on the radio to double the size of your business in twelve months. Before pitching a phone number to call for more information, author Chet Holmes asked “what if I could put all your potential buyers in a giant stadium and present to them all at once, making your company famous in a single day if you do it right?” Immediately picturing myself in the center of the local high school stadium near one of my washes, filled with every prospective client in the town, I decided to give it a shot.

After fumbling around for the perfect words for my 15-second monologue to promote the car wash, I quickly realized that this wasn’t as easy as it sounds. Sure I could say, “We deliver a clean car fast and affordable.” But that’s not going to excite anyone to run out and visit the wash. Sadly, customers don’t appreciate how difficult it can be to deliver a clean, dry, shiny car at an affordable price. As soon as you put up a sign saying CAR WASH, that’s the bare minimum that they expect from your business. Immediately my mind turned to discounting my commodity. Now I imagined saying “We deliver a clean car fast and affordable — see me for a coupon for a free wash to try it out.” Certainly better, but is that the best I could do? If I had the opportunity to tell every person in my town why they’d be foolish to not run out and visit my wash, and to do so regularly, what reason would get them to wash and become loyal customers? Basically, what could I say that my competitors couldn’t that would compel them to action? I sat down and started to write out a list of competitive advantages I felt were important to my customers, along with steps to own that position in my market — and here they are.

OWN COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT

For some, this happens naturally. Outgoing entrepreneurs decide to build a car wash in the community where they live. Everybody knows and trusts them. They’re involved in the schools, religious organizations, fundraising projects, disaster relief, and community groups. But in today’s world of fragmented communities, that rarely happens. There are thousands of special interest groups, and thousands of opportunities to become involved in your community. Start with fundraising.

First, consider the old standbys. Hosting charity wash days with a percentage of the profits going to the organization can both increase traffic and present a great opportunity for media coverage. Another favorite is for kids to sell wash books and keep a part of the profit. More recent fundraising programs leverage technology to improve performance.For washes with newer gated kiosks, it will be increasingly common for these units to have the ability for customers to enter a code to donate a portion of their payment to a favorite charity. For example, you may negotiate with the local marching band that every time a customer buys the top package and enters the assigned code, you’ll give the band two dollars. If you don’t have one of these hi-tech kiosks and can stomach a chaotic lack of control, this can also be accomplished with printed and even electronically distributed coupons that you allow to be duplicated.Imagine all the students and parents involved in your fundraising event sending out electronic coupons to friends and relatives across the social networking sites to buy your top package. Picture thousands of potential customers planning a trip to your wash to help the people they love. Grass roots marketing can deliver exciting results, but normally, only the first business in a community to do something new will reap the reward.

Fundraising isn’t the only path to becoming known as a business involved in the community. I’ve known car wash operators who, during a natural disaster, continued to pay their employees while they assisted with cleanup of the town, while wearing their uniforms. Why wait for a natural disaster? Actively volunteering in your community can deliver huge rewards. By simply dedicating one employee for one 8-hour shift once per month to help on a volunteer project in your community, you’re putting your staff, in uniform, alongside potentially influential people that can refer people to your wash. Imagine when someone working alongside them asks, “Do you work at the car wash?” When your employee replies, “Yes, the owner really supports volunteer work and once a month lets us work our shift helping the community,” you’re on your way to becoming the car wash that cares — a very memorable position. Don’t forget to leverage your good deeds to their maximum potential. Make sure to post your actions on your website and social networks, as well as send a short press release to the local papers.

OWN CONVENIENCE

Remember Domino’s Pizza’s guarantee of 30-minute delivery or it’s free? Positioning your car wash as the most convenient, fast, and consistent product can be remarkably powerful and profitable. Be forewarned. This is by far the most demanding market position to pursue. Success relies upon automation, efficient processes, and procedures that must be documented, trained, and adhered to.

Like most things at a car wash, owning this position starts with labor, or more accurately, the absence of labor. This isn’t an article on labor reduction, so I won’t go into detail. But in order to offer convenient hours of operation, rain-or-shine, and a consistent service time, labor cannot be involved in the wash process. Owning this title isn’t only related to labor reduction. Look at your product offerings, and wherever possible, separate and simplify. If you have an express-exterior option, create a separate menu with limited choices. The same thing goes for any express detailing, professional detailing, or full-service wash options you provide. By separating each service category into a distinct menu with fewer options, customers will have a clearer understanding of what to expect, and staff will be more experienced in delivering that expectation. This practice also lets you close sections of your wash during inclement weather while remaining open on a published schedule, the foundation of convenience for any service business. Sometimes less really is more.

Now it’s time to put your money where your mouth is. Doing the legwork to offer a consistent quality service in a promised time is only one side of the equation. The other is a bit scarier — an advertised guarantee. If you’re prepared to offer a “15-minutes or its free” or similar policy, and deliver a consistent quality product, you’ll be fast on your way to owning the title as the most convenient car wash in the market.

OWN QUALITY

“The Ultimate Driving Machine.” “When You Care Enough to Send the Very Best.” Can you think of any other products where price is an important, but secondary consideration? I won’t go into the nuts and bolts of delivering a clean, dry, shiny product — if you’re considering taking ownership of the highest quality car wash position in your market, I’ll assume you’re already on top of your game. What I will say is that the relentless pursuit of perfection in delivering a quality wash is only one part of this position. You’ll want to focus equal, if not greater effort, on creating a customer experience. Start with uniforms, signage, landscaping, and everything that a customer can touch or see, but don’t stop there. Analyze staff interactions and develop standardized greetings and procedures. I’ve seen full-serves where attendants spread the drying towels on the ground so that customers can wipe their feet before entering the car. I’ve seen express exteriors with beautiful signage detailing their 7-step wash process to protect your car. Pursuing the position of highest quality wash can take many directions, but it starts with delivering an absolutely consistent quality product.

WRAP-UP

Can you give a 15-second presentation on what sets your business apart from every competitor in the marketplace? A position so compelling that it will move people to action? If you can, you’re halfway there. Next, your employees need to live, breathe, and believe in your position. From that base, you may never find yourself in front of a stadium of customers, but supported with advertising, your customers will find you.

Good luck and good washing.

Anthony Analetto has over 28 years experience in the car wash business and is the president of SONNY’S The Car Wash Factory’s Equipment Division. Before coming to SONNY’S, Anthony was the director of operations for a 74-location national car wash chain. Anthony can be reached at (800) 327-8723 x 104 or at AAnaletto@SonnysDirect.com.

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