Get Your Wash Cooking — 5 Steps to Finding Innovative Solutions to Grow Your Business
While sitting down to write this article, only two weeks since Thanksgiving, a colleague called. Before talking about business, we had to first cover a very important annual topic: what innovations we came up with in preparing our Thanksgiving Day turkeys — and how it relates to car washing.
Now before this phone conversation, I thought I was pretty creative. Needing to prepare two turkeys to feed our guests, I roasted the first on a bed of carrots, celery, onions, and garlic — a tip I picked up watching “Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives” on the Food Network. After cooking, the vegetables are then pureed into the gravy, which drew some funny looks from my family, but they ate every drop. When I said I was going to smoke the second turkey however, I was met with absolute resistance. Ignoring comments like “Dad, why can’t you just make a normal turkey?” I proceeded to brine it with bourbon and apple juice, making it the happiest turkey I’ve ever eaten. At the end of the meal, the smoked turkey was gone and leftover roasted turkey was moved to the refrigerator.
My friend however had a bigger challenge: how to serve seven turkeys to waiting guests at approximately the same time. Roasted, smoked, grilled, deep-fried, and my personal favorite — washed! He actually put one bird in several plastic roasting bags with seasoning, put that in the dishwasher, and let it run. “One wash cycle per every three pounds is all it needs, and then just stick it on the grill to brown it up a bit,” he says.
The point is, whether it’s dishwashing a turkey or solving a problem at your wash, sometimes you have to be willing to entertain solutions that don’t seem palatable at first blush. I’ve only been preparing turkeys for 24 years, the number of years I’ve been married, and my thought process for new recipes is pretty informal. However, after 34 years of washing cars, I’ve discovered that car wash innovation comes out best when you follow a process — starting with a clear vision of a better outcome.
Step One — Create a Vision
of a Better Outcome
My first step in creating innovations to solve problems is to get real specific. Everyone wants cleaner cars, faster, at lower cost, with less labor — but if you try to tackle everything at once you’ll get nowhere. First break the problems down to more manageable chunks, and then create your vision. Make sure that your vision’s “steps” are measurable and always write them down with a clear deadline for achieving success.
For example, you may decide that you want to achieve a 15 percent reduction in detergent expense without impacting wash quality within three months. Armed with a clear vision of a better outcome, you can set out on the task at hand. You may evaluate the detergents and suppliers you use. Other considerations may be to evaluate the accuracy of your chemical pump stations, application equipment, or water quality. Dig deeper and you may realize that the solution lies in improving your wash equipment, or changing your prep procedure. That’s just the beginning. The point is that it becomes easier to uncover solutions to problems once you’ve created a vision of a better outcome.
Step Two — Share Your Vision
When it comes to innovation, the more people you can get to join the discussion the better. Start with your managers and fellow operators but don’t stop there. Assemble a team representing different functions related to the problem. This may include other members of your staff, distributors, manufacturers, or consultants. Address all levels of the “food chain.” Keep an open mind. Plan to attend industry trade shows. By sharing your vision with others, not only will you gain outside expertise to finding new solutions, you’ll refine the problem for yourself.
Step Three — Look Outside the Industry
Thanksgiving Day turkeys have been cooked since the pilgrims and many, not wanting to change, eat dry turkey every year just because it’s what they always do. To succeed in growing your business, first examine the latest ideas in the car wash industry, and then look beyond. Study other successful retail services. Search for articles online discussing the challenges of their business models and how they’ve overcome them. While online, look at some of the fastest growing Internet brands and ask yourself, “What are they offering to attract and maintain the loyalty of millions of users?”
Step Four — Generate New Ideas
This is where the fun part starts. Having exhausted every avenue of what already exists, this is where you begin to look for new solutions, or refinements, to an existing product or practice to make it better. Take a walk through your tunnel. You may see a top brush, a technology previously abandoned for years, now outfitted with foam wash materials and automatic retracts that allow it to perform as a safe and effective workhorse at your wash. Your customer may have paid at an automated attendant with an RFID tag admitting them to the wash. Or you may be running a flex-serve or express-exterior wash that has changed how many operators organize labor on their properties. Some new ideas are small improvements that, when combined, deliver tremendous results. Others are so big they can change the way you do business. Regardless, every innovation, whether it’s a new sign, policy, promotion, change in equipment, improved processing, or more effective training, can put you on the path to finding new success with your car wash. Share and discuss your ideas with colleagues, suppliers, or anyone you think will be interested and keep notes.
Step Five — Test, Evaluate, and Refine
The biggest trick with exploring new innovations is to never be afraid to fail. In the words of Thomas Edison, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” That said; don’t fail to test your next great idea on a small scale before betting everything on it. Based on what you learn from your test, you’ll be able to revise your idea and test it again. Gradually, you’ll introduce the idea to your regular operation.
Imagine for example that you innovate a new pricing menu for your wash packages — an idea you feel is as revolutionary as the $5 foot-long or Dollar Menu now copied at every fast-food restaurant. You’ve shared it with colleagues, staff, and customers who all agree. You’re confident it will dramatically raise your average ticket and draw new customers to your wash. The next step would be to produce temporary signs to test its effectiveness on a single day. It may work as expected. You may realize an unanticipated customer reaction that causes you to refine and try another test on a different day. No matter what happens, you’ll be on your way to leveraging innovation to grow your business.
If the last couple of years have taught us anything, it’s that the status quo can easily evaporate before our eyes. When looking to grow your business, never say never, listen with an open mind, and try new things. Whether it’s a way to deliver more value or reduce your costs, search for new ideas and never hesitate to test, evaluate, and refine them — you never know how tasty they might be.
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.