Sweating out the Summer — Maximize Productivity when Business Slows Down
It’s inevitable. Weather drives car wash demand and the summer months are slow in many parts of the country. Regardless of whether it’s during the summer, or some other time of year, there are seasonal changes in demand at most car wash facilities. The real question is what to do when volume is high to maximize productivity when times are slow. Carefully planning what to do when — not if — volume drops, is a vital opportunity to im-prove your business. Many of your competitors will approach these seasonal dips in volume with wishful thinking that they won’t happen. Others will have no plan at all. The winner, you, is the car wash that has modeled and documented the best practices learned during the preceding busy season — with a plan to convert these best practices to standard operating procedure during the next slow season. This is a lot simpler than it sounds. Let’s take a look.
STANDARDIZE SUCCESSFUL CUSTOMER INTERACTION
We all know the rule of thumb that 80 percent of your sales come from
20 percent of your customers. Fortunately, the 80/20 rule applies to nearly every facet of your business. For example, it’s safe to assume that 80 percent of your productivity comes from 20 percent of your labor. The slow season is certainly a time to weed out underperforming staff, which I’ll address next, but first, how can you standardize your business on the successful practices of your top performers while you’re busy? First, watch them. Chances are, without training and constant management,
80 percent will stare down at the ground and ask the customer something along the lines of “What can we do for you today?” and wait for an answer.
Now watch your top 20 percent. Some employees are natural at interacting positively with customers. You’re paying them, so don’t be embarrassed to record and learn from whatever it is they’re doing that delivers results. If they’re consistently outperforming other staff in upselling your customers, chances are they’ve developed a process that works. For a customer they don’t recognize, it might go something like “Hi, have you been here before?” This might then be followed with a “Great, we have a special today for people that haven’t washed here before (or for people that have washed here before) to try our best wash package, let me tell you what you get.”
Imagine, only a few rehearsed lines can make the difference between your best and worst greeter. Your job is to document, yes, actually write down the exact words spoken that deliver results. Then create script variations and test specials to maximize ticket averages. Testing can be difficult when you’re busy — but before entering a slow season, you should have an arsenal of sales messages for training, rehearsing, and measuring performance.
Many washes today use automated attendants, but the same process holds true. During your slow season, put a person out at the attendant to test different sales scripts. Once you dial it in and can measure the impact on your average ticket, you know when the investment to update your videos to match what works will really pay off. Changing how you greet customers, whether it’s in person, or from a computer video, can lead to huge jumps in revenue. The model is simple: plan while you’re busy, test and train while you’re slow.
The time to tighten up your crew isn’t after volume drops and there’s no work left for them. The time to let go of staff you wouldn’t need if your seasonal drop happens in full force is a short period before, while you’re still busy. Although a strong crew can pick up the slack for a temporary understaffed period, there are two reasons many operators seem to struggle with this concept. First, it means you have to anticipate a reduction in volume, with confidence, before it actually happens based on past experience. Second, it means you’ll have to let go of people while there is still work for them to do, based solely on your best guess. Eliminating underperforming workers that you’ve had to carry out of necessity during a busy season is easy. Letting go of good workers that are trained and productive, but not the top performers you’ll keep during your slow season, requires resolve to maximize the success of your car wash.
I mentioned training on your sales pitch earlier, but when the weather’s bad, don’t stop at training to maximize your ticket. Look to cross-train staff to lower costs and even drive traffic. Cashiers, greeters, detailers, maintenance, no matter what positions you have at your location, bring all of your staff up to speed in as many areas as possible, providing you greater flexibility in scheduling. Also, look for opportunities for your core staff to assume new tasks and roles to grow your business. Interested in creating and updating a social networking page? Your slow season is the perfect time to uncover these skills in your existing staff or set them up for online training at a computer terminal. Innovation is only limited by your imagination.
Think about this for a minute. Take something as simple as nozzle replacement. Replacing all nozzles will improve wash quality and consistency. Although many factors such as water quality and detergents affect a nozzle’s useable life, most washes simplify maintenance by replacing all nozzles twice a year. More interesting however, is that nozzles and other wearable items are commonly replaced right before a busy season, but why? Consider planning any scheduled maintenance that can deliver a better wash at the beginning of your slow periods. It goes back to the 80/20 rule. During your slow season, the regular customers that continue to frequent your business are likely part of the top 20 percent. By performing scheduled maintenance at the beginning of your slow season, you make sure you deliver your best customers your best product, with plenty of life on wearable items left to get you through your next peak season.
Another advantage of scheduling maintenance during the slow days of summer is that you can perform the job and train on the task at the same time. Whether it’s changing oil and belts, or more complicated jobs such as servicing your reclaim, RO systems, and other water management items, these jobs are easier to do and train on when things are slow.
When business is off, and money is tight, look to making affordable improvements that your customers will notice. Are your attendants all dressed in clean identical uniforms? Do you have visible supply carts with colorful signage equally spaced in each lane across the front of the finishing area to provide a visual look of being busy, even if volume is slow? Another inexpensive accent that can work very well on slower days is to set out wind master style signs in a bright color printed with “Estimated Wait Time Less Than 5 Minutes.” Every detail that creates a clean, professional, and efficient image will contribute to your curb appeal. But none of the tips above will work effectively to maximize your driveway’s impact if it is not clean and in good repair. If it is asphalt, it should be sharp black with bright painted lines. Concrete must be power washed regularly and you may want to explore how much it would cost to
add a decorative finish. Problems with the condition of a driveway and landscaping build slowly. When business is slow, put your staff to work on improving the appearance of your property.
Most can succeed at car washing when the weather is right. Getting through slower seasons, however, demands planning and hard work. Volume spikes and slow periods can be as unpredictable as the weather. Maximizing seasonal productivity can be accomplished by adhering to a predetermined schedule of training, maintenance, and staff management. Just imagine, with a little strategic thinking and innovation, your wash will be poised to make your next busy season your best one yet.
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.