Road to Success — First Determine Where You Are
It’s hard to escape the famous quote from Lewis Carroll, “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.” It’s equally hard, however, to keep this brilliant piece of wisdom in the front of your mind when looking for ways to grow your car wash business. Having just returned from “The Car Wash Show 2012” put on by the International Carwash Association in Las Vegas, an interesting contrast struck me. There’s a growing network of operators pushing the envelope. It seems like they can do no wrong. They’re innovating ways to increase volume, customer loyalty, and average wash tickets. They’re going to trade shows, communicating with one another, and building new wash locations. Then there are those that are struggling. They’re in the trenches, facing declining numbers, and looking for a quick fix to turn their business around. Whether you’re in the group trying to take your game to a higher level, or just trying to stay in the game, pause for a minute. Have you clearly defined where you are going?
In the past I’ve recommended that car wash operators returning from a trade show event should determine and execute “the one thing they learned” that they feel will have the most dramatic impact on their business, and to do it immediately, within 30 days. This year I’d like to build upon that. Whether you went to The Car Wash Show this year or not, you will never find success without a plan of where you want to go. Below are the steps I like to use when creating my plans. I look forward to hearing from you to help refine it further. After all, without networking and sharing ideas, the road has a lot of unnecessary bumps that could be easily avoided.
Step 1. Assess Your Environment
It’s impossible to make a plan of where to go without first documenting where you are. When I say document, I mean it. Grab a pad of paper or type a document detailing your current playing field. Start with land. What do you have, and what options do you have to acquire adjacent property? One operator I know has been seeking to add free vacuums to his full-serve wash with an express lane for years. He finally acquired an adjacent parking lot behind his property, and last month started construction of a free-vacuum area immediately after the pay stations, before the tunnel. This unusual format is the culmination of constant refinement over years toward his goal of transitioning the property to a flex-serve. I expect to be writing a case study of his success in the coming months, but equally important, it demonstrates the power of assessing your environment, and looking for options to meet your goals. There are always options.
Next, document changes in the demographic makeup of your market. Is income going up, or is it going down? What new businesses have opened and thrived or quickly closed? Perform a formal demographic study and keep a log of your observations. Uncovering the evolving value propositions that appeal to your market will help guide what changes you need to make. Don’t stop there. Go back in your reports and look for changes in weather patterns. Evaluate volume reports against weather, holidays, and days of the week. Look for opportunities to more closely align your business with the actual behavior you’ve seen at your wash. Determine the most successful promotions you ran in the previous year and calculate their long-term impact on your business.
Last, and less obvious, document changes in the latest tools available to grow your business and at what cost they can be had. Most of us will start with new equipment, extra services, or other aspects related to the wash process. That’s just the beginning. Make a list of new marketing opportunities opening each day. Social media, location-based online advertising, e-mail, and group-based couponing have all become commonplace. Taking a scattershot approach with any of them will produce disappoint-ing results. Carefully evaluating each and creating a plan to leverage them can deliver thousands of dollars in incremental revenue to your wash.
Step 2. Investigate What Works
”Learn from the mistakes of others. You can’t live long enough to make them all yourself.” This quote from Eleanor Roosevelt highlights a problem from which many entrepreneurs — I too — suffer. It may seem more comfortable to learn from your mistakes, but it’s insanely inefficient. What sets car washing apart from the crowd is that as an industry, operators are remarkably open to sharing ideas. Our network of regional and national tradeshows brings owners together to discuss what’s working and to uncover new solutions. You’ll find a showcase of sites using brand-ing, signage, and marketing that develop an emotional bond with customers. You’ll be inspired by menu pricing and extra service options that add thousands of dollars to the bottom line. Visit their websites. Sign-up to receive the e-mail they send out. Like them on social media sites. Networking with other operators is vital to your success.
Attending trade shows is the quickest way to develop your network but, to make the best use of the relationships you make, you have to get out. Take a road trip. Get outside your immediate market. Visit the washes of at least five other operators each year. Talk with them about what they’re doing and what you’re doing. Uncover challenges, solutions, and opportunities. Learning from the success and failures of others isn’t wrong — it’s critical. Plan the road trip. Right now, write down at least five washes you plan to visit in the next 12 months.
Step 3. Get the Basics Right
Don’t waste your time. If you’re not delivering a consistent clean, dry, shiny, car with no labor then you’re simply spinning your wheels. Get this done if you haven’t already done so.
Step 4. Accentuate Your Brand
Provided you’ve got the basics right, and before implementing the ideas from your assessment of the environment and investigation of what works, there’s another housekeeping point. Accentuate your brand. That is an article unto itself that involves landscaping, building maintenance, signage, and more. In a nutshell, make sure there is a bright and energetic feel to your business. Customers must be met with a clean and engaging environment before they’ll ever feel good about splurging on your top wash.
Step 5. Push the Limits
Here’s where the fun starts. Armed with the knowledge of where you are and where you want to go, you’ll be firmly standing on the road to your success. Free vacuums; new services; changes in wash format, wash packages, or marketing plan — you’ll be in a position to determine the necessary financing and the calculated return on your investment to select the best course. I’ll end this article with a passage from Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. The conversation is between Alice and the Cheshire cat that highlights the quote I used at the start. “Alice said, ‘Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?’ ‘That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,’ said the Cat. ‘I don’t much care where,’ said Alice. ‘Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,’ said the Cat.”
Good luck and good washing.
Washing cars for over 30 years, Anthony Analetto serves as the president of SONNY’S The Car Wash Factory, creator of the BayWash i5 and G2 rollover in-bay automatics, Xtreme-Xpress Mini-Tunnel, and the largest manufacturer of conveyorized car wash equipment, parts, and supplies in the world. Anthony can be reached at (800) 327-8723 x 104 or at AAnaletto@SonnysDirect.com.