Rain, Rain Go Away
Very few operators look forward to a rainy day. It means a lost wash day, which means no business, no revenue, and no profit. Not good things in most cases. However, to the well-prepared operator it can be an opportunity to improve the wash and perform some key activities. It is a time to make sure the wash is clean and in good repair. It is a time to check the equipment to ensure it is in peak operating condition. It is a time when overdue employee evaluations and training may take place. It is the time to organize and perform work that is often overlooked until a problem occurs or is put off until it is too late. It is a time to carefully examine marketing and the cost of doing business. It is a time to perform productive activities during a seemingly unproductive occasion.
One of the first issues to consider is who should be on the clock when it rains. This depends largely on the activities you have planned for the day. In most washes there are not many salaried employees, which means a decision must be made on which hourly employees will work that day. Key hourly employees should be the first ones kept, while any others who are selected should be chosen based on what jobs will be done that day and who is best suited to do those tasks. Perhaps you can work in a half day of work for some. Since most of your employees depend on working as much as possible, you need to make sure that those you can least afford to lose get as many hours as possible when it rains or your wash is down for some reason.
If you do not have a rainy-day to-do list already it is time to start one now. Be sure to write down anything you have noticed that needs repair or can only be done when the wash is not open. Obviously, critical repairs must be done when the problem occurs or things can be temporarily repaired until you have the opportunity when the wash is shut down to repair properly. In addition to these jobs, this list should of course contain many of the same routine maintenance items that are done on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis. It is never a bad idea to check and recheck these activities.
Your list should also include some other things that either can’t be done or are difficult to do when you are open. Activities like scrubbing or painting interior walls, descaling windows, thoroughly cleaning equipment — including friction media and/or arches. Don’t forget to tidy up and clean the equipment room as well. For tunnel operators it is an excellent opportunity to check the conveyor for wear on the rollers or chain and to grease all fittings and make sure all equipment is in peak operating condition. When was the last time your waiting room or walkway was painted or thoroughly cleaned? Do the floors need to be stripped and waxed? Is there any interior remodeling or renovation that needs to be done?
In addition to cleaning the physical facilities and checking your equipment it is also a good time to check all the settings for your chemicals as well as the nozzles for wear. You should make sure your chemical delivery systems are working properly and check all lines to the wash for potential problems. This should also include titrating all chemicals and simply viewing the “show” you are providing. Often times these things are taken for granted and are not checked until a customer complains or there is a system breakdown. Don’t forget to check belts and pulleys on pumps and motors. Make sure your water heater and softener are working properly and set the way you want them. Is your RO unit performing as it should?
If the rain continues for more than one day, or occurs shortly after a previous rainy day, it is time to think about some operational issues. Is your signage up to date or in need of repair or replacement? When was the last time you had a chance to review your marketing efforts? Are you getting the best bang for your buck? Are you satisfied with the results you are getting from current marketing efforts or is it time for a change? Do you need to call a marketing expert for some advice? Could you use this time to contact your “best” customers from a best customer list (if you don’t already have one, this would be a good time to plan to put one together)? Is your wash manual (if you do not have one, this is the time to work on one) up to date? Have you changed any policies or procedures currently in the manual? Do you need to institute any new policies or procedures?
This may also be an excellent opportunity to review your expenses. Take a thorough look at what it costs to operate your wash, looking carefully at where you might be able to save money or spend it more efficiently. It is best to review these bills by checking on what was spent the same time last year or the previous month. Have any bills gone up drastically? Are you spending more on utilities or consumables? Is there something you can do to change a vendor or service you are using? Pick up the phone and get some quotes to see if the charges you are paying are in line. Go over some of those ads or brochures you have been getting in the mail that you haven’t already tossed. Catch up on your reading of industry magazines or other business-related articles or magazines.
One area often overlooked is employee evaluations and training. When was the last time you reviewed the efforts of your employees or given them a written evaluation? It is an excellent time when the wash is not open to sit down individually with your manager and key employees to review their performance and discuss possible ways to improve your operation. Go over the wash manual and review key elements in your operation and ask for any changes they feel should be made to it. A well-written and thoroughly understood manual is one of the keys to a successful wash. Key employees should know and understand it well. Make sure you record any of these efforts in their employee file for future reference.
When was the last time you held an employee training session? You can never review key procedures and policies enough with your employees. Things like standard procedures and key operational issues should be gone over. This is also another excellent time to listen to their suggestions or complaints. Even if some suggestions or comments do not seem legitimate in your eyes it is good for them to be able to express their thoughts and opinions without fear of reprisal. This makes for good team building.
Finally, if all this has been completed maybe it is the time for you to step back and take a day off where the last thing on your mind is your wash. Take a mental health day. Do something with your family. Go see a movie or a sporting event. Take a short trip to some local destination that you have wanted to visit but haven’t had the time for. Maybe it is just a day to put your feet up and relax and do absolutely nothing.
Rainy days can be turned into productive activities for your wash. In some cases you may even improve the bottom line by making repairs in advance instead of experiencing valuable downtime when you should be open for business. Improving chemical usage or equipment performance is also a plus. Keeping up the appearance and performance of your wash is essential to a successful operation. Maybe you have improved or refined your marketing efforts or found ways to save money or improve the results of your spending. Improving the performance of your employees through additional training and evaluation may also increase the bottom line.
If you are able to do all or some of these activities you should feel that the rain was actually beneficial instead of a detriment to your business. The key is to be prepared when the rain comes. Trying to come up with busy work that really does not need to be done is counterproductive. Keeping a list on hand for work or business activities that need to be done makes the most of this opportunity. Who knows? I really doubt it, but maybe you may even look on the rain as a blessing.
Ron Holub has been involved in the car wash industry for 35 years working as an executive for several national car wash chemical companies, owning a car wash and detail supply company, and serving as a general manager for a national car wash chain. He currently works with Hydro-Spray and does consulting. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.