Bottom Line — Seven Steps to Improve Yours
There’s a lot of new technology hitting the professional car wash industry. New and exciting application processes and chemical improvements are everywhere. New drying systems able to deliver a surface so dry that customers are paying extra for it a la carte are becoming commonplace. New materials that can improve washing, drying, and the customer’s experience inside the vehicle are entering the market at increasingly lower cost. Moreover, there’s hard evidence coming back from real operators leveraging the various technologies with astonishing results. Looking at these washes, it appears that attaining higher ticket averages and increased wash volume with no additional labor is simple. Nothing could be further from the truth.
What’s seldom seen in any success story is all the work it took to get to that position — weeks spent crafting a marketing plan to promote the new service and create a memorable customer experience; months spent evaluating site plans and construction considerations to optimize the flow of traffic on the site; years spent refining the operation, marketing, and staff training of the business to establish itself in the market. There certainly appears to be a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, but not without a significant amount of work before it can be reached. Whether you’re looking to retrofit an existing wash, or build from the ground up, you must make sure you’re nailing the basics first.
Step 1: Eliminate Unscheduled Repairs
Outside of a natural disaster, unscheduled repairs should be viewed as inexcusable. Before embarking on the next big thing, make sure the foundation of your business can support it. Review your preventive maintenance (PM) program, staff training procedures, and documentation. If your PM program ensures maximum uptime, equipment longevity, and wash consistency, and identifies components for repair or replacement before failure, you are ready to move to Step 2. If not, you’ve got to get this done before you can grow your business.
Step 2: Eliminate Labor
Labor is inconsistent and expensive and should not be involved in the wash process. There are 50-foot tunnels out there processing over 500 perfect cars a day without so much as an attendant. If your equipment package can process your peak hour with absolute consistency and no labor, you are ready to move to Step 3. If not, get with your equipment supplier and attend tradeshows to keep up to date with the latest innovations.
Step 3: Reduce Operating Costs
Start with a complete evaluation of your detergent types and the location of application equipment in the wash. Invite your detergent supplier to demonstrate new products and best practices. Identify opportunities to reduce electrical and water consumption without negatively impacting the wash process. This may involve equipment upgrades, modifications, or enhancements. Other possibilities include changes to your PM routine that refine optimal timing for cloth and nozzle activation and replacement intervals. If your wash is running as leanly as it can, move to Step 4. If not, make a list of actions to complete to reduce your operating cost with an estimated cost and timeframe to implement.
Step 4: Improve Wash Consistency
Evaluate what can be done to deliver a better, more consistent product, in a faster, more predictable amount of time. This is the heart of your business. Avoid any temptation to trust that a “re-wash” guarantee will ensure customer satisfaction. The most valuable customers expect a clean, dry, shiny car the first time and have no desire to spend the time to take you up on a re-wash. They will most likely never tell you that they’re dissatisfied. Keep up to date with the latest best practices for equipment placement, material selection, and detergent type and application. Maintain contact with other operators via online forums, magazines, and industry tradeshows.
Equipment updates can be expensive. Often gains in performance can be found with tuning, placement, material selection, and proper maintenance. When replacing old or worn equipment is the most cost-effective solution, make sure to get with your accountant first. Managing your depreciation is fundamental to reducing your tax obligation and you want to schedule equipment purchases to your greatest financial advantage. If you’re putting out a perfect car every time, move to Step 5. If not, get with your equipment supplier, distributor, or consultant to evaluate options.
Step 5: Get in Control of Marketing
You must have the ability to communicate with your customers at the touch of a button. Fortunately the tools are plentiful, and cheap. Let followers on social media know about the latest equipment or chemical changes you’ve made and how excited you are with the results. Write blog posts about your latest charity activities. And, of course, send out coupons to try your latest and greatest offerings. I wrote a few months ago how one operator uses counter cards with promotional codes that then get shared via social media, which resulted in a $10-per-car average ticket. The options to orchestrate e-mail, social media, newspaper, direct mail, and other advertising with your website are infinite. If your website, e-mail list, social media presence, and marketing plan provide you with an open line of communication to new and potential customers, move to Step 6. If not, whether online, in the library, or at a tradeshow, get educated immediately — your competitive position in your market will increasingly
depend upon it.
Step 6: Increase Average Ticket
It’s an exciting time to be a professional car washer. The last couple of years have seen new chemistry, signage, and equipment come together to deliver high-end on-line exterior detailing services far superior to past technologies. Customers are able to purchase extra services and receive a visibly different experience and a notably superior finished product — all on line without labor. A lot has, and is, being written about the various solutions. The purpose here isn’t to describe them, but to outline the prerequisite steps to get the greatest return on your investment. If your top package consistently represents more than 15 percent of your washes sold, move to Step 7. If not, research what other operators are doing to build value in their top washes.
Step 7: Increase Customer Frequency and Loyalty
Two things keep customers coming back. First is the value of the experience you provide, or your brand. Second is the value of the wash you provide — basically how clean and at what price. Most owners focus on the second. Points-based loyalty programs, punch cards, wash books, and VIP clubs are all very straightforward. As customers increase wash frequency, their price goes down, increasing the value they get. Don’t forget to spend as much time thinking about the experience you provide as you do the dollar value of the wash. Everything from your site and staff appearance to how you apply detergents in the tunnel plays a valuable role in customer experience. Master these seven steps and you’re likely to achieve the desired return on investment with the addition of premium on-line extra services. Disregard any of the steps, and risk being sorely disappointed.
Good luck, and good washing.
Washing cars for over 30 years, Anthony Analetto serves as a president of SONNY’S The CarWash Factory, creator of the Original Xtreme-Xpress Mini-Tunnel, and the largest manufacturer of conveyorized car wash equipment, parts, and supplies in the world. He can be reached at Aanaletto@SonnysDirect.com or at (800) 327-8723 ext 104.