Auto Laundry News - October 2011

Remodeling Attitude — Treat Each Day Like it’s Your Grand Opening

By Anthony Analetto

In a single day, I often find myself having absolutely opposing conversations. One minute I can be speaking with an operator who recently opened up a new location. They’re talking with enthusiasm about acquiring new customers, constantly tinkering with new promotions, tweaking wash quality, training, and site appearance. To them, their business is like a newborn child, employees are partners, and each new customer an achievement that needs to be coddled with loving care. Later in the day, my phone rings, and I’m talking to another car wash owner about increasing competition, reduced customer spending, economic unrest, and the latest ideas to cut costs and raise prices to combat these challenges. To them, their business is like an adolescent child not conforming to their expectations, employees are adversaries, and customers only care about getting more for less.

Remember TWA, MCI, Compaq, General Foods, E.F. Hutton, and other once-great organizations that have long since disappeared? Countless articles have been written on the demise of each. Hindsight always being 20/20, it’s easy to find a timeline that documents the blunders that led to each company’s decline. I’d venture a guess, however, that each organization began its downward spiral the day the culture and attitude lost its youthful enthusiasm to love and coddle its customers.

Many factors dictate if a company will stand the test of time. Responding to changes in the market place and developing more efficient and profitable practices is crucial to success. But cultivating a positive attitude in your business with the same enthusiasm you had on the day you opened your first wash can overcome a lot of challenges. Let’s take a look.


Attitudes are contagious. Enthusiasm is infectious. This is the phenomenon that drives the successful launch of any business. Think back to the grand opening of your first wash. Chances are you labored over every detail. Uniforms, signage, and wash packages were carefully crafted. Package names, price points, and service offerings to bundle incremental value were debated. You probably made so many last minute refinements that your sign company threatened to charge you a penalty if you made any more changes to the graphics.

You were greeting customers. You were talking with staff about what was going well and looking for ways to make things better. The air was filled with enthusiasm to earn the business of every customer that entered the wash. That energy infected you and your staff and most were working with urgency to win the loyalty of each and every customer. Employees were energized to self-manage their work to make sure every customer was satisfied. If a customer wasn’t happy with the wash, your staff would go out of their way to fix the problem. Does that energy still exist today? If not, what happened?

Over time, about 20 percent of your traffic will be comprised of loyal customers accounting for 50 percent to 80 percent of sales. The other 80 percent fall into one of the following categories: impulse customers that purchase the wash package or special that seems good at the time based on a whim; discount customers that only wash based on the size of your markdown; and need-based customers that have a specific intention to get a car wash with minimal loyalty to any particular wash. To grow business, everyone knows to focus efforts on the loyal customers and to offer specials to entice the impulse buyer to a higher ticket. Unfortunately the discount and need-based customers, being in greater numbers, tend to misdirect our efforts and sap enthusiasm of both owners and staff to love and coddle all customers in general.

If enthusiasm is allowed to die, indifference, which is even more contagious, takes its place. One day you might decide that the practice of collecting community tips and dispersing the reward for winning customer service in paychecks just isn’t worth the effort. Then, instead of looking for ways to constantly improve site appearance, wash quality, training, and customer experience, you’re focused on cutting costs, possibly cutting what kept loyal customers glued to your wash. Indifference can creep into your business in hundreds of small ways and spreads to your staff and loyal customers at lightning speed.


Hopefully, what I just wrote makes absolutely no sense to you. Hopefully, your employees are smiling, engaged with customers as if it was your grand opening, and business is booming. But these are difficult times. If you suspect even the slightest possibility that indifference is trying to destroy your business, stop and determine if your wash can benefit from an attitude remodeling. It’s easier to do than you think and usually costs nothing. Here’s how:

Meet and Greet Your Customers
A little conversation can go a long way. If you’re not already doing it, invest as many hours each week as you can in walking around and talking with customers. Thank them. Ask them for recommendations to improve your service. Listen to them. Have no doubt that your employees will watch your every move and model their behavior based on your enthusiastic interaction with customers. Take advantage of this free and easy way to fight indifference from creeping into your business.

Empower Your Employees
Treat every unhappy customer like a loaded gun and give your employees the tools and training they need to take out the bullets. Absolutely monitor for abuse, but give every employee the authority to both refund the price of a wash and to issue a re-wash. Another helpful tactic to empower enthusiasm at your wash is to distribute a few vouchers for free car washes in paychecks each week. Whether they give them to friends and family or barter for other services, they now have clout as an employee of your wash, a sure-fire way to fight indifference.

Identify Loyal Customers
Finding a way to visibly mark your loyal customers is absolutely vital. Not only will you be able to give them the special attention they deserve, but your staff will be constantly reminded that their efforts on delivering enthusiastic customer service does matter. Point-of-sale technology is readily available to make it easy to capture data and automatically connect with your loyal customers. Alternatively, club cards, vehicle stickers, and branded air fresheners, can all help make sure you know which customers on your property demand your highest level of attention.

Innovative Offers for Impulse Customers
There are two equally important reasons to constantly put together new and creative special offers to try and move impulse customers to higher tickets. The first reason is obvious — revenue generation. The second reason, though a bit more subtle, gives you an opportunity to engage in conversations with staff about the success of each offering. A simple, “How is the special X promotion working?” engages employees and helps combat indifference.

Focus on Facility Maintenance
Landscaping, paint, bathrooms, driveways, lobbies — your ability to keep all areas of your wash spotlessly maintained and cared for works like a powerful force against employee indifference. The opposite is equally true.
If you allow the appearance of your site to deteriorate, you’ll be left forever trying to answer the question “Did my best customers leave because my wash didn’t look cared for, or did they leave because my employees felt indifferent and didn’t care for my best customers?”

Concentrate on Wash Performance
Cars change. Climate conditions change. Water quality changes. The question is: Are you constantly evaluating and tweaking your detergent and wash equipment to deliver the best possible product? Talk about wash quality constantly with all employees. Involve everyone in preventive maintenance, and share your ideas for continuous improvement of the wash process. Basically, the more visible you can make your passionate obsession for delivering a clean, dry, shiny car, the harder your employees will work to satisfy your customers.


Sometimes, the best things in life actually are free. Remodeling the attitude of your car wash doesn’t call for any large sum of money, education, or special talent. Just a little friendly conversation, careful role-modeling of good customer service, and constant vigilance in maintaining your site — and suddenly employee indifference will melt away.

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

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