If the Pareto Principle applies to car washing, some would argue success is 80 percent equipment and 20 percent how the customer is treated. More successful operators would say it is actually the opposite that holds true.
Consider how equipment has come to the forefront of the car wash industry. For example, in 2000, the average purchase price for conveyor car wash equipment was $250,000. In 2018, $800,000 or more is not uncommon.
Of course, the reason for this is the degree of automation and technology. Consider the various subsystems incorporated into a modern conveyor car wash facility: At the entrance there is a smart pay station with canopy, an entrance gate, RFID hardware and poles, and cameras and poles.
The wash bay contains a self-loading conveyor system, wheel/tire cleaners, wash modules, rinse/wax system, tire shiner, and a drying system.
The mechanical room contains function and motor controls, water pretreatment system, solution system, pumping station, support equipment, spare parts, and inventory.
And, finally, the paddock area houses centrally controlled or canister type vacuums with stanchions, overhead lighting, mat holders, and refuse containers. Miscellaneous items include signage, website, mobile app development, and computer software.
By comparison, it only takes two attendants per shift and a site manager to staff such an operation. However, staffing and scheduling are not the only elements involved with how well the customer is treated. For example, consider the situation when someone builds close by with a very similar wash. This is where the personality of the owner comes into play to build awareness, loyalty, preference, and value for the company directly as opposed to lowest price or the product brands they feature.
However, creating a strong brand identity requires more than a couple of attendants, big rack of equipment, free vacuums, and how many unlimiteds can be signed up.
Brand building begins with employee recruitment and training. Industry leaders suggest getting only the best people, no matter how long it takes. This means screening and drug testing, developing a dress code, defining employee roles and responsibilities, and a training program.
Brand identity is also built in part through community involvement such as fundraising, charitable contributions, sponsorships, and educating the general public about the environmental benefits of commercial car washing.
On the tarmac, the brand needs a person that can lead the team. This means someone with a spirited and youthful attitude but also someone that is sincere and thoughtful. After all, surveys say the principal reason customers visit a car wash is that a clean car makes them feel good. So, rubbing elbows with customers and employees throughout the day is just as important as what comes out the end of the tunnel.
It takes time and muscle to create a strong brand. For example, big companies like Autobell have their own learning center to ensure a high standard of performance across its network of stores. Whereas start-ups and smaller companies must depend on the owner’s experience and knowledge and/or obtain professional training from their equipment supplier or a third party.
Another aspect of personality is culture. For example, companies that operate full-service washes often promote a spirited culture where a sense of urgency is the rule rather than the exception. Whereas a company like Autobell promotes a more considerate style and provides a very supportive environment, both to its staff and customers. The company provides opportunities to form collaborative relationships and the atmosphere is generally more relaxed and harmonious than at other washes. In other words, people tend to get along with others.
Arguably, Pareto rules, and success is most likely 80 percent how the customer is treated and 20 percent equipment and splash.