Past Issue

Distributor - Making an Evaluation

By Buzz Glover

03/01/14

Your relationship with your car wash equipment distributor is the closest thing to being in a marriage. I say this for a reason: It holds true. When you finally decide on a distributor, you better evaluate whom you are getting married to. Answering the following questions will help you make that evaluation:

1. Do they represent good values?

2. What do they bring to the relationship?

3. Are they going to tell the truth?

4. Will they be with you through thick and thin?

5. Are they the mate you want to be with for life?

6. Are they financially sound?

7. Will they cheat on you?

8. Will they bring out the worst or best in you?

9. Will they be there for you when you are down?

10. Can your marriage survive a long distance relationship? 

11. What if it all unravels?

12. Will they live up to your expectations?

You might think that I am joking, but it is a very good analogy. Obviously, when you get married, you are looking for the perfect mate who fulfills all of your expectations. The same holds true for choosing your equipment distributor. I have a love/hate relationship with my distributor. They might say the same thing of me. They love that I spent a million dollars on two car washes, and they hate that I’m a pain in the butt. When I chose them as my equipment vendor I evaluated many of the attributes that I thought were important in the relationship; I also missed a few. I don’t mind that they will probably read this someday because I am assuming that they’ll agree with most of my discussion about choosing an equipment vendor. I am not trying to “throw them under the bus” while I discuss my experience because they are a very reputable vendor. But just like any married couple, we have our problems and just like any marriage, I could’ve done a lot worse and probably not too much better. Let’s look at this new marriage you will be entering bullet point by bullet point:

 

1. Do they represent good values?

When I say values, I am really looking at overall strength and more specifically what manufacturers the distributor you are considering represents. When I reflect back on choosing my distributor it really was for one main reason: I felt most comfortable with them as a company in providing me with a “turnkey” package including equipment. They were the only ones to provide construction drawings and a lot of “hand-holding” for a new car wash entrepreneur. Ask yourself, does this company represent the correct manufacturer and do they seem like their values are the same as mine? Many times the nature of this relationship is as important as the actual features, benefits, and add-value that the equipment manufacturers are touting in their equipment. This is sometimes a difficult quandary. You sometimes have good distributors representing bad manufacturers and sometimes have bad distributors representing good manufacturers. Either of these situations can create trouble in the marriage.

 

2. What do they bring to the relationship?

I looked at about four to five different equipment vendors when I first got into the business. Each seemed to have different attributes. Four of the five owned washes at the time or had owned washes in the past. One was a local sales rep for a large national company that did mainly petroleum business. I ended up going with the distributor that I thought brought the most to our relationship. They represented good equipment, had the closest thing to a “turnkey” solution, and they had successful car wash experience.

 

3. Are they going to tell the truth?

In any marriage, you want a partner who is not going to lie to you. I experienced this firsthand when I interviewed possible distributors. I didn’t know it at the time but, after being in the business for a while, I realized that some were telling me what I wanted to hear to try and earn my business. They also were being less than honest when it came to recommending equipment. I am thankful that my distributor was forthright in taming some of my expectations but also wish that they might have made better equipment recommendations. One of the distributors I considered closely went out of business within a year after I opened my first wash. I had no idea they were about to fail and they didn’t tell me.

 

4. Will they be with you through thick and thin?

It wasn’t long after I opened my first wash that I got in an argument with the principal of my distributor. I can remember it very clearly. The owner of the company took me and my partners golfing in the afternoon. That evening he visited our wash and found out that we had switched over to another chemical supplier and he was not happy about it. The next day when we were talking about why we were trying someone else’s chemicals, it escalated into a heated argument. He threatened not to leave us a spare parts kit that he had promised earlier. This was somewhat amusing because his home base was about three hours from our location and he did not want to send a service guy for every small warranty repair that was needed (at the time we didn’t know how to fix anything). In the long run, we ended up spending another $450,000 with him, but I don’t feel that the relationship was ever the same. The point I am making is that a lot of things — mainly disagreements — can happen along the way. Make sure you are comfortable with whether this distributor will stick with you, and you with them, during rough times.

 

5. Are they the mate you want for life?

Believe it or not, when you partner with your distributor, there is a good chance that it will be for the lifetime of your wash or your involvement in the wash. While the in-bay automatic equipment will be prone to replacement earlier, self-serve equipment lasts a long time. This means that unless the manufacturer of the equipment you choose changes distributors, you will be “married” to this distributor as long as you own your equipment.

 

6. Are they financially sound?

Would you want to be married to a partner who was in financial disarray? The same holds true with your equipment distributor. It will be impossible to gauge the true financial strength of any distributor, but you need to do some commonsense evaluating. Have they been in business for at least five years? Do they appear to be financially sound (building, vehicles, etc., in good repair)? Do they have an infrastructure to support you?

 

7. Will they cheat on you?

I have also had a personal experience with this, as have many other car wash owners. When considering different manufacturers and distributors there was one company that I really thought I would possibly want to do business with. I know that the distributor was involved with and had some ownership interest in a growing chain of car washes in my market area. I ruled them out immediately. My instincts were correct because I now compete with them.

You want to make sure that, if your distributor owns car washes, they are not predators as well. If you talk to them about a good market location, they might be the next to build there. This can be hard to gauge sometimes but you should take this into consideration with some of the pricing advantages they will have if they also become your competitor.

 

8. Will they bring out the worst or best in you?

Will your distributor continue to try to make you a success or will they be long gone after the sale? I look at all my vendors as ways to further my success, using their ability to inform me of what is new and what could be advantageous for me in the marketplace. Your distributor could and should be a good source of information to help you grow your business.

 

9. Will they be there for you when you are down?

How quickly can your distributor respond to a problem? How good is their phone support. If you need a service call, how quickly can they get to you? Get this in writing if possible.

 

10. Can your marriage survive a long distance relationship?

Consider the physical distance the distributor is from your location. I also have personal experience with this. While my distributor has wonderful phone support, they are slow to make the three-hour travel time when I need a service guy at my location. As the relationship ages, their ability to get to me in a timely manner gets worse. If I started to explore building another wash, I would be hard pressed to consider them as a vendor for this reason. As the old saying goes, “I am no longer a prospect, I am a customer,” and the three-hour trip all of a sudden has gotten a lot longer for them. If you consider any distributor further than three hours driving distance, you would be making a huge mistake. One-hour travel or less from your distributor’s home office to your location is ideal.

 

11. What if it all unravels?

What would happen if your distributor went out of business or you got into a dispute? Who would be there to support you? Who is the manufacturer’s next nearest distributor to your location? How quickly has the manufacturer brought in replacements in other areas? These are all valid questions when considering a distributor or manufacturer.

 

12. Will they live up to your expectations?

Sometimes your expectations and your distributor’s expectations are different. It is a good idea to get some of these expectations in writing in case a dispute arises. We had many reservations in contracting with a manufacturer whose distributor was located three hours away from us. Throughout the entire procurement process we were assured that they would have good service response time. I remember my distributor specifically saying that they would arrive within 24 hours. I very rarely call my distributor for a service visit, but recently some service calls took over a week. I wish I could pull out a piece of paper or contract that covered what I was promised as far as this expectation is concerned. But I can’t.

There is a plethora of issues to consider when making a car wash equipment purchase, many of which concern the selection of a distributor. Much of the information requires weighing the advantages and disadvantages of each option and trying to make the best decision possible.

 

Buzz Glover is the author of “Car Wash Business 101: The #1 Car Wash Start-Up Guide” available on amazon.com. There is also a downloadable version at www.carwashbusiness101.com. Buzz Glover is also available for consulting for new car wash start-ups. 

 

 



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