Expert Knows Best - Let Fish Swim and Car Washers Wash
By Anthony Analetto
I struggled with the subtitle for this one. I started with, “Do What You Do Best and Leverage the Rest.” That seemed too boring. Next, I tried “Penny Wise and Time Foolish.” That didn’t seem to cover all aspects of this somewhat complicated opportunity. I wanted something that would really grab your attention because this one is responsible for a lot of missed growth. I’m talking about knowing when it makes sense to hire an expert in their field to help grow your business.
What if I told you to pay the asking price for land on your next project, without trying to negotiate? Would you call me a fool? What if I told you this was a lesson shared with me by a dear colleague in our industry who has built more car washes from the ground up than any other operator I know? He explained that if he negotiates a great deal on the purchase price, he typically has to agree to a fast close. Car wash permitting can be a long and unpredictable process. Today, provided the asking price is reasonable for the predicted revenue, he offers the asking price with some conditions. He’ll sign a contract that stipulates that the closing is contingent upon the issuance of permits from the municipality. He then hires an architect and a legal team to expedite permitting with the city, and he invests a significant amount of money on land he doesn’t actually own yet. Seem crazy? As my friend explains, he’d have to spend that money anyway, but after having experienced unanticipated permitting delays that exceeded a year, he’s learned that managing the carrying costs on land isn’t his expertise. He focuses on what he does best, which is getting a property permitted for a car wash, and he lets the broker do what brokers do best, which is managing the carrying costs of real estate while waiting for a sale. In his words, “It’s a win-win for all. I may pay more for the piece of dirt, but more often than not I spend less overall than if I had to carry the land. More importantly, it lets me focus on making the right decisions instead of cutting corners because I’m not worried about bleeding money on a vacant lot that I can’t develop.”
Before applying this theory to other areas of the wash, I’ll admit to being as guilty as the next guy at believing I can be an expert at everything. Fortunately, age, wisdom, and mentoring from colleagues like the one above have afforded me the ability to know when to let fish swim and car washers wash. I’ll share a humbling story: Several years ago, we purchased a very expensive CNC machine for the factory. It is extremely flexible, and its capabilities over and above our current machines would significantly increase our capacity. We purchased the machine the only way we knew how — as a standalone machine. It took us over a year to design, cut, and program all of the fixtures and parts that we needed to run the machine at capacity. Fast forward to this year. We are bringing another similar machine online, and after talking to a good friend of the company, we paid the machine tool supplier to have the fixtures and robot cell designed, programmed, and integrated prior to delivery. They have now developed all of the programs, custom work holding solutions, and integration that we need to be able to run the machine at capacity from day one. Our engineers will go to their facility for training next month on a fully functional machine and return to work two days later. The machine will be dismantled, shipped, installed, and will deliver the full value we need as soon as it hits the floor. It’s difficult to know when it makes more sense to pay for expertise, and when it’s prudent to do things yourself. Each car wash operator represents a different set of skills. That said, here are a few areas to consider bringing in outside help for.
You’ve got staff. You’ve got downtime. You’ve got a lawnmower, a weed whacker, and a leaf blower. Add them together and you’ve got a landscaping service. Right? Not really. Curb appeal is a major factor in attracting and retaining customers. Your staff might do a fantastic job keeping things tidy, but it’s unlikely many of them will have a green thumb for pruning, pulling weeds, plant selection, and re-mulching. This is definitely an area where you might want to let a landscaper landscape while you focus on washing cars.
HR and Payroll
Outsourcing payroll lessens the time you or your management spend on calculating tax obligations and preparing checks. Regulations change constantly, and the penalties for noncompliance are steep. Leveraging outsourced payroll services alleviates your needing to know the latest filing deadlines, deposit requirements, or keeping on top of software versions and updates to your payroll system. Unless you have a background in accounting, letting a payroll company take care of payroll may be the right move to let you and your staff focus on washing cars.
Simply relying on passersby to turn onto your lot is not a business-generation strategy. Every wash needs a marketing plan in place and the wherewithal to execute it. If you feel like running out of the room when someone starts talking about inbound versus outbound marketing strategy, then it might be time to consider hiring a marketing agency. Just because you may not want to weigh the search engine advantages of launching a responsive website against the investment you’ll have to make, doesn’t mean you can put it on the backburner. Our industry is filled with some very savvy marketers. If you’re not one of them, you owe it to the growth of your business to hire an agency that can get the job done.
Installation and Upgrades
Every operator must master preventive maintenance and troubleshooting to survive in this industry. When it comes to installation and system upgrades, however, it’s sometimes best to contract a local specialist. It kills me to visit a location struggling to produce a clean car, only to find out a brush is rotating in the wrong direction.
The other night I was pumping gas at a beautiful c-store with a car wash. Anyone in the gas business knows that it’s not uncommon for water to seep into the tanks after a heavy rain. Gas floats over water, so it’s a relatively simple process to pump the water from under the gas into barrels and have them hauled away by a company specializing in hazardous waste. Let’s just say that the owner was alarmed to learn that his staff may have forgotten the barrel part of the equation, mistakenly pumping the hazardous mixture directly into the sewer, in plain sight of anyone driving by. Let’s just say that this owner has since contracted a company specializing in waste management to maintain his tanks.
I always feel good when I can help someone else learn the valuable lesson I was taught: to hire expertise when it makes sense to avoid risk and capitalize on opportunity. Don’t learn this lesson the hard way. Look at your business now and take out a pen. Write down all the opportunities you see. Chances are one or more of the items on that list are standing between you and serious growth.
Good luck, and good washing.
Washing cars for over 30 years, Anthony Analetto serves as 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.