Fore! Ward Thinking - Leveraging Technology to Monitor Your Business
By Anthony Analetto
I’m only an average golfer. I love the game, however, and play whenever I can. So what does golf have to do with washing cars? Recently, I had the privilege of playing with a group of friends at Pebble Beach. Naturally, I would check in at my washes periodically from my smartphone to see where we stood for the day. While playing, one friend, who is an electrician by trade, asked me why I kept checking my phone. I told him I was watching cars go through my tunnel back in Florida. I ran him through the daily counts, labor usage, average per car, etc. He was astounded! Not so much that this kind of technology exists, but that the car wash industry had so completely embraced it. It was his next question that caused me to pause. He asked, “Does every car wash have this type of technology in place?” The truth is that everything is evolving so quickly, I’m never completely confident that I’m leveraging the latest and greatest to grow my business, let alone answer for the industry as a whole. So I decided to start a list. Below is my first pass at reviewing the best practices to use technology for success as a car wash operator. I look forward to the flood of e-mails I’m expecting from all of you with other suggestions to include. That said, let’s take a look.
MONITOR YOUR ONLINE PRESENCE
To start things off, I may as well dive into the technology I’m least familiar with, but is arguably one of the most important areas to master: online marketing. Take out your smartphone. Search the name of the town your wash is in, the state, and the words “best car wash.” If you aren’t looking at a little map with the name of your wash, your hours of operation, and a link for directions to your property, you have a huge problem. Try some other searches your customers might do such as “city, state, car wash coupons.” Better yet, try “city, state, worst car wash” and make sure you’re not looking at your business.
Read your online reviews. Creating engaging social media campaigns, location-based online advertising, e-mail, and responsive mobile websites, are not optional technology for a car wash. Does that mean you need to be an expert in this area? Absolutely not. Does it mean you may have to hire a marketing agency to help you be competitive? Absolutely yes. After that, you just have to periodically search for your wash to make sure everything is still working. I’d also recommend going to google.com/alerts where you can set it up to have an e-mail sent to you anytime the name of your wash appears online. Both tasks, I’m happy to say, can be accomplished from a golf cart anywhere in the world.
Investing in a high-quality camera system to monitor all areas of your facility will improve customer satisfaction, employee productivity, and safety. Start at the tunnel entrance. A surface level video must be recorded for all vehicles before entering the wash to identify any pre-existing damage. This takes away the guesswork of “did we damage the car?” Not only will you save on damage claims, you will also ensure customers who didn’t know their car was already scratched under the layer of dirt will leave satisfied with your service.
The next mandatory set of cameras must record all employee interactions with customers. Depending on your layout, this could include greeters, guide-on attendants, cashiers, as well as all vacuum and aftercare areas. Monitor the cameras often. Watch for employees doing things correctly. When you see positive behaviors, call your staff and praise them for it. Periodic calls to thank an employee for smiling while talking to a customer on camera will improve customer service and satisfaction and make it stick, even when you’re not there. Also keep all areas of the tunnel and back room under surveillance for safety. If I know my staff is scheduled to perform an afterhours maintenance, I’ll check before they start to make sure ladders are in a safe place, and that they did proper lockout and tag-out procedures. A quick phone call to let your staff know that you confirmed on the cameras that proper procedures were followed is another powerful tool to let them know you are concerned about their safety.
MONITOR CHEMISTRY AND MAINTENANCE
The average car wash produces a lot of data that you can leverage to monitor your operation. The logic is straightforward. Each car you wash should consume a known quantity of chemistry, water, and electricity. Whether you use too much, or too little, both are a problem. Too much chemical consumed could indicate worn nozzles that destroy profits, whereas too little can be caused by a clogged injector that will ruin customer satisfaction. This is nothing new, and most operators will compare monthly invoices to car counts using a spreadsheet to identify issues.
But why wait? There are systems hitting the market that will be able to monitor consumption, compare to established quantities per car, alert you in real-time of potential issues, and notify you if equipment is reaching its life expectancy. Soon you can be sitting in your golf cart and receive a text notification that the kilowatt consumption at one of your locations spiked, indicating a potential motor failure. Now that’s leveraging technology.
MONITOR CAR COUNTS AND SALES
Does your daily wash volume match the anticipated car count for the amount of precipitation and day of the week? Do you have access to live reporting on your cars per hour, cars per man-hour, sales by department, commissions, and other labor percentages? Most car washes have some level of reporting, and those built within the last decade often have advanced visibility into the vital statistics to ensure the business is running properly.
The latest POS systems from all manufacturers, however, are leveraging technology to add valuable bells and whistles at an alarming rate.
Some now track incidents to identify patterns and resolutions. Others can interact directly with your club member’s social media accounts. And all of the systems continue to streamline the customer experience at automated greeters and your entire property.
For many years purchasing a car wash management system was a one-time investment that was expected to last decades. Now I find myself monitoring the latest advancements and news to see what’s next and deciding when it might make sense to upgrade. Fortunately I can do that research in between holes from a golf cart as well.
MONITOR YOUR FUTURE
Less than 10 years ago I had a cell phone that did one thing, it made phone calls. Today I have live access to all the information known to humankind in my pocket. Technology is evolving so quickly, and impacts so many areas of your business, it’s a full-time job to make sure you’re using the latest and greatest to take your unfair share of the business in your market. I look forward to your messages on other ideas I didn’t address and will feature them in future articles. So far, the only thing I know for certain is that if you can’t control your business and customer experience from any spot on the planet, even in a golf cart, then you’re not leveraging technology to monitor your business.
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.