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A FEATURED ARTICLE FROM

AUGUST 2003

Hello and Goodbye
Past Lessons - Future Opportunities

By John Lamade

This is the 50th anniversary issue of Auto Laundry News, and it is appropriate to say "hello" to the next
50 years. It is also appropriate to say "goodbye" to the previous 50.
Life tends to be marked by comings and goings. We celebrate the success of permanence and regret untimely demise. Happily, I congratulate the publisher, editors, writers, contributors, and, of course, the readers for making a 50th year not a dream, but a reality.

We mark our years and anniversaries, and then move forward to the ever-uncertain future. If we dwell too much on the past, we will miss the opportunities to be born in the times to come. If we shut the door on the past and march determinedly to the future, we can be fated to repeating the errors - and perhaps the successes - of the past. What does the future hold? The answer, of course, rests with you, the reader.

For 50 years, Auto Laundry News has provided information and advice to its readers. Hopefully, you have noted the beneficial changes in your business and the entire industry. Certainly, the vehicles and technologies have changed. You have changed, and today's customers are, without a doubt, unlike those who drove to your business a decade ago.

Since I began writing for ALN about five years ago, I have undergone changes as well. Hopefully, they were for the better; I believe they were. I have learned much and have grown to respect the efforts and people in car washing and detailing. However, before the candles have cooled on the 50th year cake, I must admit that I will not be writing for ALN in the second half of its first century. Rather than consider the possibilities in car care, I have chosen to pursue other opportunities that preclude a monthly column in this magazine. This, then, is my goodbye. I will miss my monthly opportunity to share my thoughts with you. So it goes.

Yes, there are unfulfilled dreams. I would have liked to address you at an ICA show and found better ways to communicate my thoughts with you. But it is time to move on.

REFLECTIONS

Over the years, I have become more certain that a good relationship with your suppliers is a key element in ensuring maximum value. This is a business characterized by a wide variety of products - some of them are good and many mediocre, but few are really bad. The key determinant to quality and reduced costs can be found in your shop and your employees. Think about your labor rates and cost of labor per vehicle. The cost of materials per vehicle looks small in comparison. The trick remains to find ways to increase productivity.

The key to productivity is found by knowing your business, your production process, training your employees, and understanding the efficient use of products. Of course, to get a chance to increase productivity you need more customers. You get customers by making the ones you already have happy, and gaining positive recommendations. Word of mouth sells. Since we work in a changing environment, it makes sense to find people who can help you find the optimum combination of resources and people.

A good distributor can help you. As you expect a distributor to understand your business, you should understand your distributor's as well. I have not written anything on this subject. I should have, because a partnership with suppliers means that you understand their needs as well. Each month, this magazine comes to you through the advertisements of manufacturers and distributors. Likewise, the ICA's Car Care World Expo is the result of many manufacturers investing in booths and displays - and it certainly isn't cheap! But they do it all for you. You are the intended beneficiary of this massive investment. Why? They want to earn your money. Well, the good ones do, and I don't want to consider the other kind.

Literally tens of thousands of people are working for your success. It is a long chain from factory to your shop, but the salesman and truck that visit your shop have reached the ultimate destination -you! This may sound repetitious, but it is important. A salesperson really does want to be a part of your success, and as the manufacturers always state: It's better to work closely with a few shops than not do so with dozens. For you, that means it doesn't promote efficiency in the business to buy a quart from one guy, a gallon from another, and so on. When a salesman must make between 30 and 50 calls per day, there isn't enough time to do much more than kick buckets and run out. Why do we do this?

There probably is no fast answer, but I know that this kind of buying hurts you. Your interests would be better served if you dealt with two or three vendors exclusively -- one is better yet - and gave the salesperson more time to invest in providing the training and assistance that can help your shop. All this is free for the taking if there was time. So I guess there is a cost - you have to learn to trust your distributors and partner with them. Choose your vendor(s) with care, and they will become invaluable. Think about it!

VALUE

I have covered this topic nearly endlessly. While I never tire of exploring the facets of value, I have often wondered whether you have tired of these discussions. Delivering value to your customers, however, is the foundation of referral business, which you need to grow. Your customers must perceive value in your services. Similarly, the products and processes you use in your shop must contribute to your business' profitability.

Product value is relative to the benefits you receive and use. If I wrote this article for a hundred years, this truth would remain the same. Seek real value! Nothing is free, and if something is too inexpensive, there is probably something wrong somewhere. You can go to a grocery store and buy a gallon container of distilled water for 55 cents. An 8 percent sodium hypochlorite solution in water (bleach) goes for about $1 a gallon. These are the low ends. If a vendor starts telling you that a product costs a few dollars a gallon, what do you think the main ingredient will be? On the other hand, make sure that low costs are not the result of exploitation or unscrupulous business practices. Avoid businesses that exploit the environment, their employees, and your employees.

Avoid mediocrity in your business and the products you use. Be wary of bright words and pictures; they don't do anything. Trust the product's ability to provide the results you want. Big names and big deals are just that: big. They do not mean better. Use quality products, and leave the fancy packaging for those who can't get the results. Sooner or later, they'll catch on, but you will have the business. Remember, you throw away empty bottles, not customers!

ICA

Until there is another organization that will better help you, you have few choices:

o Don't join and complain
o Join and complain
o Join and change the organization

I have always recommended the third alternative because the ICA does offer the opportunities to help the industry. We might differ on perceptions of that success, but the organization works for its members, and, if you aren't a member, you shouldn't expect too much accommodation, right?

For detailers, though, it is still the International Carwash Association. They have not yet changed their name to the International Car Care Association (ICCA). Do you think they will? Perhaps they would if more detailers were to join and worked with the existing membership to develop an inclusive name for the organization. My recommendation is to join up or shut up!

FINAL TIPS OF THE HAT

As this article draws my tenure with ALN to a close, I must pause to thank the many people who have shared their knowledge, opinions, skills, and patience with me. Thank you all! In particular, I would like to thank Pete Brown, John Ginley, Dave Hornby, and Stefan Budricks. All of you have made working in this industry exciting and rewarding. Thank you. Lastly, I want to thank my wife, Cheryl. She, too, will be surprised when she discovers that she finally made a column. Cheryl and my sons, Matthew and Andrew, have always been an inspiration, and they keep me going. To them, loving thanks.

Of course, I can't depart without thanking you for reading my articles. It has been fun and I wish you all the best in the coming 50 years!

John Lamade has extensive experience in the marketing of detailing products and is a contributing editor to Auto Laundry News. Contact John via e-mail at jlamade@msn.com.

AUTO LAUNDRY NEWS is published by EW Williams Publications Company
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