On the Wash Front - January 2008

New Year's Resolutions:
Making a List - Checking it Twice
By Anthony Analetto

It’s that time of year again — time to implement the preventive maintenance program or assemble that staff training manual you’ve been planning to do for the last 12 months.

2008 New Year’s resolutions are at hand. Can you think of any project you intended to complete last year to grow your business that is still not started? Fortunately, unlike bothersome personal resolutions such as joining a gym that require willpower and confidence, business resolutions simply demand planning, prioritization, and preparation. Better yet, much of the work can be done before the ball even drops, so let’s get started.

PLANNING

I’ll admit that the entire concept of creating a list of New Year’s resolutions is flawed. In a perfect world, everyone would accurately set goals, schedule implementation, and shift resources to the next goal upon completion of the first. For those of us less-than-perfect folk, who find entering the New Year a valuable opportunity to collect our thoughts and develop a plan, the hardest part is often where to start. Technology, the economy, weather patterns, and consumer preferences seem to be changing at an accelerating pace. Below are a few key areas you may want to address.

The Economy
Continued growth or recession? Everywhere you turn there seems to be a different opinion and facts to support it. Rising oil prices, problems in the credit markets, and the devaluation of the dollar are not new for 2008. Some may argue that the status quo will hold for another year. Personally, I believe prudent planning is a better alternative. Profit is simply what’s left after deducting expenses from revenue. Preparing for a changing economy is therefore simply creating a more formal plan for what you do every day; increase revenue and decrease operating expenses. On the revenue side, evaluate your hours of operation, package offerings, pricing, and value-added services to name a few. Identify areas where you can test changes and measure their impact on sales. I’ll address operational considerations below.

Weather
Severe drought, excessive rain, more pollen, less pollen, too much snow, not enough snow; these problems have affected car washing for as long as it has been an industry. What has changed, are technological advancements that make it easier to get through difficult times and capitalize on volume spikes after long periods of bad weather. Gated attendants allow operators to remain open on questionable days that don’t justify bringing in labor. Automated pre-prep, finishing, and extra services such as online tire dressing applicators are available to completely remove manual labor from the wash process. Rebuilding volume after a prolonged turn in weather is often complicated by the forced layoffs and subsequent scramble to get employees to return to work. Even if you continue to use labor in the wash process as part of your customer service, planning for the ability to deliver a consistently clean, dry, shiny car without labor can afford you greater flexibility in times of uncertain weather.

Promotion
Some technologies such as Radio Frequency Identification or RFID-based payment systems designed to streamline visits to the car wash and improve customer satisfaction are just beginning to get off the ground. It may be a bit early to plan these improvements for your wash, but there never seems to be a shortage of missed opportunities to better market your business. Don’t stop at scheduling facility and landscaping upgrades to perk up the appearance of your location. Consider offering monthly unlimited wash subscriptions that guarantee revenue on the first of every month. Identify opportunities and a plan to improve your community and charity involvement. Experiment with paid search engine ads that lead prospects to coupons on your website. Focus on building your customer database with a concentration on capturing e-mail addresses. Possibly set up a customer relationship management (CRM) system to help make your direct mail and e-mail promotions more effective. With careful planning you can often reduce your marketing expense while increasing your traffic and revenue.

Operations
No part of your business lives in isolation. For example, if you make a 2008 New Year’s resolution to increase the reclamation of water at your site, make sure you create secondary goals to leverage that investment. The next goal might be to create a brochure promoting the environmental benefits of using your car wash for community fundraising events because you reclaim water. After that, you might prepare an emergency drought manual that details your reclaim capability, water consumption compared to other businesses in your area, and reports available from the International Carwash Association that support the environmental advantages of professional car washing. There is no finer resolution than preparing for a potential crisis before it occurs.

Other areas to consider when creating goals may be related to equipment investments to reduce labor, utility, and detergent expenses while increasing wash quality and consistency. Review your preventive maintenance documentation, training, and procedures. This is often a huge potential for operators to save thousands of dollars a year on equipment repair and lost revenue from business closure with very little out-of-pocket expense. Identify other service offerings you can add to your location to improve customer convenience and generate additional revenue.

PRIORITIZE

Whether it’s a shortage of money or time, seldom is it possible to do everything on your list as quickly as you may want. Try to estimate the benefit and cost of each project. It’s useful to get this out of your head and onto paper or a spreadsheet. Create an action plan with a time line and look for opportunities to group projects together that can leverage each other. Now the fun part — select the single project with the biggest bang for the buck that, if completed on time, would complement secondary opportunities before the end of the year. This is actually a lot more difficult than it sounds, but really working this step will make sure you get the best return on your investment of money and time.

PREPARE

Resolutions we set for our business growth never seem to start the year with the same level of detail as our personal goals. I’ve known smokers who have slapped on a nicotine patch the second the clock strikes twelve with a complete cessation program in place to begin on January 1. Business resolutions on the other hand, usually seem to start the year with little more than the intention to begin planning them. Fight that temptation. Contact vendors, meet with staff, get quotes, and schedule the single most important goal you identified above before the New Year starts.

I’m still refining my own list but have so far resolved to lose 15 pounds before heading out to the 2008 Car Care World Expo in Orlando. Treadmill in place, measurable benchmark established, you may not even recognize me at the show this year. If by some chance I still look about the same as I do now, ask me instead about my progress with promoting unlimited wash subscriptions — I may have a little more useful insight to offer you. Good luck and good washing.

Anthony Analetto has over 26 years experience in the car wash business and is the president of SONNY’S The Car Wash Factory’s Equipment Division. Before coming to SONNY’S Anthony was the director of operations for a 74-location national car wash chain. Anthony can be reached at (800) 327-8723 x 104 or at AAnaletto@SonnysDirect.com.

 

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