Finishing Line - March 2009

More Car-Care?:
Wash Plus Basic Maintenance
By Robert Roman

Our soft economy has prompted more and more consumers to make choices and reign in consumption by modifying their purchasing behavior. Consequently, this has taken a toll on car wash operations in many parts of the country.

In response to lower volumes and rising costs, some owners have opted to transform themselves through investment by upgrading their facilities; adopting new formats like flex-serve or express exterior; or adding profit centers like convenience store, quick lube, and food services. Consumers respond to these things in a positive manner because they provide more convenience, value, and a positive and different experience.

However, how can you get more skin in the game if you don’t have the room or the resources to do any of these things? One way is to create more value. This value can be discounts or improved service or it can include offering new services. By new, I am not referring to conventional things like adding a paint-chip or windshield repair service but rather an expanded version of the traditional car-care service that you would typically find at a freestanding conveyor wash.

Once upon a time, when you bought gas you would get waited on. The attendant would fill your vehicle with gas, check oil and fluid levels, clean the windshield, and, upon request, check tire pressure. Usually, these activities would be completed within the time it took to “fill’er up.” Today, you get nothing but gas and usually an empty solution bucket towel dispenser and a worn-out windshield squeegee.

Consider the value to a customer if car wash operators offered car-care maintenance in the most basic form. By this I mean adding a new wash package to the menu that would include a full-service wash plus things like checking tire pressure and tread depth; checking oil, coolant, and miscellaneous fluids; topping off windshield washer fluid; inspecting battery cables; lubricating door hinges; and checking headlights, flashers, and turn signals.

This inspection service cannot replace the suggested schedule recommended by the manufacturer, but it can offer increased protection for your customers in between dealer visits. These tasks require little additional effort and time and you do not have to be a mechanic or even mechanically inclined to perform them. For example, most vehicles now feature reservoir tanks that can be accessed anytime by anybody.

Why might something like this work? Consider the following four reasons:

1. There appears to be sufficient numbers in the segment and spending power. According to the literature, more than 50 percent of car wash customers are now women, and common experience shows that most women want to avoid getting under the hood to do maintenance inspections.

2. Since many car wash customers visit a wash more frequently than they do a car dealership or quick lube, they could be reached in a cost effective manner.

3. Unless a wash has a quick lube, there will probably be no other car wash business in the market already offering something like this.

4. There appears to be sufficient profit potential because most of the activities are recommended on a weekly or monthly basis, whereas most motorists will usually visit a car dealership or quick lube only twice a year. In other words, this service would help solve more of the car wash customer’s car-care problems.

Offering a wash combined with a maintenance inspection service could also help sell merchandise like an inclement-weather kit (ice-scraper, flashlight, gloves, blanket), highway safety kit (flares, tire inflator, or fix-a-flat) or windshield-wiper replacement service (free blade install with purchase). According to Aftermarket Business, 46 million motorists are driving with impaired vision. Furthermore, the Rain-X company estimates that 78 percent of motorists only change wiper blades when visibility has been impaired.

Marketing and promotional materials such as maintenance service schedules, gas-saving maintenance and driving tips, and car-care guides are readily available for free on the Internet from organizations like the Car Care Council. This would provide operators with the opportunity to tie into the Council’s car-care month programs (April and October) and quite possibly events like Earth Day and other green initiatives.

Obviously, this isn’t a new idea — car wash is offered everyday at many new car dealerships, quick lubes, tire centers, and big-box stores across the country. However, car-care maintenance services are not something that you typically find at a freestanding conveyor. Offering these basic services may provide car wash operators with another way to expand their business model and generate more sales and build customer loyalty.

Bob Roman is president of RJR Enterprises — Consulting Services (www.carwashplan.com) and vice president of Bubble Wash Buildings LLC. You can reach Bob via e-mail at rjrcarwashplan@yahoo.com.

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