Spring Clean the One You Have
Jack Lewis Ludwig, CFP
The events in the stock markets and the economy, since March of 2000,
tell us that things change and that we need to be prepared for the dramatic
as well as the traumatic if we want to be around for the next day, month,
year, or decade. What are you doing about it now?
While no one can foresee all the various problems that a portfolio or
business may encounter, having thought about a plan as well as having
one will make you and your business better prepared to prosper, let alone
Let me share an example of chasing away a long-time customer simply from
having two points of view, neither of which is the customer's. You have
a web site that offers 50-percent-off coupons for a "low end"
wash. The customer may make up the difference for a "high end"
wash. The customer tells others about your web site or facility. You get
You then update your web site and now offer a $3 discount off any wash
the customer chooses. That represents a significant decrease in the discount
for the customer. The customer then goes to your facility and presents
the $3-off coupon, which only nets a $1 real discount off the regularly
(permanent) $2 discounted "high end" wash. Your employee fails
to realize how angry the customer is for having made such an effort to
find the site, print the coupon and come to your facility to take advantage
of a seemingly worthless offer. What is your opinion of this event? How
would you have prepared to avoid this loss of a 20-year customer? What
actions should you have taken to make this a positive change instead of
generating such negative exposure and results? Here are a few ideas:
Do you collect e-mail addresses of visitors to your site to
advise them about upcoming changes to allow them to take advantage of
old discounts before a change takes effect?
Do you now collect e-mail addresses to maintain contact and thank
these future customers with a free report on the benefits of car care
through regular detailing and washing?
Do you offer them a chance to win a free wash by registering
their e-mail address and other info that will serve you to serve them,
so that you may keep contact with them?
Have you actually checked the significance of the $3-off coupon
when it is presented?
What are you doing to "drive" visitors to your web
site? Or are you paying a webmaster to simply create a great view with
no access roads, direction signs, or promotions? Have you ever heard
about the struggling hotdog stand on the outskirts of a small town whose
owner put up one sign and then another, and another, achieving monumental
success? After the owner retired, his son and heir decided that he didn't
need all those signs and depublicized the stand into bankruptcy.
Do you offer visitors a free car wash or other incentive for
referring customers to your facility or web site? Do you offer one free
wash with every 10 on a web-site coupon?
Are you maintaining statistics about your web site and its visitors?
A business plan is nothing more than strategies in writing that describe
where you are; what you have; how you're going to get where you need to
and/or want to be; and when you'll need to get there. It is, in other
words, a road map to success with driving directions and an expected time
of arrival (ETA). For a driving example, checkout the web site for MapQuest
at www.mapquest.com. It will give you an idea of the meaningful detail
necessary for a well-designed trip and allow you to compare it to how
well you've detailed your business plan. The simple question is, do you
know where you are and do you really know how you're going to get to where
If you are getting into the spirit of the concept, you should be asking,
"Why plan?" Andy Bangs, who wrote a booklet for Chase Vista
Funds a few years ago, said that a business plan is key to getting to
the next level because it:
Forces you to take a realistic look at your business or business
Helps you to frame your philosophy, beliefs, and business approach;
Allows you to organize, which enables you to spot opportunities
Helps you to forecast and to budget effectively;
Makes it easier for you to communicate "your vision"
and ideas to your employees;
Helps you to measure your progress throughout each year.
Each business plan is unique, not because there is no prescribed formula
or predefined set of steps to follow, rather because it represents the
ideas and personal interpretations of where the plan creator and business
innovator wants it to go.
In other (1H and 5W) words: who are you, where are you, what do you want,
when do you want it, and how are you going to get there; assuming you
know why you want to punish yourself with opportunity? Some of these questions
may provide you with a guideline as you answer them critically and candidly:
1. What is your business attitude and profile?
Are you a generalist or specialist/authority in your chosen
field or venture?
If you are an authority, what exactly is it that you know most
or do best?
What types of individuals comprise your current customer list?
Income range; vehicle price and age; lifestyle?
Is your business a start-up or an existing company in need of
What are or will be your company's strengths and weaknesses?
What are your company's threats and liabilities; its opportunities?
What is the nature of and who is your competition?
What should your share of the market be? What is it now?
Describe how your best level of service would be or is provided?
Describe your supplier dependencies. How can they be improved?
What is your price structure and how competitive is it?
2. What are your qualitative business aims, goals, and objectives?
Do you want to establish your facility as the preeminent provider
of quality car washes, detailing, etc. to individuals and/or to corporations/fleets?
Are you planning a full-service facility specializing in restoration
or an economy car-cleaning site?
Do you plan to generate awareness through location and signage,
advertising, public relations, or other marketing ideas? Are you considering
donating a percentage of your profits to charity or to host fundraising
washes at your facility?
Do you want to change the buying behavior of a certain segment
of the local market? Will you achieve it through senior discounts, supermarket
checkout coupons, VIP mailers, gift wash booklets, etc?
3. What are your quantitative business aims, goals and objectives?
Do you want to achieve a set level of steady revenue or vehicles
serviced by a given date? Are you targeting different service levels:
Supreme, Ultimate, Economy?
What rate of ROI (return on investment) do you envision for your
venture in year one and thereafter?
Do you want to increase business by a set percentage or increase
public awareness of your facility and the services offered?
Do you need to increase the numbers of employees, full- and/or
Do you want to be price-competitive or build value-added pricing
How much capital do you have available to achieve your goals?
willing to spend it all and how rapidly?
4. How good is your time frame?
Just as you need to pay off a bank loan within a realistic time
horizon, you need to decide how many months or years you need to achieve
your business goal(s).
What responsibilities will you need to assume to reach those
goals within the anticipated deadlines?
Decide what measures of achievement you'll use to verify the
accomplishment of goals, i.e., Statement of Net Worth,Income, Payroll,
including yourself. Remember Aristotle's advice to pay yourself first
- assuming it doesn't force you out of business. If it does, there was
something dramatically wrong with your plan.
CREATE A SAMPLE PLAN
The sample plan need not be an exhaustive exercise. A simple overview
Define and describe your business in as clear detail as you
Set your business goals by describing the type of plan you need
and set its time horizon at no more than three to five years. Provide
both qualitative and quantitative projections while identifying business
goals over that time schedule;
Describe your strategies for accomplishing your goals - how much
time, effort, and assets you will expend or allocate to each task or
action necessary to achieve those goals;
Remember your personal goals;
Create your ideal or optimum organization and note to which level
or stage it refers;
Know and understand your competition, i.e., others in same business
and the driveway washer. Highlight and expound on your advantages over
each of them;
Develop your marketing and advertising strategies by defining
your target customer bases while defining your specialties and uniqueness.
Now that you have an idea or two about what to do, you may as well be
aware of what not to do so that you may avoid the mistakes commonly made
Do you want a "perfect" plan? Of course not, just one that
works and is capable of being changed as needed. Will you wait for the
"right" time? Postponing the business or the plan is similar
to getting into the right thing at the wrong time, e.g., tech stocks in
March of 2000. Don't forget to do good research -- something more than
adequate. Take a non-hectic weekend and draft a good plan.
It is important that you not do it alone. (See the Internet sites listed
below. They represent a good start in finding help with your plan.) If
you have associates in your business venture, make it a collaborative
effort by sharing ideas and contributions. That way, the understanding
of what you are all attempting to accomplish is cross-fertilized with
a mutual sense of participation and reward.
Identify associations and other organizations (local, regional, and national)
to join; discover publications (not only those that cover your specific
industry, but also those that cover allied industries
and even general business issues) to subscribe to that'll help you build
and grow your business.
For assistance and guidance, you may want to visit, at your own risk,
the following sites:
This Small Business Administration site offers business plan outlines
and a self-paced tutorial.
Here you will find sample business plans and business plan software.
You can also enter the Business Plan Competition 2002.
Check out the virtual business plan at this unique and free online
Contact the trade associations for advice and counsel in finding very
specific business plans for the car wash industry. If you are attending
the Automotive Oil Change Association's Convention and Fast Lube Expo
in Reno, NV or The International Carwash Association's Car Care World
Expo in Chicago, you have several professional sources available to you,
both in the educational sessions and on the tradeshow floor.
Neither Jack Lewis Ludwig, CFP, nor Nathan and Lewis Securities, is a
professional tax advisor. We also assume no responsibility for the accuracy
or reliability of any material you may use or discover on any of the herein-referenced
Jack Lewis Ludwig, CFP, is a registered representative with Nathan &
Lewis Securities. Call (484) 919-4229, e-mail jludwig@NLFS.com,
or write to Jack at 422 Dorothy Drive, Suite 200, King of Prussia, PA
19406 to discuss your own business or investment plans. You can still
get free assistance via the Internet; some ideas made available at no
charge or obligation.