2020 is coming to a close. If you’re like me, you’re already planning the steps you’ll take to grow your business in the coming year. One thing I know for certain: the status quo won’t cut it in 2021.

“Status quo, you know, is Latin for ‘the mess we’re in.’” — Ronald ReaganInvestment hasn’t slowed in the car wash industry. Existing washes continue to push the envelope with a better customer value proposition to capture customers. More washes are being built and more cars are leaving their driveways. Doing the same thing and hoping for continued success in any market is unlikely to be a viable competitive strategy.

Here are the top things I’m thinking about for 2021:

Be Your Own Competition

First, deliver the best value proposition within at least an eight-minute drive-time to each of your locations. Start with on-site experience, wash quality, speed, consistency, and pricing.

Go beyond the service of delivering a clean, dry, shiny car and make sure you’re easy to do business with online and on a customer’s phone. Can customers buy and manage a club plan from your website? Can they access your wash without touching a screen?

Get found! When you’re within a 3- to 5-mile radius of your wash, search Car Wash Near Me on Yelp, Google, Maps, etc. If you don’t show up first, figure out how to show up first. Then make sure your reviews are top stars and you’re responding to all reviews, good and bad.

Once you’ve shored up your position at and around each location, look to where else someone could build a car wash in your market or convert the format of an existing location.

Define Your Market’s Capacity

It’s imperative you know the total volume of cars being washed in your local market. How many car washes are within a four-minute, eight-minute, or 12-minute drive time surrounding your wash? Then figure out your share of that. Are you meeting your minimum goal every month? If not, do something about it.

If you’re looking to expand, convert, or buy a wash, some owners only take into account the number of local car washes that match their business model. I consider all types of washes in an area to get a better idea of how many total cars are being washed in my market and my relative success numbers.

Gauge Customer Satisfaction

Are the customers in your market satisfied with the service they are receiving from you and your competition? Have your competitors changed their service models? How do you stack up against the competition?

There are a few ways to figure out customer satisfaction levels in your market. Both are fairly low-tech approaches. One is the old-fashioned way of watching the competition, driving by, and observing what is happening. Are cars lined up at their wash?

Another way to gauge customer sentiment is to follow social media sites. These sites can yield a gold mine worth of information because business owners typically can’t remove positive or negative customer comments, they can only respond.

Then take a look at your wash and focus on the basics. Make sure you’re delivering an exceptional product with exceptional value and leverage all the latest tactics to cultivate raving fans. Ideally, you’ve already had them signed to a monthly unlimited plan — it’s your market to win or lose.

Assess Your Strategic Options

You’ll have some decisions to make in the coming year:

• Do nothing and hope for the best. Not exactly a strategy; it’s more like hiding your head in the sand and hoping that nobody notices.

• Buy competitors. Surround yourself with your own washes and be your own competition. But first you’ll have to do the math to see if this is a financially viable option. Run a comprehensive demographic site analysis and obtain a concise, accurate pro forma from a qualified contractor with car wash experience.

• Buy property and build. Don’t just look at bare dirt. Look for the best site to support a growing car wash business, then do the math to calculate the property’s potential ROI. Restaurants and other businesses impacted by COVID-19 and the shift to online retail should be on your radar.

• Consider potential competitors. Are there c-stores or gas stations within your territory with the capability to expand, convert, or buy adjacent property for a car wash? Don’t overlook these potential competitors when looking to secure a new position in a market. By purchasing or making deals with these kinds of insulating businesses, you may be able to eliminate or delay competition by essentially setting up a blockade.

• Brand strategically. Does your brand “speak” to people? If you’re looking to expand, is it best to keep branding consistent? Personally, I feel there’s tremendous power in developing a regional brand but it’s not a firm rule. I know some owners that brand washes in the same market differently, thus becoming their own competition … or, one could say, they own the market.

Plan to Stay Ahead of the Status Quo

Re-read President Reagan’s quote one more time; it’s the truest call to action for constant improvement I know of. Each strategy you implement becomes your new status quo. That new state becomes the latest “mess that you’re in.” Absolutely brilliant stuff. Stay ahead of the curve. Listen to your customers, know your customers, and make your customers feel appreciated.

Get in Control of the New Year

It’s not new. Remaining competitive in any business demands continuous attention to your client’s on-site experience, but also careful and preemptive monitoring of the markets in which you operate. Never forget that if there is market capacity that you’re not going to satisfy, someone else will.

Keeping ahead of the status quo demands constant effort and constant innovation. Which is why this year I think I’ll add a tiny hint of cayenne pepper to my Christmas Eve Linguini and Lobster sauce, just to add a memorable touch to what has been a memorable year.

Good luck, and good washing.

Anthony Analetto has over 35 years’ experience in the car wash business and is a partner at SONNY’S The Car Wash Factory. 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.