After he graduated, my son chose to enter our industry with the aim of one day becoming an owner himself. Years ago, we used to talk about golf and food (two passions we share). Now, however, he just wants to talk car washing. Take last night, for example: as we spoke, my son explained how his employer’s municipality doubled the price of utilities (namely, water), forcing his manager to shut off the high-pressure wheel spinners for basic washes to save money.
I told him that that was the wrong decision, because clean rims are the new “white walls.” I went on from there — as I sometimes tend to do — but stopped abruptly after I realized that (1) he never owned a car with whitewalls, and (2) he never had to experience what a pain they were to clean. As I scrambled to find a more relatable story, I asked if he could imagine a fast food restaurant offering a $1 hamburger that didn’t include ketchup. Better still, I asked him to imagine how people would react to a $3 sub sandwich with no toppings.
That’s when it hit me: I have a confession to make. When I was his manager’s age, I’d have reacted in much the same way. If the cost of water (or any other utility) doubled overnight, I’d have found somewhere to cut back. Here’s the rub: when you’re growing a business, sometimes your gut isn’t always right. There are times when you’ll need to carefully think through a problem in order to ensure that your response is aligned with your long-term business goals.
As you’re well aware, we are in a service-oriented business. If you fail to install a culture that inspires your staff to make the right choices, you’ll likely fall short of delivering a consistent, enjoyable customer experience; fail at this, and you’re not likely to succeed in the long run. Sadly, this decision-making process is a skill learned over time — a habit that develops out of continuous training and learning. I shared this with my son, but I’m willing to bet that if he’s half as stubborn as me, he’ll need to work through a few more failures before he fully appreciates the value of my advice.
A single lecture — whether coming from a parent, a car wash supplier, or, in my case, both — will have little impact on my son, but it did get me thinking: how do multi-site car wash owners foster positive cultures without visiting every wash each day? Most experienced operators will claim that training is the answer — and they’re right. However, if you really want to share your vision across your entire enterprise, you’ll need something more. You’ll need a belief statement hanging on every wall. Here’s what I mean:
BELIEF STATEMENT #1
We Believe: Every customer must leave our property in a clean, dry, shiny car — regardless of which service they chose. We will never knowingly make a decision that could degrade wash quality.
Ah, the memories. One of my early mentors taught me this after I turned down the CTAs on a basic wash. He said, “What? Are you stupid? If someone pays for a wash, including your basic wash, they’re expecting a wash! If you can’t deliver that, than you aren’t deserving of this business. If you can’t afford to deliver consistent quality, then charge more for the wash, or find a better way to do it.”
However you decide to write it, one of your core beliefs must address delivering your customer a consistent, quality service. This should inspire your staff to make the right decisions (or to seek guidance before implementing a quick fix to address an unexpected change).
BELIEF STATEMENT #2
We Believe: Every customer must be so impressed with our facility, staff, and service that they recommend us to family and friends. We will never knowingly make a decision that could degrade wash experience.
Same mentor, different memory: this time a reprimand when they visited one of several sites I was managing and the trash wasn’t emptied. Actually I think it began the same way too: “What? Are you stupid? How can you expect someone to pay you to clean their car if you can’t even maintain a clean property?” They continued to suggest, albeit colorfully, that there were opportunities to improve my signage, my uniforms, landscaping, lighting, and employee grooming and smiling. I was just grateful he was impressed with the wash quality.
BELIEF STATEMENT #3
We Believe: We must actively search for anything that might degrade wash quality or wash experience and correct it before it happens.
“What? Are you stupid? A bearing shows signs of failure before giving out. You should’ve had a replacement on-hand by now. It wouldn’t have failed if you performed the proper maintenance,” claimed my mentor after witnessing a tied-back side brush at one of the 50-plus washes I oversaw at the time.
SIMPLE VALUE PROPOSITION
While I certainly don’t recommend using the phrase “are you stupid?” in your belief statement, it does communicate intention. After swapping it for the softer phrase “we believe,” I shared this statement with a friend. He said, while over the phone, “…nobody will ever read it — it’s too long.” He may be right. If a company like Twitter can condense its mission and vision to 140 characters, certainly a car wash can do the same. After all, our value proposition isn’t that complex: we aim to deliver a consistently clean, dry, and shiny car, coupled with a memorable and engaging customer experience. The only point of confusion is in how car wash business owners fail to communicate that belief properly.
If you’re reading this and nodding, “that’s me,” put it in writing. Whatever you come up with, use it as your moral compass and let it guide your staff towards the right decisions. Do right by your customers — even when nobody is watching. Whether your belief statement communicates this in 140 characters or 140 words, it’s important to just get started. After all, I kept my original statement: true, it’s long, but I prefer to spell things out plainly. It’s worked out pretty well for me so far — thanks, Mr. Sonny, for making all of us a little less stupid.
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.