Here in South Florida, the beginning of the fall season is little cause for fanfare. After all, it’s usually still scorching hot, there’s still plenty of work to be done, and the little bit of foliage that we do have won’t transform in color for another several weeks (if at all). Oddly enough, this November started a little bit different than that of years past: this year, it arrived alongside a cold snap brought on by a tropical depression. Although these lower temperatures really didn’t last very long, it only took two or three consecutive cold mornings to remind us Floridians that the fall season — and all of the holidays, gatherings, and in-laws that come with it — had finally arrived. Last weekend over dinner, my wife asked me if I had noticed the return of the pop-up tree shop that appears each year in a parking lot near the factory — her way of dropping a subtle hint that one day soon I’d better return with a freshly-cut evergreen in tow. As I listened, I thought of all the things that needed to be done between now and the holidays, ultimately mustering the courage to ask her whether she was planning to do anything different than what we had done in previous years.
You see, each year my wife and I take a very basic template — our family traditions — and tweak it a little bit to see whether we can make our annual holiday celebrations a little bit easier (or at least a little bit more enjoyable). It really doesn’t take too much: some decorations here, a few new ingredients there — collectively, all of these small changes add up over the years and improve the experience for our friends and family. Naturally, my wife’s philosophy got me thinking about our industry and how the habit of continuous improvement might be applied to incrementally grow revenues or otherwise add some value for customers at the car wash. I’ll admit that this idea got me a little bit excited. After all, most operators have a laundry list of things that they know they need to address — if only they had the extra time, money, or available labor at their wash. True, it’s important to address these things, but what I’m talking about now is taking the things that are already working and making them work better — not attempting to fix what you know is likely to remain broken anyway.
OUT WITH THOSE STUBBORN OLD BUSINESS PRACTICES
Let’s be very clear: most people are fairly stubborn and also set in their ways, and the car wash industry is certainly no exception. In fact, many of the operators that I know search long and hard to find what works for their business, but once they do, they tend to stick to these evergreen practices through thick and thin and resist the idea of ever changing anything about them. I see this happen far too often with car wash menus in particular: an operator sets the initial pricing mix, tweaks it once or twice, and then never address it again — even if their profits begin to stagnate or decline.
It goes without saying that in our industry, the goal isn’t just to drive higher volumes, it’s also to make the most out of each and every customer that happens to visits your wash. The key to making the most out of these customers — that is, to continually drive higher ticket averages — lies in converting that basic entry-level wash into a value-added top package. Now, if you were to simply put this article down and go about changing your pricing structure in random ways, your existing customers will probably view your “new and improved wash menu” as a thinly veiled sales tactic designed to raise prices. However, if instead you focus on paring down your packages and communicating their value by properly promoting both on-line and aftercare services, you’ll achieve your desired results without alienating your customers — in fact, you may even gain a few new fans. Now, if I’ve already convinced you that change is good, but you’re still holding back because you’re not sure how to properly go about making these changes, pay close attention to some of the latest trends in the car wash industry.
IN WITH THE NEW, EXCITING TRENDS
Probably the most significant new trend in the car wash industry is the simplification (or streamlining) of wash menus — something that I’ll admit began in the in-bay side of the market. Menu display formats are also making an impact on how value is being communicated down to the customer. Today’s digital menus are delivered on bright, weather-resistant, high-definition displays, offering car washes the opportunity to actually show customers a short interactive video that demonstrates the value of each package and each additional service that is upsold. In addition, the new all-digital format makes it easy to test different menus at different times, cross-promote or upsell aftercare services or monthly memberships, and even add holiday, seasonal, or happy-hour promotions on the fly.
I’ve also seen the rise of new automated pay station menus that are designed to help guide the customer towards either the top package offered or a separately promoted manager’s special that combines the benefits of the top two packages for a modest upcharge. The operators that I’ve spoken to who have tried this method love it for both the extra top-line revenue that it drives and also for the flexibility that it offers. If they want to make a change, they no longer need to go through the pain of replacing the multiple signs that are installed throughout their property. Instead, they simply upload their new graphics and begin displaying the new packages, promotions, or branding right away.
STEP OUT OF YOUR COMFORT ZONE
Although many of us won’t admit it, an inconvenient universal truth in business is that sometimes you have to step out of your comfort zone in order to move forward. Often, this means straying from those “tried and true” business practices that might be working for you right now, but are likewise preventing you from taking the steps necessary to acquire more customers, to raise your average ticket price, or to deliver more value to each customer. This means confronting the reality of an outdated menu, model, or wash mix that hasn’t been changed for several years — if ever. If you’re one of those people raising your hand saying, “that’s me,” there’s really no need to fear this change. As long as you lay the proper foundation and remain flexible with your tweaks, the sky’s the limit. By taking something that’s just average and making it exceptional, you stand to turn what you’re “already doing” into what you “do best.” Besides, you’d be surprised to find out just how exciting it can be to find that underneath those tired old business practices was a true, evergreen gem.
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.