It’s a New Year — time to sit down and ask yourself, “How exactly do I stack up?” Are you keeping up with the Joneses? I don’t mean in your local community, I mean overall, how do you rate compared to your peers? Are you at the top, middle, or perhaps the bottom end of the industry as it relates to volume, revenue, labor costs, and profits?
Do you really want to know? Let’s start off the New Year on an honest foot and admit, “hell yeah, I want to know!” Fortunately, there’s a new trend gaining traction that will not only satisfy your curiosity, but also help grow your business — and even lower your operating costs. What is this magic? Let’s take a look.
2016 Is the Year of the Enhancement Group
Imagine this: 10 or so car wash operators from different markets get together once per quarter, four times per year, to open their books, pick each other’s businesses apart, share ideas to solve problems, and capitalize on opportunities — basically to enhance their operations. That’s right; open your books, your ledgers, your controllers, and let other industry veterans rip them apart. Some of you may have reflexively cringed while reading that last line. For many, that’s information you wouldn’t share with a close family member, let alone a complete stranger. But that’s exactly what a growing number of operators are doing with phenomenal results. It’s not just about learning how you stack up; it’s about supercharging your business. If you’re not yet part of an enhancement group, or haven’t even heard of the concept, you’re poised to be at a disadvantage to competitors in your market who are. If that last line made you cringe more deeply than the idea of opening your books to a complete stranger, then you’re an ideal candidate to create, or join, an enhancement group. It’s easier than it sounds.
Identify Potential Members
You’re looking to join forces with the biggest and “baddest” group of similar operators you can assemble. Don’t be shy here. If you have a wash generating positive cash flow, you have as much credibility as the next guy. Chances are you’ve already started to form a list of colleagues you’ve met in the industry for a potential enhancement group while reading this article. If not, no worries. Create a spreadsheet that includes the wash name, owner name, contact info, wash format, and other site criteria that you believe are relevant. You’re looking for members facing similar challenges and opportunities. Granted, many operators, especially those with multiple locations, blur the lines of the various wash formats. That said, it’s unlikely an operator with five hand washes, committed to opening five more, would pair well with someone running five express-exterior tunnels committed to opening five more. Let common sense prevail and head out to some trade shows including those outside your region. Attend networking events, trade business cards, and make some friends. There’s no minimum number to start, but 10 seems to be the maximum for a productive group. Once you’ve identified several like-minded candidates you feel you could sit in a room with for an entire day discussing the inner workings of your business, move onto the next step.
Create an Agenda
Enhancement groups are more formal affairs. I know many operators who get together once a year with colleagues in the industry to do something fun. Hunting trips, fishing trips, ski trips, golf trips, and any other trips with industry friends are great, and are bound to reveal useful ideas relevant to business, but they are not enhancement group meetings. A typical meeting will last two days. The first day may actually be a fun activity or even just dinner, but the next day is a structured business meeting. The meeting should have an agenda that’s shared ahead of time and commented upon by all members before arriving. One member should be tasked with keeping minutes or notes from the meeting, writing up a summary of all discussions held, and sending a copy to all members afterwards. The first item on each meeting’s agenda should be to review the minutes from the previous meeting, followed by relevant topics decided ahead of time to discuss. What’s relevant varies and depends upon the members of the group, but general topics include insurance, staffing, working with local municipalities, service quality, construction, advertising, menu design, maintenance issues, equipment upgrades, chemistry, facility maintenance, and dealing with weather issues such as drought or snow removal to name a few.
If this is the first meeting you’re organizing for an unsuspecting group of fellow operators, you’ll still want to create a proposed agenda that you can discuss when inviting them. Fun is fun and business is business. Enhancement groups are about business, and adhering to some standard conventions sets the tone for a more productive use of everyone’s time.
To me, this is the foundation of a successful enhancement group. All operators who are part of groups that have helped one another grow with astronomical success have shared their numbers with complete transparency. It’s not just about discovering where they rank; it’s about discovering the impact of their past programs and being confident in the potential payoff of trying new things. When I previously discussed identifying several “like-minded” candidates for your group based on business similarities, this takes it to another level. You must also feel confident that you can share confidential information confidentially. I know one group that brings a shredder to the meetings. Friends are friends but business is business. That group happens to be the best of friends, but to this day, everyone brings a set of their financials for all members to use during the meeting and all documents are shredded at the end.
Be a Good Host
Hosting of the enhancement group will normally rotate from member to member. If you’re the host, most groups will have equitable practices to share expenses, but make sure you’re a good host. Some washes may have an office space with a projector and seating for the group to work in a professional environment, but most don’t. Be prepared to rent a conference room at the local hotel where other members are staying, and where you should have negotiated a discount for their stay. Also, don’t be afraid to take it on the road. Once your group is established, you can engage your suppliers, insurance agents, estate planners, and others to host your events and even prepare personalized presentations on almost any topic that could benefit the group.
If you made it past the part about opening your books and read this far, you’ve recognized the whole truly is greater than the sum of its parts as it relates to an enhancement group’s ability to mentor one another on individual areas of expertise — but is it right for you? It’s definitely not for everyone. Play with the idea. If you do go down the path of creating or joining an enhancement group, once the books have been opened for all to see, your enhancement group will become a close-knit family. Those who treat one another as such tend to see an impact on their business that is nothing short of magical.
Good luck, and good washing!
Washing cars for over 30 years, Anthony Analetto serves as president of SONNY’S The CarWash Factory, creator of the Original Xtreme-Xpress Mini-Tunnel, and the largest manufacturer of conveyorized car wash equipment, parts, and supplies in the world. He can be reached at Aanaletto@SonnysDirect.com or at (800) 327-8723 ext. 104.