“Things may come to those who wait, but only the things left by those who hustle.” Anyone hoping to take in their unfair share of business during the upcoming busy winter season would be wise to let this quote from Abraham Lincoln guide them to success. Pause for a second, however, before you start hustling to get your car wash ready for the season.
If the depth of your preparation begins and ends with doing the required maintenance to make sure your wash doesn’t shut down on a busy Saturday, my guess is that you’ll only find yourself with the things left by those that truly hustle. Getting your unfair share of a market doesn’t happen by only delivering clean, dry, and shiny cars — that’s your customers’ base expectation.
When you look to invest in your business before the busy season, evaluate your options in terms of the value that an improvement will deliver to your customers. Ask yourself what it is about your car wash that customers value most. Then honestly admit to yourself what inefficient or ineffective procedures detract from your ability to deliver that value.
Price and wash quality are important, of course, but not always what your customers are most willing to pay for. Consider your customer experience, your wash quality, and your expenses to make this holiday season a success.
ELEVATE CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE
First, before the busy season begins, make sure the basics are in order. Your site must be clean and well maintained with paved surfaces in good repair, attractive and trimmed landscaping, well-groomed employees in uniform, and freshly painted buildings.
Next, get creative. Your ability to elevate your customer’s experience when visiting your wash can be a competitive advantage more powerful than wash quality or even price. Your investment this season might be in digital marketing and social media, a new loyalty program, or something more tangible like vacuum booms to make it easier for customers to service their vehicles. Not sure where to begin? Here are a couple ideas to help get you started.
Hours of Operation and Promotion
Is your car wash consistently available when your customers want to wash? Perhaps you’ve had the same hours or offered the same early-bird and happy-hour promotions for years. Are you sure those times still fit your customers’ schedules? Some operators have captured large car counts during hours they were previously closed. Look at your reports and demographic trends in your market. A change in hours, or the timing of hourly promotions, may be the perfect investment to grow your business this season.
Show Customers Some Love
I truly believe that a customer can sense if you genuinely love and value their business. Demonstrate that and you’ll garner loyalty and higher ticket averages.
But how exactly do you demonstrate love at a car wash? Start with policies. Rewash guarantees, free vacuums, customer satisfaction surveys, towel exchange programs,custom air fresheners — the possibilities are endless. I’ve known operators who give out snow cones on hot summer days and others who hand out dog treats to customers’ pets. I personally stay clear of anything ingestible (seems like a potential liability), but some operators swear by these tactics.
Once you’ve decided on the policies you’d like to invest in, hire a marketing company to help promote them across your site. Too often I’ll see a wash with perks such as a “48-Hour Rain Guarantee” hide it on the bottom of the menu like it’s a disclaimer they hope nobody will notice. That’s a mistake. Tell customers about your great programs to let them know you love them! And once your signage is in order, make sure your staff knows it’s their job to make customers feel loved as well. Customers must be greeted with a smile and sent off with a smile. If that isn’t happening, then you have to reevaluate your training procedures and hiring practices until it is.
It’s difficult for managers to focus on improving customer service if they’re constantly struggling to keep up with the day-to-day operation of the wash. As you develop a training plan to improve the positive interactions between your staff and customers, don’t forget to address ways of expanding your manager’s ability to maintain the wash more efficiently. By offering training in basic repair skills, they have a much better chance of fixing problems quickly during an emergency. What else can deliver a better customer experience than being open for business when they expect you to be?
IMPROVE WASH QUALITY AND CONSISTENCY
Pick a slow Tuesday. Run a subcompact, an SUV, and a pickup truck through each of your wash packages. Don’t prep. Don’t wipe. Now, honestly list all the deficiencies in descending order of how visible they are to a customer. Also get inside a car and evaluate your customer’s experience riding through the tunnel.
Next, increase the chain speed to where it would have to be to process your busiest day — the kind we all dream about — and list all areas missed for each vehicle profile again.
Compare the lists. Evaluate the cost of options to either retrofit, supplement, or replace any part of the wash process that isn’t up to snuff. Rank each project in terms of your cost and the value you expect it will deliver to your customers’ satisfaction. Enhancing customer value begins with delivering a consistently clean, dry, shiny product. Without that foundation, everything else will be an uphill battle.
REDUCE VARIABLE EXPENSES
There are plenty of solutions from every equipment supplier to prep, wash, and dry a car at almost any chain speed. Before exploring ways to reduce your variable expenses, first, eliminate labor from the wash process. Once you’re finished, look to reduce your consumption of the other variable expenses that eat into your profits. Documentation is crucial. Whether you keep a notebook, enter values into a spreadsheet, or get reports from your tunnel controller, make sure you have a system to easily compare year-to-year and month-to-month periods that can highlight spikes in variable expenses. Once you have a clear way to monitor the impact of your activities on controlling variable expenses, you’re ready to begin improving your business.
First consider programs to turn off any electrical appliance when not in use. Next explore the use of VFDs for components such as high-pressure pumps and hydraulic power packs that normally operate at full Hertz and give off lots of bypass. The VFDs will allow you to eliminate the bypass and extra load on the system — but don’t stop there. Evaluate the estimated saving by replacing older compressors, motors, pumps, and heaters, with that of newer, more energy-efficient designs. Also, calculate the potential savings of upgrading to LED lighting before replacing your next metal halide or other lighting fixture.
For the most part, water reclamation has become a standard practice in our industry, but there remains room for many locations to reduce overall water consumption. Eighty percent water reclamation is a reality, and RO reject water can be recaptured for use in the wash process. Also, on the fresh-water side of the operation, look into incorporating check valves and sizing nozzles and replacing worn ones for maximum efficiency.
As with electrical settings, accurate tuning of your controller for efficient equipment activation can deliver handsome savings on detergent. Whereas most equipment today arrives with check valves and properly sized nozzles, excessive detergent consumption can often occur as nozzles gradually suffer from wear and small leaks occur. Review your preventative maintenance routines and documentation to make sure you’re on top of this aspect of your wash. Replacement of nozzles when worn can literally save many locations tens of thousands of dollars each year.
I’d like to wrap up this article with a quote from Peter Drucker, one of my all-time favorites: “Efficiency is doing things right; effectiveness is doing the right things.” I hope you found something in this article to help you decide the most effective investments you can make to hustle your unfair share of the business this season.
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.