Since it’s election season, I searched for famous quotes from past U.S. leaders for inspiration. The subtitle is a quote from Benjamin Franklin. But there’s another I toyed with using from Theodore Roosevelt: “If you could kick the person in the pants responsible for most of your trouble, you wouldn’t sit for a month.” Combine the two and I’ll be able to make my point.

Surveillance Is a Blunt Tool

Once upon a time, you installed some cameras to keep on top of your car wash business when you weren’t there. Granted, the latest cameras are nothing short of exceptional. As one colleague likes to say, “you can see a fly on an elephant’s behind.” Which is great, but no matter how amazing and easy to use your camera monitoring system is, it only shows problems after they occur.

The trick is to identify and correct issues before they occur. This goes for chemistry, energy, equipment performance, and even your online reputation. You want to nip them in the bud before either your customer or accountant realizes there’s a problem. Anything out of whack will eat into your bottom line, erode customer satisfaction, or both.

Comprehensive preventive maintenance programs will keep most problems from happening, but car washing is a harsh environment. Equipment issues will happen. You need to monitor the hardware in your wash, the chemistry, the water pressure, the water quality, the lighting, the signage. Make sure you are doing regular checks on all elements of your wash, even the landscaping and building paint. It’s all a reflection of your business.

Intelligent Cameras for Anti-Collision

Old fashioned anti-collision systems mainly do one thing: they look for a car that doesn’t leave the conveyor on time and shuts the conveyor down when it happens. Old fashioned camera systems mainly do one thing: they record what’s happening at the wash.

Fast forward to today and a whole new AI-powered world is about to unfold inside the tunnel.

Scanning from entrance to exit, I’ve seen camera and software solutions in development that can detect a potential issue as it happens. A customer turning the steering wheel or tapping their brake. Or some action you’ve programmed to shut down the conveyor for safety. It’s still a camera, but unlike anything even possible just a few short years ago. It’s still after the fact, but it’s also far more powerful than recording a collision after it happened.

Train Staff to Make the Right Decisions

Technology aids people. In a perfect world, problems and issues are identified and corrected by frontline staff before a system can trigger a fault notification. An onsite person will often need to correct the fault. So, before I detail some of the systems available, keep in mind that they support your staff. Whenever you get a fault notification, view it as a training opportunity.

You can learn a lot from chemistry and water consumption. The logic is straightforward. Each car you wash should consume a known quantity of chemistry and water. Whether you use too much, or too little, consider it a problem. Too much chemical consumed could indicate worn nozzles that destroy profits. Too little chemistry could indicate a clogged injector or some other issue that will ruin customer satisfaction. This is nothing new. Most operators will compare monthly invoices to car counts using a spreadsheet to identify issues. But why wait? There are systems available to monitor consumption, compare it to established quantities per car, and alert you in real-time of potential issues as they happen.

Monitor Anomalies Only a Computer Can See

I have a video doorbell. It automatically detects packages, pets, you name it, and sends me a notification. That’s why it’s so easy for me to understand how “simple” it is for a computer to analyze camera data in the tunnel and recognize patterns. I say this, because there’s a less-thought-about and far more powerful source of data available to monitor your wash than a camera system.

Predictive and preventive data crunching goodness is now available from your modern tunnel controller. These systems take inputs from energy consumption, motor performance, starters, VFD performance data, and more. Sure, you’ll receive a notification that one location’s kilowatt consumption spiked, indicating a potential motor failure, but that’s just the beginning. As this technology evolves rapidly, data can be used to optimize energy consumption, to identify equipment reaching its life expectancy, and to predict and schedule maintenance and service before a problem occurs.

Are You the Best Car Wash in Your Market?

Take out your smartphone. Search the name of the town your wash is in, the state, and the word “best car wash.” If you aren’t looking at a little map with the name of your wash, your hours of operation, and a link for directions to your property, you have a huge opportunity. Every car wash owner needs to keep ahead of online customer sentiment.

Reputation management software to the rescue. It would be difficult to read and respond to every online review on every platform. Fortunately, software exists to scour the Internet for online reviews across platforms and alert you to issues, problems, and opportunities. Often the marketing agency you hire to manage your online presence is the same group that can monitor and build your online reputation and effectively place digital ads so you aren’t burning cash advertising in California when your wash is in Florida, etc.

Monitor What Matters Most

Does your daily wash volume match the anticipated car count for precipitation and day of the week? Do you have access to live reporting on your cars per hour, cars per man hour, sales by department, commissions, and other labor percentages? You must.

All car wash POS systems have some level of reporting, and those built within the last decade often have advanced visibility into vital statistics to ensure the business is running properly. Some now track incidents to identify patterns and resolutions. And here’s the kicker: too often I see operators using only a fraction of the functionality they paid for. Get with your supplier. Get trained. Setup dashboards that match your objectives.

Do you know about every technology advancement available? The simple answer is no. You don’t. And don’t pretend you ever will. Technology is evolving too quickly. It’s a full-time job to make sure you’re using the latest and greatest to take your unfair share of the business in your market. Delegate for success. Bring members of your team with you to trade shows to scour the floor for emerging opportunities. Partner with suppliers you trust to bring opportunities to you to consider. Read trade journals. Join or form enhancement groups to discuss ideas with other operators. Do all that and, maybe, you won’t be kicking yourself in the pants for a missed opportunity.

Good luck and good washing.

Joining the company in 2000, Anthony Analetto serves as the president of Sonny’s CarWash Equipment Division. In this role, Anthony leads the innovation of new products to drive client success and oversees all operations, engineering, and supply chain management. Washing cars for more than 30 years, Anthony was the director of operations for a 74-location national car wash chain prior to joining the company.