Lock in service and chemical prices now.

The growing excitement and great anticipation of what any new year can bring should never be lost on anyone, much less an owner or operator who has been in the car wash business during the past few years.

Each year brings new dreams, new plans, and, of course, new challenges. As an owner or operator, how thoroughly and effectively you plan this month to deal with your challenges in the New Year, could very well determine how successful your car wash will be in 2015.
Before the clock strikes midnight on December 31 to end 2014, read, take notes if you wish, but most of all, commit personally to take decisive action on these 10 New Year’s resolutions.
Regardless of your past experience in the market, following these 10 steps will enable you to enjoy your most successful year yet in the car wash business.

1. Commit to Operational and Service Excellence

First and foremost, make your car wash the best one, the wash preferred by most consumers, in your local market. See your car wash as every customer would see it. What can you do to improve the total wash experience of your best car wash customer? Conduct periodic on-site surveys to measure your success, and learn what your best customers think you are doing well, and what you could be doing better. Ask them, “Why are you getting your car washed today?” Catalog these responses. This will help you capture other customers like them in the future.

2. Engage, Educate and Invigorate Your Employees Each Day

Industry leaders in every market always have an excellent reputation for exceptional customer service. Your car wash should be no different. Create customer service awards for your top producers each month, and recognize the care and attention to detail necessary to make each visit to your car wash a memorable one for all of your customers. Also, feedback from your employees is critical for your continued success. Create an environment where everyone wants to be a “part of the team,” and let them share and contribute their positive ideas to your vision.

3. Expand Your Vision, Embrace More Customers

Recognize that your car wash is actually a retail business, and you have to compete each day for your customers with every other retail business. As a leading retailer, be ready and able to devote exceptional care and attention daily to build a strong and consistent customer base. According to many commentators on Internet forums, many Americans may no longer have a “love affair” with their cars, yet every car wash operator can certainly help their customers feel better about themselves. Begin at once a “Free Car Wash on Your Birthday” promotion for all of your customers. This type of positive buzz in the community is an important part, but a first step only, in building a loyal customer base.

4. Create a Written Marketing Plan, and Implement It Each Week and Every Month

In a constricted market, don’t leave anything to chance. Plan monthly and seasonal promotions. Find new and innovative ways to bring customers into your car wash. Print advertising is available (and very cost-effective) in every market. And don’t forget to invite new movers into your car wash. If you have not already done so, find a marketing consultant and retain him as a valuable and trusted resource and ally to help you increase your sales and build your customer base. Make marketing a top priority, even during the so-called “slow months.” And rest assured that your competitor, who is not marketing his wash then, will have many more slow months than you.

5. Reach out into Your Local Community

Sponsor a high school baseball team. Have a monthly Teacher’s Appreciation Day at your car wash. Cross-market your car wash with other local retail businesses. Almost without exception, most of your loyal and repeat customers will come from within a three-mile radius of your site. Make it your mission for your wash to establish top-of-mind presence and recognition in the consumer’s mind within that three-mile market.

6. Determine Who Your “Best” Customers Are

A “best” customer can be one who gets his car washed each week. She also could be the president of the local Chamber of Commerce — someone who can refer many more customers to your wash. He or she could also be the owner of the closest real estate office, whose brokers are constantly looking for the best place to get their cars cleaned. Or your “best” customer could be the organizer of a Tuesday morning networking club, whose members are interested in keeping their late-model cars appearing bright and shiny. Be sure you get to know all of the potential movers and shakers in your market. Also, thank all of your current “best” customers for their patronage, and be certain to give each of them superior service. They will have every reason to continue to get their cars washed each week, and will consistently refer many more new customers to your wash.

7. Negotiate Your Service and Chemical Agreements Now

Strengthen and consolidate your business relationships with all your key service providers, to keep your equipment up to date and working at peak efficiency. If possible, lock in your service and chemical prices now, and have your providers guarantee their rate and prices for the next 12 to 18 months. Also, become known as an operator who will “test and evaluate” new products and services, as they become available on the market. Your suppliers will appreciate your feedback, and your customers will see that you are on the leading edge in operating a quality-oriented car wash. Both of these outcomes will help you gain a competitive advantage.

8. Attend and Participate in The Car Wash Show 2015

The Car Wash Show is meeting April 23-25, in Las Vegas, NV. This has become a very important, and a very impressive, trade show. The exhibitors are very helpful. As the car wash industry becomes more mature, it is especially important that you stay at the top of your game. If possible, bring along two or three of your most valuable employees or top producers, too. They will be duly impressed. Moreover, they will want to work at a higher level for your customers, once they see the best and brightest displaying their wares at this exciting event.

9. Know What You Control, and What You Can’t

Wishing for better weather conditions, or a stronger local economy, will not help you reach your business and financial goals. Utility rates are beyond your reach, too. Though you can’t control your competition, keep in mind that your own initiative and activity (or lack of activity) will be noticed by your competitors, and also by your employees and your best customers. Though some customers may be forgiving, know that, over time, a sloppy or mismanaged operation in a competitive market probably will not (and frankly, should not) survive. Finally, be emboldened by these inspiring words from Abraham Lincoln: “Always bear in mind that your own resolution to succeed is more important than any other one thing.”

10. Examine the Past Year and Elevate Your Expectations for 2015

Reflect back over the past 12 months. You will see that you have done many things very well, and some things you have done exceptionally well. No doubt, there are a few activities you will want to do better. Hopefully, you have learned, too, what not to do at all. Sometimes, though, these costly and frustrating breakdowns can lead to important breakthroughs as well. Lastly, never forget the immutable Levinson law of car wash marketing: “If you don’t take active and effective control of your car wash marketing, your customers and your car wash’s future will be in the hands of your competitors.”

To make 2015 your best year ever, be comprehensive, creative, and proactive in your management thinking and in your marketing. You will have greater control of your car wash, be better known in your community,and you will enjoy a more profitable future.

Happy New Year.

A noted marketing consultant, Mike Perry has more than 30 years of experience in retail marketing and in business-to-business sales. He is based out of Atlanta, GA. He can be reached at mpccws5@aol.com or at 770-330-2490.