Are you ready for a perfect storm? I just got off the phone with an old-time operator in the Northeast practically giddy while telling me about his best month in 20 years, despite being closed for a large part of it due to heavy snow. I keep getting reports of washes around the country breaking wash volume records, some with a 100 percent jump or more in total volume, and it begs the question, what’s going on? It’s no secret that in this business you “have to make hay when the sun shines,” but the sun seems to be shining awfully bright on some markets this year. It seems to be a year of record breaking. Combine record breaking snowfall, record low gas prices, record breaking heat, record breaking cold, and a record breaking bull market, and for some markets you uncover a perfect storm for breaking records washing cars. While some operators were perfectly situated to capitalize on the volume spikes, others, sadly, in the same market, not only couldn’t handle the extra business when it came, but in some cases, weren’t even open to know about it. When I say perfectly situated, don’t confuse that with simply being able to process a spike in volume. Sure, that’s vital, and I’ll address it below, but there’s more to maximizing your perfect storm potential than cashing in on a couple of amazing days. The real opportunity I’ll discuss are tactics to use this period to grow your base of loyal raving fans that become repeat washers month in, and month out.
I live in South Florida and am often amazed how people wait until the day before a storm to prepare, waiting for hours in line, only to learn that all the storm shutters and generators are sold out. When a perfect storm hits, it can hit suddenly, and it can hit big. You have to be ready at all times, possibly years ahead of a storm that may never happen. With that said, let’s take a look.
Build a Network of Partners in Advance
The thing about record-breaking events is that they, by nature, disrupt the status quo. Transportation is disrupted and everyone is clamoring for the same increasingly scarce services and supplies. The record breaking snowfall in the Northeast this year, for example, caused many washes to close — simply because they couldn’t remove the snow from their driveway. Others couldn’t get detergents, or struggled with freezing. Before you shed a tear for their trials, I know one location in the same market that planned ahead. They built a network of snow-removal companies, and had contracts in place before the snow hit. They kept extra chemistry on their property under heat at all times. When the snow hit, they were first in line for removal, and managed to wash a record breaking 27,000 cars on those few sunny days in between. Build your network of partners in advance to ensure an accessible driveway and a constant supply of soap and water and you’re already halfway to maximizing the profit potential of your next perfect storm.
Build Redundancy into Your Wash
Before moving deeper into redundancy, make sure you have these three bases covered. First, you must have a redundant air compressor. This is different than a spare in that it should be installed in parallel to a second compressor and the two should be rotated every month. Second you must have a redundant power pack in the back room with ample hose and a coupler to reach any component. Third, in a perfect world, you should have a redundant high-pressure pump station that you can flip to in the event of a failure. The other part of redundancy is to have redundant wash equipment. Most modern tunnel packages have multiple cleaning actions for each vehicle surface in order to process cars at high speed. This allows an operator to wash at a slower chain speed in the event a component fails until repairs are made. If that’s not the case, you’ll want to get with your equipment supplier to evaluate options to include multiple components for each vehicle surface. That said, redundancy is a difficult investment to make, and many operators prefer to go the route of keeping a supply of replacement parts on hand. That plan can work some of the time, provided you have a fast mechanic, but it’s still the wrong decision if you’re planning to be ready for a sudden spike in volume. I liken redundancy to one of my least favorite expenses in the world — life insurance. In both scenarios you’re betting that the worst will happen, but, needless to say, you should invest in both just in case.
Build Your “No Shut Down” List of Parts
I can’t list every single replacement part that should be found in your back room because it’s unique for every location. What I can say is that every wash must have a “no shut down” policy in place and create a careful list of replacement parts that are available at all times to make that a reality. The first item to make sure of is included is a complete conveyor drive assembly — meaning the drive, motor, and hose kit combination mounted to the plate so that you can swap the entire thing in 10 minutes or less. Next, make sure you have spare pumps, hoses, and every other component related to how you mix and deliver chemistry. Also make sure you have replacement parts on hand for any hydraulic failure. Personally, I like to keep a patch kit with multiple pre-made hoses in various lengths that I can use to get anything up and running until a full repair can be made after hours. Don’t forget to include fuses, relays, and any other replacement part that can shut down the wash.
Give Customers a Plan for Their Next Wash
Being open and delivering your best product at high volume is a powerful way to communicate the benefit of your wash, but it’s not enough. The fact is, when you’re washing huge volume spikes, you’re likely washing hundreds, if not thousands of cars for the first time. Whatever components of the perfect storm that brought them out the first time may not be entirely in your control, but what is, is giving them an incentive for their next visit. Don’t let this opportunity go by. Reinvest some of the profits from the spike into a promotion to build your business. Get something in their hand to remember you and plan their next visit. This could be a coupon off their next wash, a loyalty card, a free towel if you’re doing an exchange program, or any other promotion that gives them an incentive to visit you again. Whereas a perfect storm may be a once in a lifetime event to remember fondly, using it as a springboard to grow your average monthly wash value is something you can take to the bank month after month.
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.