I found myself saying “a rolling stone gathers no moss” on three separate occasions recently. It taught me something I’d like to share.
When speaking about unlimited plans to an operator, I first presented moss as a negative — as in don’t get stuck in a rut. Don’t stand still. Explore new ways to reduce churn and grow subscribers. Keep moving. In other words, don’t let moss grow.
The second time I found these words on the tip of my tongue was completely different. An operator and I were debating whether he should build his second wash in the same market or in another state with a promising proforma. I meant to highlight the value of growing moss. The merit of establishing roots, a foundation from which to grow a scalable enterprise to own a market your familiar with.
And the third time, and here’s the kicker, I found myself using the same idiom to describe both the good and bad of growing moss. After nearly 25 years in the same office, it’s being knocked down. Converted to expand manufacturing space. On the one hand I have roots in that old office, which some have labeled a mess, i.e., moss is good. On the other hand, the new office provides an opportunity for collaboration and collective innovation, i.e., change is good, moss is bad.
Define Objectives Logically
I don’t know about you, but a younger me imagined an ideal version of myself as a businessperson. Using logic, I’d define objectives and execute plans to achieve those objectives. Unfortunately, logic doesn’t account for intuition. Nor does it support pushing the envelope on decision making, balancing the risk of investing in something uncertain for a higher potential reward, or being able to pivot and capitalize on opportunities that present themselves.
So, is moss good? Is moss bad? It depends on the situation. Car wash entrepreneurs are always actively searching for new ideas and innovations to reduce operating costs, improve wash quality, and deliver a unique and compelling customer experience.
Operators are always making the necessary decisions to remain relevant and ideally get ahead of the curve. And to do so, you need a plan for today with a plan to perfect it over time.
Sticking pinstripes on a Hyundai Accent isn’t going to make it a sports car. Installing the latest ceramic applicator in a poorly performing equipment package won’t make it a good car wash. Our industry is exploding with opportunity. Those that are constantly evaluating their current situation, prioritizing investments to enhance their customer’s experience, and executing ahead of the curve are poised to capture their unfair share of the market. Before deciding on the next investment to grow your business, ask yourself: what do you plan to accomplish and how will it impact your revenue?
Document Your Current Situation
All things trend toward disorder. Most of us don’t notice the accumulation of small deteriorations that occur over time. Your wash quality, market, and facility maintenance may “look okay” to you while appearing like an outdated rundown mess to the rest of the world. Don’t trust your judgement. At least once a year, formally document your current situation and opportunities. Get expert help and third-party opinions when needed.
Chances are you conducted a demographic survey for each of your locations prior to buying or building. Well guess what, things change, and you may be too close to see issues or opportunities on the horizon. If it’s been a while since your last demographic study, have your site surveyed by one of the many firms or industry suppliers who compile market and demographic information. You’re looking for indicators that customer preferences have changed. What new retail or service companies have opened in your territory? Which ones are excelling?
Have a look at your signage, landscaping, and building appearance from across the street. Evaluate the uniforms and positioning of your staff and ask yourself, “Does my car wash look busy and inviting even with moderate volume?” Ask friends or colleagues from within and outside the industry for their candid feedback.
Audit your service quality. You should list any vehicle surface that is not cleaned consistently across all makes and models. Expand this audit to include support equipment, computer systems, vacuums, and water treatment systems. At the same time, perform a complete utility audit. Review your electrical, water volume, pressure, and quality, along with available sewer capacity. Utilities should always be evaluated in conjunction with your equipment audit since they play a role in the options available to upgrade your equipment and service offering.
Document Your Existing Competition
Do you know how many car washes are within a four-minute, eight-minute, and 12-minute drive time surrounding your wash? What are their service models? What changes have they made to improve in the previous year since your last audit? If you stay up to date with trends reported in the industry magazines, websites or blogs, trade shows, and your network of other operators, you’ll have a good idea of what may work and what may not in your market.
Run a Proforma
You now have a demographic survey with competitive analysis, facility evaluation, and equipment audit in your hand. Chances are your brain is filled with multiple improvements you want to make to your wash. Prioritize improvements by ranking each opportunity based on its contribution to your bottom line.
I’ll admit that my brain prefers to fix problems before capitalizing on opportunities. Cut costs. Fix wash quality. That’s what pops out first. Force yourself to focus on what’s most profitable. Investing may be more profitable than cutting. Running a new digital marketing campaign to improve your capture rate may be the best move to grow. It’s possible a new monthly wash club with license plate recognition is just what your customers want. When assessing the hundreds of options before you, how do you rank what investment will reap the greatest return?
It’s ironic. Any new investor to this industry will normally compile a property proforma analysis to determine potential ROI before investing. After several years of operation, that same operator will install a new extra service based on a gut feeling. They won’t take the time to fully calculate the impact on labor or space, nor will they consider the benefit to the customer’s experience. This brings us to the next step.
When determining the improvement to make, break down all expenses for permitting, equipment, installation, downtime, and any manpower required. Estimating the impact on traffic flow, volume, capture rate, and customer retention can be tricky, but the car wash industry associations, your equipment supplier, and other resources can help you get a more accurate number. With numbers in hand, you’re ready to determine your anticipated return on investment and move forward with your project.
If you didn’t notice, in general, I’m a “growing moss is bad” kinda guy. Except of course when it isn’t. Which brings me to my final point: Even the greatest plan is subject to change without notice.
Careful research, planning, and execution demand intense effort combined with a little calculated risk.
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.