That’s seldom seen in any success story is all the work it took to get to that position. We see what appears to be a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow but not the expertise it took to make that journey look easy. Rarely showcased within tales of triumph are the exhaustive effort, thought, and planning required to reach the pinnacle of success.

            Countless hours analyzing demographic reports and traffic patterns to find untapped opportunities. Scrutinizing layouts and construction details to enhance a wash’s accessibility. Devising a marketing strategy to ensure a lasting impression on consumers.

            There is a common denominator among those who experiment with change to create the next big thing: first, they perfect the fundamentals as a foundation to support their success. 

            What are your plans to grow your business in 2024? This is the question that should be on everyone’s mind right now. I like to segment each year by quarter. Q1 is to review the previous year’s successes and failures and contemplate what could be done better. Q2 is to gather information and rank what should be done. Q3 is to implement the plan. Q4 tasks measure the impact and/or reevaluate what didn’t get done.

New Technology

            The Car Wash Show 2024, May 13-15 in Nashville, TN, will happen smack dab in the middle of Q2. New and exciting application processes and chemical improvements will be everywhere.

            New finishing products that deliver a surface so shiny that customers are paying extra for it à la carte. New materials, equipment, and site enhancements that improve washing, drying, and the customer’s experience inside and outside the tunnel. New software solutions to eliminate labor and improve wash quality.

            The desire to find an elusive pot of gold at the end of the rainbow isn’t exclusive to wanting higher ticket averages, lower membership churn, and increased wash volume with no additional labor.

            I like to golf. On more occasions than I’d like to admit, I’ve purchased new clubs with the certainty they’d improve my game. Each time this tactic fell short of my hopes, I resorted to what has always worked: I signed up for lessons with an expert to help me improve my swing. In other words: master the basics first.

            Apart from a natural disaster, unplanned repairs must be counted as inexcusable. Before venturing towards the next big idea, verify that your underlying business infrastructure can support it. Evaluate your preventive maintenance (PM) schedule, staff training, and documentation. Does your PM program guarantee optimal operation time, equipment reliability, wash consistency, and pinpointing parts needing repair or replacement before failing? This foundation must be in place to support the expansion of your business.

Eliminate Labor and Minimize Expenses

            Not just prep labor. You must eliminate human thinking and decision-making labor and its inherent inconsistencies wherever possible.

            Should a brush be retracted? Are the vacuum lines free of clogs and performing at all stations? Is a bearing about to fail? Is a repeat customer ready to join your monthly wash plan?

            A sensor, camera, or other software is ready to take on these tasks far more effectively and affordably than human labor. Use it to your advantage. Employ labor where it matters most: to welcome customers with a smile and elevate their experience at the wash.  

            Assess your choice of detergents, their placements, and how they’re applied. Do these elements align optimally with the water quality and types of dirt encountered? Is your water quality satisfactory?

            Ensure you have adopted all measures to cut down on electricity and water usage that don’t detract from the quality and consistency of the wash process. Assemble a team of specialists to guide your decision-making. This process may require investing in new equipment or adjusting or repositioning what you already have.

            Your strategy may involve updating your preventative maintenance schedule, fine-tuning equipment activation, or establishing better wearable part replacement schedules. The takeaway is that your operation must function efficiently before proceeding with the next great enhancement.

Improve Wash Consistency

            Evaluate what can be done to deliver a better, more consistent product in a faster, more predictable amount of time. This is the heart of your business.

            The most valuable repeat customers expect a clean, dry, shiny car every time. They rarely tell you they’re dissatisfied before taking their business elsewhere. To grow your business, keep updated with the latest best practices. Attend trade shows and build your network of other like-minded operators and experts to help keep you ahead of the curve.

Dominate Marketing Communication

            Text, email, social media, signage, and staff interactions. The tools have never been more plentiful or affordable, but how do you stand apart in a world of messaging overload? How do you craft and deliver brand messaging that puts you first in the minds of both potential and repeat customers?

            Videos, contests, community involvement, events, promotions: the opportunities are endless.

            First, are you doing the right things that matter to consumers in your market? Second, are you doing the right things to let people know you are doing the right things that matter to them? Many right things are going on here, and if it’s not your expertise, employ help to get it done right.

Increase Average Ticket and Frequency

            If your top package does not consistently represent more than 15 percent of your washes sold, research what other operators are doing to build value in their top washes to exceed that target. Premium applications that deliver a visibly superior finished product exist. Lighting, scents, and signage to elevate and reinforce the added value are proven to work.

            Marketing communications make it easy for believers to share the merits of your top package. A lot has been and is being written about the various solutions. My purpose here isn’t to describe them but to emphasize that it’s a baseline prerequisite to success.

            Two things keep customers coming back. First is the value of the experience you provide or your brand. Second is the value of the wash you provide, basically how clean and at what price.

            This isn’t an either/or choice. You must excel at both to grow. You must spend as much time thinking about the experience you provide as you do the dollar value of the wash.

            Everything from your site and staff appearance to how you apply detergents in the tunnel plays a valuable role in the customer experience. Improve both aspects of your value proposition in 2024, and you will likely find your pot of gold at the end of the rainbow this year.

            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.