I am grateful. The car wash industry attracts a different kind of entrepreneur. Everyone I meet who shares my passion for this business also shares a common trait: we are tinkerers. Some seek to constantly improve the wash process. Others will spend months testing billboards and grocery receipt coupons, and create maps surrounding their properties to identify the single most effective combination of promotions. A rare few even become so enamored with preventive maintenance that refining each procedure to reduce complexity while increasing effectiveness becomes a challenge they seem to enjoy.
I don’t believe there’s another group of professionals on the planet with the dedication of those in our industry. It makes for interesting conversations and I feel fortunate that I’ve been a part of it since elementary school. In a past article I wrote about the pitfall of fixing things until they were broken. Receiving so much positive feedback from that article, I’ve decided to build upon the idea. Trial and error combined with constant improvement is vital to success in this business. However, having “over tinkered” with some areas of the wash at times in my career, I’ve come to learn that, sometimes, simple is better. This applies to many areas, but here’s a list of the biggest culprits I’ve experienced. Let’s take a look.
Do you know the optimal conveyor speed for your wash? I’ll assume that you do. I’ll assume that you’ve rigorously tested and established the peak conveyor speed that delivers a consistent customer-satisfying wash with your existing equipment and chemistry across the range of vehicle, climate, and road-grime variables in your market. Next, do you, or should you, change it as traffic peaks or demand slows? Here’s where the temptation to unnecessarily complicate things rears its ugly head. Changing conveyor speed isn’t as easy as rotating the valve on your hydraulic power pack or changing your VFD. Changes must be done in conjunction with adjusting your chemistry application. For this reason, at any exterior-only wash, it is recommended to establish your optimal speed, set it, and forget it. Keep it simple, and fight any temptation to tinker with conveyor speed throughout the day. Full serves and flex serves that offer interior cleaning, however, are a different animal. Here, conveyor speed sets the tempo of the car wash. An experienced operator can adjust conveyor speed throughout the day to maximize the productivity of staff performing interior-cleaning services. Keep it simple. If you clean the interior of the car, yes, the complexity of changing conveyor speed and chemistry application to manage labor is worth the effort. If you only wash the exterior, leave it alone. Changing conveyor speed alters wash consistency, and you’d better have a compelling reason to do so. Also, keep in mind that daily changes in staff, training, equipment conditions, and water quality all contribute to a gradual mismatch of optimal conveyor speed to what you are running. Make sure to periodically review your optimal conveyor speed. The success of your wash may depend on it.
A good menu serves as a salesperson that guides customers to make quick, confident decisions. As with salespeople some are talented in helping customers get what they want. Poor salespeople “show up and throw up” everything they know, leaving an overwhelmed and frustrated customer. A frustrated customer is a bad thing. You may have a long and compelling story to tell, but save that for your brochure or website. Don’t overcomplicate your menu. It should never read like a book. Use recognizable icons to help customers identify that the incremental value of each wash package is greater than the increase in price. Confirm to them at the tunnel entrance that they will receive the wash they paid for. Do that, and customers will stream through the pay station or attendant, onto the conveyor, satisfied with their purchase. Provided you deliver what you said you would, or more, they will return, recommend you to friends, and try your other services.
Don’t make customers think. If you’re offering discounts as an incentive to drive traffic, or try a higher package, keep them clear and easy to understand. I’m a big fan of tinkering with promotions to get customers to try my top package. Whether it’s half-off the top package coupons on register receipts, or any of the other hundreds of promotions I’ve tested, I can’t seem to ever stop trying something new. Just remember to keep careful data if you constantly tinker with promotions. There’s little use testing new promotions if you can’t ultimately zero in on the most effective offers.
Abandon faith in the crystal ball. It’s always better to have too many employees scheduled and send someone home than risk customer dissatisfaction from not having enough people. Like gambling, trusting your ability to reliably predict the weather, or spikes in traffic, will eventually come back to hurt you. Equally, staggering start times to shave labor in between shifts can sometimes work, but not always. I equate it to trying to pick the fastest lane in bumper-to-bumper traffic. You may gain a few car lengths, or lose a few, but your time is often more productively spent on other tasks. Consistent scheduling delivers a consistent customer experience.
Play to your strengths. Unless you are a chemist, it’s best to concentrate your efforts on managing and promoting your business. Tinkering with chemistry more often than not results in an inconsistent wash and decreased customer satisfaction. Find a supplier with a reputable brand and a reliable support team that you can relate to. Your chemical supplier should be a trusted member of your staff that visits your property regularly. If that’s not the case, the answer isn’t to fix your chemistry yourself; the answer is to find a new supplier.
A successful preventive maintenance program, the kind that eliminates unscheduled equipment repairs, demands daily habits and routines. Opening and closing checklists must be prominently displayed and include weekly, monthly, and annual tasks. Staff must be so well trained that carefully completing and initialing each task is as natural as breathing. Managers must verify accurate completion without thinking. Then reality sets in. Turnover demands constant training. Some corners end up being cut. Tinkering with the PM program to solve the problem leads many operators to consolidate tasks. Tasks requiring greater skill are grouped with longer intervals and performed by a few select employees to reduce the training burden. I left this one for last because it highlights the problem best. Fixing your PM program by consolidating tasks can appear like you’re actually simplifying things — until you’re hit with the complication of your conveyor breaking down on a busy Saturday.
Your ability to refine processes to improve efficiency, quality, and consistency represents a competitive advantage in your market. Your ability to create more effective marketing to acquire, upsell, and retain customers is the foundation for growing your business. Just remember, as you tinker with your car wash, that some areas may not always need tinkering.
Good luck, and good washing.
Washing cars for over 30 years, Anthony Analetto serves as president of SONNY’SThe 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.comor at (800) 327-8723 ext. 104.