The tortoise and the hare. We teach our kids that you can be more successful by doing things slowly and steadily, rather than acting quickly and carelessly. Yet, we’re all adults here. It’s the New Year. Admit it, we’re all attracted to the promise of a quick fix. As an example, topping the list of most New Year resolutions is gaining fitness or losing weight. Curious, I looked up stats from IHRSA, The Global Health & Fitness Association, and learned there’s a 4 percent surge in gym sign-ups every January. No surprise. If only the quick fix of joining a gym could achieve a life of health and fitness.
So, what’s the top resolution for professional car washers in 2023? I polled everyone I know. Hands down, the number one goal of car wash owners is some flavor of elevating customer experience — foam, lights, signs, marketing, point of sale convenience. There’s a lot of fixes available out there you can invest in. But I’d like to take a different tact. Nothing elevates customer experience more than receiving a clean, dry, shiny car in a consistent amount of time every single visit.

Procedural Checklists
To kick of 2023, I’d like to dust off one of my favorite tortoises of all time and look at opening and closing procedures.
You can’t win every customer when working from a weak foundation. Everything starts with the steps you take to open and close your wash each day. You read that right, customer experience improvement starts with your opening and closing procedures. Start by updating your closing checklist, then review your opening checklist. One is a mirror reflection of the other and I prefer to use two sides of a single page for both. The closing manager completes the closing procedure checklist, the opening manager completes and files the sheet after filling out the opening procedure checklist.
Creating procedural checklists at a car wash is an art form. Some operators keep things simple with a single line for something such as clean and stock bathrooms. Others go for more detail and break the single function into three check boxes for stocked supplies, clean floors, and shiny fixtures. Although bathroom cleanliness rarely causes panic, it does highlight the need to be as specific as you feel necessary.
An instruction to “turn on pay stations” is inadequate. The checkbox for that function should read more along the lines of “activate the pay stations” with the exact steps detailed for your unit. The devil is in the details. Most operators have an effective checklist in place to keep things tidy, to ensure staff is performing, and to carefully control money on the site. For brevity, I’ll assume you’ve got that handled.

Focus on What Can Shut Down Your Business
One area that is often overlooked is E-stops. E-stops, or emergency stop switches are used at every car wash on the planet. You’ll find them at the entrance and exit of the tunnel, at the push button terminal, and various other locations throughout the property. I’ve seen them in manager’s offices, inside the tunnel, you name it. Include a closing procedure to ensure every single E-stop is in the closed/off position. Make sure you mirror that with an opening checklist to turn all E-stops to the open/on position. It’s best to list and detail where each E-stop is located and train your employees on the importance of this procedure.
Why did I put E-stop closing and opening procedures first? Because you’d be amazed at how often this can close a perfectly good wash. Worse, when the wash won’t start because an unknown E-stop is active, the manager, without a routine in place, will typically panic. They start making changes to the MCC, tunnel controller, and everything they can think of to get things started. By the time they give up and reach out for help, they rarely remember everything they tried to do. That must now be troubleshot and undone, resulting in extended closure. Adding this simple step of E-stops to your opening and closing procedure will do wonders to keep your car wash open when your customers expect it to be.
Don’t overlook compressed air. It’s not enough to have a procedure to empty the compressor drain. I recommend a closing procedure to completely shut down the entire system at night with an opening procedure to turn it back on and check that it pressurized correctly. Equipment won’t operate correctly without it. What’s more, most modern conveyors maintain chain tension using compressed air. When air pressure drops, the chain will slacken and activate a safety shut off switch. Create a routine to ensure your compressed air pressure is correct before turning on the conveyor to eliminate this from your list of dissatisfying customer experiences.
Hot hydraulic oil reads at a higher level than cold oil. This is important: confirm the hydraulic oil level reading. Many managers leave a working car wash at night only to return and panic when the conveyor won’t turn on the next morning. Often what’s occurred is the low oil switch activated overnight as the powerpack cooled. Depending on how you wired your wash, particular brushes or the entire wash will not operate. Including a simple checkbox to confirm the hydraulic oil level creates a routine that stops managers from panicking and ensures your wash is open when you said it would be.

What to Do with Error Alerts
MCCs, controllers, water treatment, and other component checks vary dramatically from wash to wash. However, the one thing they have in common is a built-in alert if there’s a problem. Add a checkbox to your procedures to confirm no errors at any electrical component, and include a phone number to call in the event of an alert. This will do wonders to help your manager focus calmly on keeping your business in working order.

Routines Are Powerful
Checklists create routines. Routines are powerful. Routine helps your staff focus on solving problems rather than panicking and creating more problems. Refine your opening and closing procedures and look at creating other routines to elevate your customer experience. Walk around with an employee as he works through the procedures and see if you’ve missed a step in the document. Often, we do stuff out of habit and forget to add it to a procedural document. We only realize it’s missing when we watch someone else follow written direction.
And a quick addition: my new favorite that I hope to see spread is “The Two-Hour Wash Quality Check.” Simply stop the conveyor every two hours and put a smiling member of your team, never a cone, at the front driver’s side corner with their hand raised to stop the next car in the queue. Have a second member of your team walk the tunnel with a checklist to remove any debris and ensure proper equipment function. The stopped customer will invariably ask, “What’s wrong?” To which your smiling attendant is trained to answer, “Nothing is wrong, we do a safety check every two hours to make sure nothing has changed that could affect the quality of your wash.” From time to time, we’ll find debris that could have caused an issue. More powerful is when the customer says something along the lines of, “That’s awesome, makes a lot of sense, I appreciate that you really care,” which is a customer experience that’s hard to beat.
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.