Nearly all of the customers descending on your wash look forward to spending minimal time on a mundane chore. They have trolled their part of town and chosen your location for one reason or another. None of them appreciates that fully.

The car wash is part utility and part show. How many times have we all watched the outcome and only critiqued the drying system? Truth is that it takes a collaborative effort, start to finish, to sustain and grow at the business game. Operators spend countless hours at the wash and can lose track of what a good operation should look like. When the car count is high, it is easy to give the impression you are only there to take the money and run.

In the case of repeat customers, the small annoyances of poor service build up. Fashion dictates speedy is in, but don’t let busy, sunny days transcend into something crazier than a game show. You may make it work for a little while, but you can’t fool the public forever. Maybe your customers aren’t always composed of wide-eyed consumers, but they should be. They will eventually decide your wash is not all it’s cracked up to be.

APPEARANCES

No matter how well established your business is, you cannot grow if your customers are either not happy with you or if the services they need are not being provided. Do not overestimate the loyalty of your customers and give them reasons to toss your address away permanently. So while time is still left on the clock, try looking through their eyes, know what you have and try to pin down what it is about your location they ought to be appreciating.

That said, appearances do matter and before signing the deal, decide to put in the hard work that keeps up those appearances. If the facility and its equipment are grungy, the customer will perceive a high standard of service as improbable. Given the nature of the business removing grime customers can make allowances for some facility imperfections; however, they can spot apathy and that translates to poor service. There truly is something disconcerting about a vehicle (whether you are in it or not) disappearing into the murky light of a disgusting tunnel and then believing it will emerge sparkly shiny. Ambiguous at best.

No one can provide flawless services, but implementing a proactive business strategy can help you minimize issues. Be acutely aware of the competitive landscape and the market you are trying to serve. Exploring the issues of your customers help you understand their mindset and expectations. Finding smarter ways to manage those issues and aligning your vision to fit the demographics are the best ways to provide customers with the quality they expect from you.

SIMPLICITY

Oh, the tortuous foible that makes building or remodeling a car wash notorious. Deal falling through once? Check. Planning department turning up countless flaws? Check, check, and check again. Waiting for months on word from the bank? Check.

But the only way out is through. Make good decisions so the other side makes you grateful for whatever got you there. Know the current business models and dare to explore the future. After you define your priorities and identify your mindset, use other resources to narrow down your choices.

First and foremost, know and understand the components and capabilities within your system. Choose simple, reliable components over complication and glitz. Maintaining simplicity is deceptively difficult and humans have a natural tendency to drift toward complexity. But remember, designs that are harder to understand create forced downtime and costly replacements, which is an expensive way to operate. Operating smartly will control costs plus boost revenue.

Technology allows us to aggregate inspiration, trends, and half-thoughts and shape them into a practical agenda. It has improved the ability to economically service a wider variety of vehicles and leveled the playing field for smaller businesses that want to compete with larger ones. Choose advanced equipment, with a proven track record for the greatest impact on the largest number of vehicles.

CHOICES

Ensure your picks are comprised of components suitable for the harsh environment that a car wash represents. Most mechanicals have levels of good, better, best. Just because a brand of dryer motors, for example, fared poorly in washes, doesn’t mean the whole motor brand should be ruled out. It is entirely possible the manufacturer inserted less-than-optimum, less-expensive models into the failed system.

Great design, both functional and aesthetic, is the great equalizer. It allows small companies to snatch business from giant competitors. People should have no tolerance anymore for bad design. Good design is essential to good business. For a design to succeed, it has to do two things: it must solve a problem in a unique way, and it must “surprise” us.

Spending hard-earned money is painful; that does not make you money obsessed nor are you a modern day Scrooge. You have to face the reality on costs — to some extent it’s all money out the door, either now or later. Case in point: operating blower and other motors on VFDs requires an initial upfront investment that pays for itself in the future. Choosing equipment wisely does not mean giving up your safety and security causing you the vertigo of a tightrope walker without a net.

SHARED WISDOM

Glean strategies by visiting and observing operating washes, local competition, and beyond. If you have done all right so far, in any business, that means you must have gotten some value from all the people who did you the kindness of sharing their wisdom. Pieces of guidance will shape your investment.

Your biggest challenge is to narrow down the possibilities to find things that can be executed and then find people that can execute them. Inclined vendors and amenable operators are integral to the effort. Surround yourself with people who have heart and conscience. If they can demonstrate belief in what they stand for as an enterprise, and are willing to admit vulnerability — you will observe the degree of uncertainty every business owner has to live with.

Vendors need to demonstrate they are relaxed, elevated, and engaged in your success. Whomever you choose, you must trust them, like them, and allow their persuasion — but not to the extent they remove the thrills and challenges of running your own business.

Unfortunately, in our industry, as with so many others, there are those eager vendors who hope to bolster your ego, and of course make a sale, through absurd claims. As the song says, “Run, don’t walk” in another direction before you get lost and lose ground. Those who know the terrain will have their own strong network and verifiable reputation (and validated support documentation) within the industry, and that should be their key attraction.

An all-or-nothing “package deal” on an entire system may not be a deal after all. Maybe it is; maybe it’s not. While following a common theme, wash facilities are like fingerprints — no two are alike. Every facility is unique, calling for alternate chemical and equipment picks. A requirement for an owner to buy everything, start to finish, in a pre-determined package, is a terrific choice for those who are not spending their own money.

Dryers/blowers in particular should be thoroughly reviewed. This is not a one-size-fits-all piece of equipment. Type of wash, line speed, space availability and power consumption are factors in determining the best system. Drying is accomplished in stages and to that end, correct placement of the components is essential. And do not forget about the detrimental effects of noise on the surrounding neighborhood.

All said, there are a number of independent companies in this industry who manufacture excellent products, which complement all brands. These products integrate seamlessly and bolster your business strategy. Sorting through these products will ensure the needs of your specific operation are addressed. Connecting the dots early go a long way to providing synergy throughout the entire process and will aid in achieving maximum uptime and profit.

COLLECTIVE PERFORMANCE

Synergy, in the modern concept, was suggested by chemists. Each time atoms or molecules were separated from a complex compound, the behavior of the separate parts was different than the behavior of all interconnected. Synergy is the principle whereby the collective performance, in this case, design and components of the wash facility, can result in either success or failure. Positive synergy, aka “working together,” allows us to lean toward pursuing the former and avoiding the latter.

And so it goes, in the vehicle washing industry. Continued observation of the process and the willingness to take advantage of innovation go a long way to improve overall results and ultimately your customer’s satisfaction and your own sense of accomplishment. In this business, presentation is everything and a clean, well-planned, and maintained facility frames the re-introduction of an improved vehicle to its owner.

The customer should be in awe of not only the end product, but also the operation. The obvious things at your facility are aesthetic, but that’s not all of it. Friendly, efficient washes delivered in a clean, organized manner trump amusement park glitz any day. It’s not hard to love a clean car, but if you need to jumpstart the sense of wonder in your customers, make it inviting to visit your premises.

So, demonstrate your sense of irrepressible pride by tapping the resources available. Continue to be inspired — and a little bit haunted — by your wash’s dance with mortality. Hopefully, your wash will possess positive synergy, the best example of exceptional business practices that appreciative customers will ever have the privilege of knowing.

Cheryl Dobie owns Aerodry Systems, LLC based in Denver, CO. With late husband Darryl, she formerly owned car washes in Texas in the 1980s and manufacturer Worldwide Drying Systems in the 1990s.

For more information on this article or Aerodry, e-mail info@aerodrysystems.com.