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Business Operations

The President's Corner

March 16, 2011
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Last month, Jimmy Branch, owner of Speedy Inc., a chain of three washes in Panama, FL, and a former president of the International Carwash Association™ (ICA), approached Professional Carwashing & Detailing with an idea: What if we took some simple (and some not-so-simple) carwash problems and posed them to the industry’s greatest minds. The result is this new section for PC&D, a veritable minefield of positive ideas and solutions to the carwash industry’s toughest problems.

Each month, Branch will lead a roundtable discussion for a select group of industry experts and address a few questions that have been on our minds. If you have a question you’d like to see in print, please e-mail Managing Editor Deb Gorgos, dgorgos@carwash.com.

This month’s questions, as formed by Branch:

1. A lot of old timers have said, “A good carwash operator has to have a lot of P.T. Barnum in him to be successful.” Is that more or less true with the saturated markets we have now and the inclusion of the express model?

2. What have been your most successful promotions?

Mike Black
ICA past president, 2003
Valet Auto Wash, Cambridge, Ontario, Canada

1. Regarding your first question, I do believe that there is always room for some type of showmanship in our business. I think we now call that the “wow” factor.

However, no circus act or “wow” factor can take the place of giving today’s fickle customer what they want or what they think they want. That is a clean dry car at a very affordable price done damage free in as little time as possible.

P.T. Barnum, was an entertainer of sorts and I’m not so sure today’s customers are coming to our carwashes to be entertained as much as they just want a pleasant hassle free and friendly visit.

2. Two promotions that we have done that stand out from the others is one that provided us with the biggest bang for the buck. This year we put one of our washes in the local Santa Claus parade. This particular city is one of the only cities that holds a nighttime parade, so it’s very unique and draws upwards of 40,000 people. Being at night, all the floats are lit which gives a very visual effect.

For $175 we put in one of our vehicles that is wrapped in our company name and decorated it with lights, etc., including a lit Christmas tree on the roof. All employees walked in full uniform, giving out candy canes to the children and free wash coupons to the adults.

The response was overwhelming. The local TV station filmed it and has broadcasted it several times with our car and employees featured as Santa’s cleaning crew.

In front of the car, two employees carried a huge banner that said “Merry Christmas! For a free wash text ‘Valet’ to 54500.” (Text mobile is a promo we offer.) The company that provides this was giving me live results on my Blackberry as I walked the parade. We had a 102 new customers opt into our text club and receive a free wash right to their phone.

My most successful campaign without a doubt has to be our unlimited wash club called Keep Klean Pass. About six years ago the Northeast went into one of the worst periods of depressed weather that we have ever seen, which lasted for five years. In order to survive I needed to find a consistent way to have revenue.

After receiving my wife’s gym membership bill on her credit card statement every month I wondered if I could do the same in the carwash. I was one of the first to get into the unlimited wash clubs using auto billing and auto pay stations.

The success of this program is amazing. Today it brings in over a quarter of a million dollars a year and covers all my mortgage payment before I even open the doors.

This summer, for the first time, we raised the price from an after tax of $31.50 to $39.50; a 25 percent increase. We only had two or three cancellations. This program has grown to be a brand within a brand and now with such a large base is expanding to offer many other benefits and savings not just at your washes but at other retail stores in the area.

Due to the nature of our weather patterns we make all members sign a minimum one year contract with an “evergreen-type” renewal. It keeps going every month unless a customer asks to be cancelled. We have less than one percent drop out and many of those are because they move, etc.

Chip Burton
ICA past president, 1998
Top Shelf Auto Wash, Orlando, FL

1. Great quote and absolutely true today, maybe more than ever. When I started 25 years ago, I said that I wanted to take something that largely considered a chore - getting your carwashed - and make it a fun, pleasant buying experience.

Putting on a great show, “selling the sizzle with the steak” on a consistent basis must be part of anyone’s marketing plan today. No one was ever a better example of this than our friend Bebo Klyce. I still use ideas I got from him today.

Specifically, we have an associate on the street waving to customers and holding a sign promoting the day’s special. Also our associates “cheer” each other on with constant banter in the full service area.

2. At our new flex service, we do a Wacky Wednesday promotion that we copied from Jack Barrett and Paul Bradley where the basic wash is $3 instead of the normal $5. All other services remain the same price.

Though the ticket is down, volume is way up on the normally slowest day of the week, we bring a lot of new people to the wash who have never been and they pass the word to their friends and neighbors.

It’s a great way to build volume, particularly with a new wash.

Jimmy Branch
ICA past president, 2004
Speedy, Inc., Panama, FL

1. The express format can operate without as much promotion “stoking the fire,” but with consumer demand thinned by increased competition and reduced by the recession, a good promoter will fare better in carwashing, as in any business.

In the least, a “promoter” operator is involved in his operations. Employees and customers appreciate a boss who is involved and motivated to have fun. We are starting a tradition of wearing hats for all the holidays at our express carwash locations.

Some holidays we decorate the grounds, some we don’t. Hats are cheap and fun.

2. I operate one of the oldest conveyors in America (since 1954). My dad was a promoter in 1954. I’ve done every kind of promotion you can think of:

  • March of Dimes;
  • Make-A-Wish;
  • Happy Birthday, America;
  • Local clubs, etc, etc.

But the most successful, both in terms of response and good will, has been the veteran’s free washes, now called, “Grace for Vets.” (Check out www.graceforvets.org for more information.)

During bad times it’s wise to limit your advertising, except when it comes to your community events like “Grace for Vets.” This last year, our generosity became a news story in itself. It takes years to build that kind of reputation with a community. You can’t buy it…you’ve gotta earn it.