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Business Operations

History repeats itself

October 11, 2010
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Below is an editorial written by Humphrey S. Tyler, publisher of Professional Carwashing and Detailing® magazine from 1981 until 2006. The editorial was published in January 1983, a year in which Ronald Reagan was president, Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” was #1 on the charts, the median household income hovered around $20,885, and PC&D was simply known as Professional Carwashing.

There is one parallel to what was going on in the world back then and what is going on now and that can be seen in Tyler’s editorial which addressed the economic slump that faced carwash operators and detail shop owners 25 years ago.

Cut Some Costs and You Cut Your Throat
Survival in the current economic climate requires a slavish addiction to maintaining or improving the bottom line, which, of course, means cutting costs.

We hope the cost reduction measures you’re taken have not sacrificed the quality of the service you’re providing to your customers. No matter what type of carwashing business you’re in, your product is the service of vehicle cleaning. If your cost-cutting programs have affected the quality of your cleaning service, then you’re sowing the seeds of your own destruction.

Whether the washing takes place in a converyorized tunnel or in an automatic or wand bay, the carwashing business is a service business, and if the customer feels he’s gotten lousy service, he’s no longer going to be a customer.

Where have you cut to save on costs?
Have you put off replacing those worn-out brushes or pads with the result that they aren’t getting doors clean and are not reaching the grills and backs of cars? Are your top brushes and shammies worn to the point that they’re not really getting tops of cars clean? Have you tied back side brushes and wrap-arounds that aren’t working, rather than going to the expense of replacing or repairing them? Is there a blower motor that’s been “out” for a couple months awaiting rewiring? Are whitewalls coming out gray because you haven’t replaced those two-year-old tire brushes?

Maybe you’ve been saving on saps and chemicals by “cutting” the concentrate a little more than the manufacturer suggests, or by advertising one manufacturer’s product and then using another, less expensive brand. Or perhaps you haven’t been using any cleaning agents at all on some slow days.

If you’re in the self-service business, you may have put off some of the repairs to the pumps in the equipment room, with the results that your customers aren’t getting the pressure they need in the bay. Or perhaps you’ve delayed replacing worn-out foam brushes that have missing and broken bristles. Maybe you’ve disconnected your softener to save on salt costs during the business slowdown. There may be vacuum hoses damaged and nozzles missing that are awaiting a better cash flow. And there may be litter and unemptied trash receptacles because the part-time attendant was laid off.

Any of these — and numerous other — “belt-tightening” steps are the beginning of the end for a carwash, because while the operator may think they are just “temporary until things get better,” things are never going to get any better. It’s a fools’ game, because any time you reduce the quality of service that you’re giving your customers, you’re going to be losing those customers — permanently.

You’ve got to cut your costs, but reducing the quality of your service is not the way to do it. There are plenty of other ways to save money that won’t affect the service you’re providing.

For instance, see if your attorney can get your property assessment reduced to save on taxes. Have an engineer look over your wash with an eye toward reducing energy consumption. Take a close look at your labor management practices to see if you can achieve better efficiency with fewer bodies. See if you can cut your promotional costs by running “trades” on advertising and couponing.

Another approach is to become aggressive, and to try to increase revenue, perhaps by adding a quarter onto the cost of the basic wash or by dropping the discount coupon program. Another way to generate more money is to train your employees to sell more extra services and provide them with an incentive in the form of a commission. Or maybe you can generate more volume by using some new promotional techniques. In any case, the way to solve your business problems during these particularly tough times is not to scrimp on the service you’re providing to your customers. Today’s and yesterday’s customers represent the future of your business. If you treat them with this in mind, you’re going to be able to survive this recession and prosper. If you don’t, your creditors will end up owing your carwash.
-Humphrey S. Tyler, Publisher