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Four easy ways to maximize your self-serve

October 11, 2010
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When times get tough, the tough get creative. For self-serve operators, the current economic crisis presents a very real opportunity. Over the last few decades, the self-serve segment of the carwash industry has noticeably lagged in innovate solutions behind the in-bay automatic and tunnel segments.

This is mostly because the service is so straightforward. There’s soap and water fed into a bay and the customer inserts quarters into a pay mechanism for access. Self-serve washers are the no-frills customers in our industry. They like elbow grease with their soap and to be left alone at the change machine. Besides, what’s left to improve?

Well, for starters, there’s the profit thing. To be competitive in today’s economy, self-serve operators will need to reach out to customers with new and innovative services.

Professional Carwashing & Detailing® spoke to Ryan Carlson, project manager of WashCard Systems, a company providing credit and debit card technology, to help operators hone in on creative ways to maximize the potential of their self-serve bays. What follows are his top four suggestions for improving your profits today.

Idea 1: Put it in the bay
As we’ve previously mentioned, self-serve customers are pretty plain. They want some soap, some water and a little privacy in the bay. So how do you convince them there is more to your carwash than just soap and water?

The answer: Move extra services into the bay. Operators across the country are having success with in-bay drying wands and vacuum nozzles. Customers who might ordinarily pass these services up are switching the dial to take advantage of the privacy and safety of the bay they are already parked in.

“My customers who have put [in-bay dryers] into the bay are experiencing like a 30 percent instant jump in the amount of time and money people are spending,” claimed Carlson. “Again, this goes back to the concept of selling time — not a service. Customers who might normally towel off in the parking lot are now sitting in the bay with the meter running up while they dry off their vehicle.”

Carlson said he knows of other operators who have had success moving vacuum services into the bay, as well. A lot of times this can be done of your own design or by working with a manufacturer/distributor to create an in-bay system that works for your site.

Idea 2: Count up, not down
Carlson suggested operators begin thinking of their business in a drastically different way if they want to boost their revenues. “You’re not in the business of selling soap and water,” he said, “you’re in the business of selling time.”

According to Carlson, too many operators get hung up on the minor details — like what brand of soap they use or what temperature their water is — without realizing it is the time they are being paid for; not the service. Customers wash their own cars, he pointed out, and are taking responsibility for the cleaning into their own hands.

Once this is understood, the logic of using a timer that counts up — not down — is obvious. Allowing the customer to relax and not feel pressured to leave the bay by a certain time means operators can cash in on their comfort and leisure.

“One of our operators just switched over to the count-up timers and he has washers who spend an extra 10 minutes now,” Carlson said.

Idea 3: Accept plastic
This concept is simple. If you’re not accepting credit cards today, you’re turning away business. “Don’t assume consumers were the same consumers they were five years ago or 10 years ago,” Carlson cautioned. “Five years ago, that new driver was 11 years old.”

It can be in the bay or at a central station, but the point is this: Start looking into credit card acceptance today. It really doesn’t require any more explanation than that.

Idea 4: Add or enhance your large vehicle bay
Consider this: The majority of washes being built today are express tunnel washes in new, expanding suburbia areas. Following closely behind are new full serves and IBA standalone locations.

“These washes do not have in their business plan a way to attract landscaping contracts, limos, RVs, local municipality fleets, or even some of the larger SUVs on the market today,” Carlson pointed out.

Make your wash suitable for these vehicles and work hard to attract their business. Put in a gantry so customers can reach the top of their RV or move the vacuum station closer to the bay (or even inside the bay) so truckers don’t have to worry about navigating your parking lot.

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