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Business Operations

Spring Cleaning

October 11, 2010
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Ahhh, spring: A time for new beginnings, for love (bugs), and for growth. For Stuart Levy, president of Clean Car Consulting in Chelmsford, MA, it represents a profitable opportunity for carwash owners across the country to educate customers on the ill effects of pollen, tree sap, acid rain, love bugs, and construction dirt and dust.

Although the possibility of salt and sand damage in the wintertime is better known and understood, springtime elements are just as harmful to a vehicle’s exterior and paint finish. Tree sap, pollen and construction dirt all pose a special threat to vehicle interiors, too, as motorists are more likely to leave their windows down to enjoy the fresh spring air.

We don’t need no education
For industry veterans like Levy, the really frustrating aspect of spring is that carwash owners and operators are less likely to use this time to educate consumers on the dangers of seasonal elements. While operators and even local media may go out of their way to warn customers about salt corrosion and undercarriage damage, those same operators are unlikely to educate customers about acid rain, bugs or construction dirt.

As Jack Bono, a regional manager for Lustra Professional Car Care Products in the Midwest and Canada, explained, many motorists do not understand that their vehicle’s paint is terribly thin and vulnerable to seasonal changes. In fact, many car owners think the clearcoat alone can effectively protect their car’s paint finish.

“A lot of consumers don’t realize that these finishes are soft and very thin. They’re not even really considered a paint as much as they are called a film,” Bono said. “They’re soft and absorbent and they can be affected by all of these different elements. For instance, a brand new car can absorb about a pint of water on its surface — and its absorbing everything in the water and what comes along with it.”

Bono and his colleagues Rick Martens, a senior chemist, and Jim Wurm, director of marketing for Lustra, agreed that the best thing carwash owners and operators can do is work hard to educate their customers on the benefits of professional carwashing; especially in the springtime, when road film and bugs present serious problems in many areas of the country.

“Over the winter a lot of heavy materials have been deposited on the road and roadsides during spring rains. These materials find their way on to the vehicle’s surface,” Martens explained.

According to Martens, routine washing will provide for easier and effective cleaning of the vehicle’s surface each time — a fact that needs to be explained to your carwash customers.

Furthermore, maintaining a clean surface followed by a clear coat protectant will prevent foreign material embedding into the vehicle’s finish even after it has left the tunnel or bay. Customers who understand the long-term benefits will be more likely to repeat their visits.

The winter to spring transition
Beginning in February (and earlier for parts of the country that do not experience heavy snows), carwash owners and operators need to prepare a Springtime Maintenance Checklist. This includes several items that need to be carefully inspected before the spring season begins to ensure there is no lasting or preventable damage from the wintertime.

Operators should monitor their:
• Spot-free system: “Make sure your spot-free system is operating correctly and giving you a zero TDS output into your holding tanks,” Bono cautioned. Also, membranes need to be checked to make sure they are functioning properly.

• Reclaim system: In the wintertime, salt builds up in the reclaim system, so this is a good time to check your reclaim system and see how much salt is built up and what should be cleaned or replaced.

• Pits: April showers give you a nice opportunity to clean out your trench, which is likely filled with plenty of debris, sand and salt from the wintertime.

• Water: First, make sure you have soft water. Also, check the temperature of your water to insure you can maintain 95-115° F.

• Nozzles: Look for clogged or worn out nozzles that are no longer functioning properly. Immediately replace any nozzles that aren’t up to par.

• Chemicals: Transitioning your chemicals from wintertime to springtime (and again from summer into fall) can be difficult because the fluctuations of temperature and humidity vary so significantly throughout the day and night during these seasons. According to the chemical experts that Professional Carwashing & Detailing® spoke with, the best advice is to talk at length with your regional distributor because he or she will have the best knowledge about local conditions and what works best in your area.

Communicating the benefits of regular washing
Steve Gaudreau, a carwash consultant for 20 years, said most customers only understand the “feel good” benefits of carwashing. A few years ago, he conducted a research project for a financial company that was managing carwashes at the time. Using intrinsic motivation research methods — or basically, open-ended questions — Gaudreau asked carwash customers why they had their car washed.

The number one answer? “Because it makes me feel good.” The second most popular response was, “To get it clean.” For those customers that answered they washed the car to get it clean, a follow-up question revealed their true motivations.

“We then asked the customers, ‘Why is that important to you?’” Gaudreau recalled. “For those customers that said they washed the car to get it clean, their next answer was almost universally, ‘It makes me feel good.’”

It is important that a carwash owner understands why their customers are coming to the carwash. Knowing those basic motivations, operators can increase value in the service by building upon the initial reason for washing.

According to Gaudreau, other important benefits of regular carwashing are economic and environmental. For more information about these reasons, read the sidebar: "Educate your customers on the benefits".

Marketing your carwash in the spring
“Marketing now is more important than ever,” according to Mike Perry, owner of Total Marketing Concepts, a consulting and marketing company for carwash distributors and operators based in Atlanta, GA. “During slow times in the economy, companies which continue to promote and advertise their businesses recover quicker than those companies which neglect that crucial activity.”

Perry advised carwash operators to be more creative in their marketing efforts if they truly want to grow their customer base and increase ticket averages. He said brainstorming with employees or a few select customers can help operators think outside the box.

For instance, to capitalize on the environmental trend that is so popular today, Perry suggested operators hand out “I went green today” stickers to customers who used their carwash. Perry borrowed this idea from the successful “I voted today” campaign used across the country this past election.

Another great way to market your carwash is to become involved in your community, Perry said. If you haven’t already done so, Perry advised joining a local community or service organization, like Kiwanis or the local Rotary club. “A carwash owner might also want to sponsor a golf tournament at one of the local courses, with the proceeds going to some community program,” Perry said.

Carwash operators can also become involved with local schools and sports teams, through sponsorship and donations. For more ideas on community involvement, read the sidebars: "Reach out to your community" and "Ideas for community involvement".

Last but not least, Perry suggested hosting a monthly raffle at your carwash. Ask customers to fill out an entry form every time they come to the carwash, and at the end of the month give the winner an unlimited wash pass for the following month.

“This daily activity generates a lot of excitement and repeat business, plus it has ‘legs’ since the promo will be passed on by word of mouth, which some consider to be the most effective kind of advertising,” Perry said.

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