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Advice from your peers

We asked, you answered. Find out what other successful carwash and detail shop owners are doing to stay ahead of the game.

July 02, 2012
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       There is no magic formula when it comes to running a successful business. Success has to come from hard work, trial and error and advice from others. The latter is probably the easiest of the three in that you simply have to lean on a few others and ask for their advice, or maybe, if you’re lucky, they’ll offer it up without you having to even ask. That’s what we’re giving you here: Very valuable and important advice from other successful carwash owners and detailers. They not only open up about what has worked for them, but they also let you in on some of their missteps and miscalculations. So, take what you can from their counsel, and the hard work and trial and error parts of the equation are all up to you.

The best kind of marketing

          When it comes to marketing your business, there are so many avenues, it’s hard to know which one to take. Andrew Jaffa, who along with his father owns three carwashes in Jacksonville, FL, said the best thing they have done is had a sustainable program.

          “We focus most of our efforts on social media and try all types of different things. We will try nearly everything at least once. Except for TV, we experiment with all outlets: Groupon, LivingSocial, Twitter, FourSquare, Facebook, radio, newspaper, coupon magazines, etc. The only reason that our social media works is due to the fact that I have delegated to an employee who maintains it on a daily basis.”

          Jaffa admitted that when he attempted to do the marketing himself, it didn’t work. “It was infrequent and not coherent,” he said. “I would post in bursts and then not post again for two weeks. Without delegating and giving that responsibility to someone besides myself, our social media efforts would be wasted.” 

Be realistic

          It’s important to not get too ahead of yourself and/or too confident, according to David Woods, the owner of two carwashes in Kittery and York, ME. “I need to first [preface] this by mentioning that the carwash was the second business venture that I started and was the wise old age of 24. Defiantly I “didn’t know, what I didn’t know” about business then. In retrospect I had ambition and all the dollars to invest, but not the sense. Over the years my business acumen increased and we grew our family business to where it is today. Wherever that is, but we truly have a good time doing it.”

Don't forget the female customers

          Woods said to stay realistic with the forecasted numbers. “Realistic numbers on the amount of business that one could expect their first couple of years being in operation. The carwash was mildly profitable at best for the first six years and for a couple of them I wasn’t able to take a salary out at all. I guess a better business plan should have been done at the time and not just go by traffic counts and someone’s gut feeling (the distributor) that we had a ‘winning location.’” Woods said he was like a fish on someone’s line at the time. "I found myself in the position of thinking with my heart and aspirations instead of my head which in turn resulted in heart burn and perspiration.”

Use one main organizational program

          It’s important to keep track of every aspect of the business from one resource. Jaffa uses Google Docs to keep organized. “It is the single most important tool for communicating, keeping track of purchases, inventory, customer assistance, Monthly Wash Club, equipment maintenance, daily reports, etc.” he said.

          Jaffa said they are able to utilize a whole range of spreadsheets, forms, presentations, scheduling, etc. on a daily basis.

How to be naturally successful

          “I don't know how any business can operate without these online tools that are accessible from any desktop or Smartphone,” he said. “Every employee has their own company issued email address. Google Docs is probably the greatest tool for improving productivity since the invention of the computer.”

Eight things to start doing right now

          The following are the top eight pieces of advice from Woods.

1.    Strive for personal growth everyday. Continually plan for your future, be Proactive in business not Reactive. There is nothing you can do today to greatly affect today’s profitability. Today you can plan for a much more profitable period six to 12 months into the future and, as the owner, that is where your head needs to be as often a possible.

2.    Learn as much as you can about the carwash business. I’ve been washing cars for over 30 years and I am still learning better ways to safely clean a car with a better use of resources.

3.    Learn that volume for the sake of volume does not mean you will be profitable. Don’t be afraid of being the highest priced carwash around, as long as you’re putting out a superior product. Sure your volume will suffer a bit, but you will make more profit in the long run. Would you rather have a base price of $3 and wash 65,000+ cars a year or be at $10 and wash 30,000+ cars per year? Make sure you have a big enough margin (profit) to support your family.

4.    Keep a clean carwash. Your physical operation, appearance of staff, and equipment is what will help create successful business. Make sure that the cars exiting the building are the best that you can make them be.

5.    Reinvest in your business every day.

6.    Don’t by cheap. The only money I have ever regretted spending is when I went cheap. You end up buying twice or more over time. If you can’t afford to do it right hold off until you can. Most times in business one’s patience is the lacking commodity, not funding.

7.    Understand what your customer wants and then provide it for them and make money on it. You need to clean their car the way they want it done, maybe not the way you want to do it.

8.    Whatever you do for a business, it shouldn’t feel like work. We believe in the phrase we coined, WJDS: “We don’t work, we just do stuff.”

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