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The recovery of the in-bay market is imminent

A beefed-up belief system will spark greater cooperation and more on-site marketing, and will generate increased consumer demand.

September 28, 2012
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In our economy, doctors enjoy a very advantageous position.

For starters, their "customers” drive to their offices, and generally have to wait in line to see them.

Doctors gain the added benefit of having many useful diagnostic tests. Thanks to these modern tools, patients usually understand the nature and extent of their pain or illness.

Also, doctors command great respect and ideally, compliance. Patients who foolishly choose to ignore the medical advice of their doctors, do so at their own peril.

Finally, most patients are highly motivated to take positive action, to ease their discomfort, and put them back on the road to an active, healthy lifestyle.

A critically important factor in providing life-changing care for many patients, in fact, is a fundamental, absolute core belief that they will indeed get better.

Without this powerful belief, supported by a well thought out plan of action, many patients would never regain their health.

Vital improvement needed here

Unquestionably, advances in medicine have saved millions of lives.

In our industry, too, design improvements in equipment allow operators to produce spectacular results; a cleaner, shinier and drier car can consistently be achieved with state-of-the-art equipment.

But it is in the life-sustaining belief system where both operators and suppliers need the most improvement.

Truth be told, in what may be the most painful lesson learned in the in-bay market since 2008, both operators and suppliers seem to have forgotten how profitable a peak-performing in-bay carwash can be.

If this distressing condition is not corrected soon, can anyone realistically expect this shrinking market segment to recover?

A positive belief creates commitment

Recently, I was afforded a sobering opportunity to view an unhealthy situation at a suffering carwash site.

Based on this experience, the operator had not developed a positive belief system.

This “teaching moment” occurred at a high volume, nationally branded dealer site in an upscale suburb of Atlanta. This c-store was located on a high volume road in a very good retail shopping area. There were, to be sure, other carwashes in the area, including a high volume self-serve carwash and two full-service tunnel washes.

But it wasn’t the local competition, or even a slowly recovering economy, which would explain the disappointing situation which I witnessed.

From this single visit, I could see this in-bay operator simply didn’t believe that his carwash was worthy of even the most basic promotional effort.

For instance, only three of his six MPDs displayed a carwash menu. Also, there was no signage on the lot which invited his on-site customers to “Get a Carwash Today.”

The site received a failing grade when the Pay At The Pump feature did not ask me if I wanted a carwash!

I wondered: How can this operator really expect to compete against the dozens of other retail businesses that are in his market?

The honest answer is truly frightening: This operator simply didn’t “believe” he could compete, and thus he did not make the necessary effort to do so.

In a word, this ill-fated operator simply lacked “commitment.”

Excellence follows commitment

Without a dedicated and concentrated effort to correct this self-inflicted injury, can there be any real solution for what appears to be a desperate situation?

Obviously, a powerful belief system is a very important precursor to every positive outcome. There are many examples of this operating principle; they are often found in a high-stakes sports setting.

For example, would the Washington Nationals have absorbed the costs of arm surgery and a one-year rehab for their phenomenal young pitcher, Steve Strasburg, if they did not truly believe that Strasburg would one day help them become a much better baseball team? (Strasburg recovered from his surgery, and the Nationals this year are one of the best teams in Major League Baseball.)

Also, in what may have been the most daring play call in Super Bowl history, would Sean Payton, the coach of the NFL Saints, have decided to start the second half with a totally unexpected on-side kick, if Payton did not truly believe that his team would be turbo-charged by this game-changing move? (Trailing at halftime, the Saints went on to win the Super Bowl.)

In both cases, a strong and resolute belief system preceded an excellent outcome.

Building a bigger customer base

Moving into the last few months of 2012, is this uncomfortable question beyond the industry’s reach to ask?

Will carwash operators and suppliers be able to develop anew or find at last a more constructive and powerful belief system, to ensure that every serious operator will wash more cars and make more money in 2013?

The surest road to a needed recovery is obvious: Growing carwash revenues in the field is the fastest and most effective way for the market to regain its health!

Of course, having a beefed-up belief system is only half the battle.

Successful operators and their suppliers must act as well to connect a robust, can-do attitude with a specific, thoughtful and realistic plan of action.

In truth, as knowledgeable readers fully appreciate, operators and suppliers together must become much more creative, results-oriented and intentional in developing and implementing new ways to bring more customers into their washes.

The healing begins now

In discussing this important new development, Paul Fazio, president, CEO and owner of Sonny’s Enterprises Inc., added his considerable insight.

When discussing the changing role of all suppliers in the carwash market, Fazio told Professional Carwashing and Detailing, “The changes mean a move toward offering a wider menu of services far beyond just selling hardware and equipment repairs … I didn’t say it would be easy, but I do believe it will be necessary, and better yet — valued.”

Clearly, operators must wash more cars, and make more money, because without the necessary infusion of life-saving revenue at the operator level, the in-bay market will remain in pain and continue to suffer.

Make a bigger pie

For much of the past two decades, manufacturers have focused most of their energies on “building a better mouse trap.”

But given the harsh realities of the new economy, the emerging market leaders next year must concentrate many more resources on “making a bigger pie.”

With a greater focus on “carwash revenues” in the field, cash-strapped operators will make more money (and buy more equipment!), ailing distributors will get a much-needed shot in the arm, and the skinny carwash manufacturers will also gain some muscle mass!

Having taken its medicine faithfully the past few years, the in-bay market will begin its long-awaited recovery in 2013.


To gain more insights and ideas on how your carwash can navigate successfully during these still challenging months, follow Mike Perry’s weekly blog, “Increasing Carwash Revenue,” at

Mike Perry has 33 years’ of business-to-business and retail marketing experience. He can be reached at, or at 770-330-2490.

Coming In December: The top in-bay chains and operators

Coming In January 2013: Increasing carwash revenues, part two

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