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Make changes, make more money

Presenting things you can do at your car care business that don't require a complete overhaul and will still 'wow' your customers.

October 21, 2013
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You don’t have to do a complete overhaul to revamp your business and increase your car counts.  And, whether you’re strapped for cash, or not looking to make a lot of changes any time soon, it certainly helps to make some improvements to not only enhance your wash’s quality and impress customers.

Dan Foor, owner of two Magic Wash Car Washes in Middleton and Madison, WI, knows all about on-site improvements. He recently added on to one of his locations and has the following advice for other owners and operators.

 “You really have to step back and take a look at your wash. Look at it from a customer’s point of view and see it through their eyes,” Foor says.

Foor then suggests looking at all of the new trends in both equipment and services. “If you aren’t upgrading, then realize that your competition probably is.” To find out these trends, Foor says to:

  • Go to trade shows
  • Read the trade magazines
  • Visit your competitor

Also, according to Ted Winchester, VP of sales and marketing at Coleman Hanna, who has been involved in the carwash industry for more than 40 years, with low interest rates and very attractive leasing plans available, updating and modernizing your carwash can be simple, attractive, and make a big impact on profits and customer satisfaction.  
“Now is the perfect time to improve your image and wash performance,” says Winchester. “Take advantage of the Section 179 tax break that expires at the end of the year.”

Five changes and improvements to consider

According to Robert Andre, president of CarWash College, if “your carwash is getting older, you’ll want to make it look newer and clean better.” And if you don’t want to spend a lot of money on a complete remodel, then here are a few things you can do:

1. Give your façade a makeover

The first thing that you will want to do is give your site a new look. How do you do this in a fashion that will allow you to really get a different look without breaking the bank? Do you want to change the format? Even if you are planning on keeping the same format for the wash, the first thing you will want to do is make the outside look new. If you look online you will find thousands of ways to improve your facade. If you are changing your format to a flex service or express exterior, one thing that will give the site a new eye catching look is to add overhead vacuum post. The vacuum post adds a great look and gives your customers a functionality that they love.

2. Analyze your existing equipment

Consider adding new equipment for the cleaning process that will allow you to wash more volume and/or use less labor. How to you decide what pieces to keep or replace? If you are trying to wash more volume look for areas that might be weak and realize that as you speed things up the problem will only become worse.

Look at things such as:

  • Drying
  • Front and side cleaning
  • Wheel cleaning.

Drying: One of the best ways to improve drying is by adding a wet environment blower placed just after your rinse arch or moving to a continuous drying setup.

Front and side cleaning: For cleaning, look to see if you need to add additional equipment or if a change to new and improved wash materials will be enough.

Wheels: For wheels you might need to look at adding additional chemical tire applicators or new high pressure equipment that can track the movement of the wheels.

If you are looking to reduce labor, look at the areas in which your employees are spending the most time. One area that you can save yourself a lot of time is in the drying process. Today with new wash material technology it is possible to add equipment that will give your cars a hand dried finish and add to the shine.

3.   Got a tunnel? Add on chemical applicators and add a “wow” factor

Adding chemical applicators that will give your customers a great show and add to the overall shine of the vehicles. More carwash locations are trending toward customers staying in the vehicles as they go through the carwash. Look at this as an opportunity to give your customers a new experience.

You can start the process with an applicator at the entrance of the wash that adds a thin layer of multiple colors of soap. You can further add to the experience by using multiple color LED lights or using a projector to display multiple messages on the front window of the vehicle.

After that you can add your triple foam and it will cut through the other soap and add to the “wow” factor. Some products will add a low pH application to make the painted and chrome surfaces of the car shine. This application will usually have a different color form the previous soaps used.

Then the last step is to add a multiple color paint sealant that will add a shine and protectant to the vehicle surface. Yet, some systems will just use a wax placed in the middle of the tunnel with a light that will protect the finish and add to the shine. Regardless of the process you decide to use, the main thing is you have to give a show and a noticeable difference in the end product.

4.  Promote, promote, promote

You will need to market any changes to your customers.  Now is the best time to introduce new wash packages and price points to your customers. When deciding on what type of menu to use, ask around and look for what’s working at other wash locations. One style that is fast gaining acceptance as a ticket raising design is the ICON™. This style uses icons with pictures to explain the services. People find this easy to read because they are always looking at icons on all of their electronic devices. The other unique feature is the large jump in price from the basic wash to the next package. The jump in price also adds a lot of value and gives people a reason to buy up. You can combine your menu with pay station graphics that match the menu so customers can quickly identify the packages from the menu.

Also consider:

  • Gate arms
  • Wind master signs and more

They can all be used to really brand and market your services.  You should also create flyers or tri-folds explaining the new services and how the benefit the customer and their vehicles.

5. Upgrade your staff

The last and final thing to upgrade at the wash  - your staff. Use any downtime to train the staff on all of the proper procedures that you want them to use. During the down time it is also a good time to get rid of the people that you know are not going to accept the changes and hire new people.

I also recommend getting all your people into uniforms, I am not talking about t-shirts. Remember all the money you’re spending to upgrade your image, these people will be the face of that image to every customer. Look into nice shirts and paints that will give the image you’re going for.

I also recommend using this as a time to introduce a uniform service.  A uniform service will allow your employees to always be in a clean uniform and the costs are probably a lot less than you think.

Andre also adds, “One thing that is often overlooked before any kind of remodel or installation is informing your customers ahead of time. Be sure to let them know things like how long the wash is going to be closed, why it is going to be closed and include a coupon to comeback to try your best wash package once you reopen.”

For tunnels

According to Winchester, conveyor owners and operators should consider focusing on one critical area such as wheel cleaning.

“Wheel cleaning components are easy to install in existing locations, they take up a small amount of conveyor length, and improve wash quality while increasing customer satisfaction,” Winchester says. “Adding a tire shine applicator offers an additional revenue generating service and is highly desired by consumers. Investing in a spot free system can eliminate unwanted water spots from forming on the clean vehicle’s surface.

For in-bay automatics

In-bay automatic owners can benefit from replacing old and worn out rollovers while still using existing pump stations and rail systems, according to Winchester.

“Using a retrofit in-bay automatic system allows the operator to save thousands of dollars while still installing a new machine in the bay,” he says. “New machines attract new customers and help keep them satisfied with improved wash quality, faster wash times, and reliability.”

For self-serves

Self-serve operators should focus on the customer experience in the bay and at the vacuums, says Winchester.

“Implementing new payment methods, such as credit card and bill acceptors, makes it easier for the customer to pay and projects a modernized image,” Winchester says. Also, “replacing old signage can make old equipment look new. Repairing and improving pump pressures and chemical flow rates can make a big impact on your customers wash experience.”

Also Winchester suggests updating:

  • Bay meters
  • Bay doors, and
  • Booms

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