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Business Operations

A carwash emergency

October 11, 2010
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A few days ago, a friend of a friend called my cell phone in a dead panic. “Hey,” she said in a hurried voice, “you still work for a carwash, right?”

I started to correct her, but clearly she was not interested.

“Listen, do you know of a carwash near me?” she said, interrupting my explanation that I worked on a magazine for carwash owners and operators, and not at an actual carwash. “This is sort of an emergency.”

As it turns out, I knew of a few carwashes in her area, and so I suggested a site near her, but also mentioned if it was a true emergency, she might luck out and pass by a gas station carwash on her journey over to the flex-serve/self-serve combo.

She burst out a quick “thanks” and the phone line went dead. I didn't even have the time to explain the finer details of my career or the carwash industry. Pity.

As I sat there, holding onto my cell phone and the last remnants of our conversation, I started to wonder what would constitute a carwash emergency. Perhaps she was being attacked by seagulls? Or maybe she owned a Kit-like car (you know, David Hasselhoff's ride in “Knight Rider”) and it had started to complain about the foul odors originating from the backseat?

I later learned she had “borrowed” her mother’s car —unbeknownst to her charitable mother — and managed to get it a bit dirty in the process. A boring emergency, but an emergency, nonetheless.

I guess the more troubling part of the conversation was that “Cindy” (name has been changed to protect the ignorant) didn’t know where the nearest carwash was located. Even more concerning: it was possible she had never visited a carwash at all.

Instead, she was lucky enough to know someone who knew someone in the carwash industry. Lucky, too, for the owners of the carwash I recommended; they didn’t even have to bother with Internet or phone directory advertising.

Which brings me to my real point: what are you doing to bring in customers? Are you on the Internet? In the phone book?

Are you on the billboards around town? Are you on the radio or TV, subliminally reminding vehicle owners that their cars are dirty and in need of a visit to your location? Are you at the youth football or baseball game, displaying your company name around the field?

Are you depending solely on word-of-mouth attention, or are you actively putting your name out there as the first and best name in carwashing? Are you waiting for an “emergency” to strike and bring in customers, or are you making the carwash a top-of-mind purchase?

Because Cindy is not alone; there are dozens of cars out there today that need a good wash, but their owners are ignorant of the need. Work hard to educate them and remind them of the importance of a clean car. That way, the next time Cindy has an emergency she won’t hesitate or frantically search through her cell phone contact list; instead, she’ll head straight to her favorite carwash — yours.

Kate Carr is the editor in chief of Professional Carwashing & Detailing® Magazine and was fairly disappointed in NBC's attempt to re-make Knight Rider, although she would still love to drive that Shelby. You can send your grumblings,
compliments and suggestions to

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