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Business Operations

Delivering value with auto terminals

October 11, 2010
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Kevin Detrick knows a lot about how to make an okay carwash even better. As the president of Innovative Control Systems, Inc. (ICS), a supplier of carwash and quick lube business management solutions based in Wind Gap, PA, he has also owned a carwash in Stroudsburg, PA, for over 25 years.

Detrick also knows that times are tough for carwash owners, and for customers, too. “Right now if you own a carwash and your volume or revenue has been dropping each year, you have to take a hard look at ways to offer more value,” he said. “Potential new customers and infrequent ones are effectively saying that they don’t see enough value at your price point. Unless you change your value proposition, the trend is likely to continue.”

Adjusting your business model

Just sticking a pay terminal in front of your carwash won’t make any difference — it’s changing your business model which delivers more value to the customer, Detrick explained. “When you start talking about your value proposition and how to improve it, consider: Speed of service, better customer experience, additional service offerings and improved quality. With the right combination of cost/service/ speed, wash volume and earnings will grow.”

Let’s say you’re a full service wash owner, and your loyal customers generally want the complete package of vacuuming, a towel dry, a window cleaning and perhaps even a tire shining. You want to keep them happy, but know that they might also like a quick exterior wash that is less expensive and less time waiting. By modifying your business model and allowing for more customer choices you can attract the exterior-only customers without losing your loyal full service customer base.

“Are you offering your customers what they want to purchase or what you want to sell?” asks Detrick.

Auto terminals can add value

Once you determine the right business model, the auto terminal might be right for delivering maximum value. “There’s a whole new range of sales and marketing tools that work in this environment to help you maximize revenue and create a better customer experience. And that’s all part of delivering more value,” Detrick said.

As you change your business model and offer more choices the terminal allows you to present “intro video clips” to educate your customers on new services and promotions.

“The key is to let the terminals educate and upsell for you,” Detrick explained. “Once you pick a service, you can play another video and recommend an up sell based on the first service selected.”

Customer and weather profiling

The pay terminals can also be adjusted based on the customer. “The other thing they can do is change services and pricing based on the customer. For instance, the state police will come in and you can change the pricing just for them, and you’ll give them a tax free wash for $2 and no wax offerings,” Detrick said. “Or you can create a preferred customer plan, by giving them a vehicle identification tag or a barcoded card, every time they come in the services and prices change just for them.”

Detrick said washes, his included, can adjust the washes offered based on the time of day. “At my wash, I do full service until 5 p.m. and then I keep the wash open later as an express only and the services and pricing change automatically.”

And that works for the weather as well. “If it’s too cold, we don’t offer full serve, so we change the profile, turning off full service. If it’s overcast or raining you can switch the wash to express only, allowing us to remain open on marginal rain days. Everything can be adjusted.”

Thinking outside the box

According to Detrick, “too many carwash owners today think that they can’t impact volume, labor or earnings. That simply is not true. Operators who take the time to understand their market, can deliver more value. It seems that the guiding principle for businesses everywhere remains to continuously improve customer value.”

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