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Business Operations

Flex-serve synthesis

October 11, 2010
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Flex-serve synthesis forms a strategic relationship between two universal bedfellows: the exterior carwash and the mobile detailer.

Although many might think of an automatic carwash and a mobile detailer as contentious adversaries, when properly combined they actually provide all the critical components of a very robust operating platform. It may very well be the saving grace for troubled express exteriors — and a sensible option for all exteriors.

Profitable adaptation
The flex-serve format is well known for its resilient adaptability in meeting the most stringent market demands in serving consumer needs with seamless efficacy. A variation of that theme has been structured to provide a format that addresses a growing need by express exterior operators who seek an effective way to take their clientele off-the-market from competitors while nonetheless insisting on avoiding the burdens of labor.

Likewise, mobile detailers are constantly seeking ways to cluster their activity in one location to avoid costly downtime lost traveling from place to place as well as the inefficiencies involved in setting up and dismantling down again between locations.

Each of the two operations is a completely independent, self-contained business with its own management and operational infrastructure. Yet, when combined, the collective resources provide a comprehensive marketing approach that can be significantly more profitable for both.

As a business model, flex-serve is a good fit for both partners, providing fair and balanced benefits as well as shared responsibility. The mutual benefits are obvious.

Each business component retains its own identity. The express carwash offers a quick-and-easy wash and dry without any hassles or needless delays. The mobile detailer retains the mobility of serving off-site customers, too. Both parties must demonstrate the benefits of the merged services while carefully avoiding any compromise to the overall effort.

Detailers must help the carwash operation by sidestepping the urge to criticize, and instead provide any needed supplemental support. The carwash operation should be viewed as a robust feeder system for all the hands-on detailing needs. Good for the carwash owner, good for the mobile detailer and especially good for the consumer.

A supply and demand equation
For the carwash owner, the upside to the flex-serve synthesis is significant. Offering the consumer a wide array of choices at one location is a powerful advantage.

Instead of asking customers to go elsewhere for needed hands-on services, the express exterior can keep those customers from finding and using other alternatives, thus taking them off-the-market from competitors. And, instead of running a staff-less facility, the detailer presence provides walking-and-talking people assistance.

The mobile detailer is self-contained, so no interior space is required. Conversely, the downside is minimal. Reconfiguring the site for hands-on aftercare is usually quick and easy, providing the site is set up properly — the basic responsibility of the carwash designer.

For the mobile detailer, the upside is significant. It’s an instant feeder system for hands-on services. Just about every vehicle that goes through a carwash can eventually benefit from detailing services, however slight. Maybe merely wiping the vehicle dry and doing the windows can become a mini-detail service.

On the other hand, the downside requires planning for peaks and valleys and setting some guidelines. Unless the site is exceptionally busy, the hands-on services might be a part-time feature that cherry-picks peak demand times.

Mobile detailers need not change their business; simply grow it while maintaining existing clientele. If it means expanding your equipment and staff, evaluate the opportunity and make a sensible business decision. It need not be a change, but rather an expansion into another dimension.

All hands-on activity occurs in aftercare
Unlike traditional full-service facilities, flex-serve express aftercare is a hands-on option that doesn’t get in the way of carwashing. Instead, carwashing and aftercare are completely independent of each other.

And in place of the stereotypical unskilled carwash attendant, a more competent detailer delivers services to your clientele in meticulous fashion.

Aftercare service availability can be determined by both parties to suit their respective needs as well as capability. Whether a full-time commitment of exposure or a designated day and time format, the hands-on aftercare services should be available to bolster consistency, thus enabling the service confidence to grow.

If one mobile detailer and his staff aren’t enough to fill the void, several other responsible mobile detailing services may join the alliance. Irrespective of the number of partners, for it to be good for one, it must be good for all. The flex-serve synthesis creates a powerfully profitable synergy for all.

Who handles the money?
Cash control is simplified by each independent partner controlling their respective profit center within mutually agreed upon guidelines. Many express exterior formats utilize automated cash control systems that take care of the complete carwash transaction.

The carwash owner can integrate the aftercare offerings into the existing format and have a negotiated payout or simply direct the aftercare operator to keep transactions separate. This flexibility may offer many of the carwash-automated cash control services such as push-button sales and credit card acceptance to the mobile detailer, providing potentially newfound advantages for growing profits.

Housekeeping & image synergy
Irrespective of what is being done in aftercare or who’s doing it, there should be a clear understanding of what the image of the overall operation must be, as well as overall staff conduct. For the alliance to be successful and fair to all parties, a unified effort towards absolute customer satisfaction should be the prevailing objective. You’re in the “business of clean,” and everything about the operation should reinforce that image.

Each profit center retains its own identity, so the detailer enjoys added exposure and grows name recognition. Just because the staff constantly deals with dirt doesn’t mean they must wear it. If you intend to interact with consumers, it’s wise to look and smell clean. Busy days and hot weather may be reason enough for multiple uniform changes.

Clean-smelling, squeaky-clean restrooms speak volumes without uttering a single sound. Lighting that eliminates shadows and bathes the entire surrounding with clean, bright light projects the image of a safe, clean environment.

Fair and balanced synergy
Essentially, the carwash operator can develop a multi-profit center climate on the previously intended single entity operation. Rent, merchandising and credit card processing fees can be collected from the mobile detailing operation while bolstering a more robust destination site. Smart carwash operators will have a few mobile detailers waiting in the wings for eventual blending in when needed. Labor hassles remain the detailer’s challenge, motivated by the risk of non-performers being replaced.

On balance, automatic carwashes are typically busy on weekends and just before major holidays, so special consideration should be given to coverage during those times.

Mobile detailers can find comfort in eliminating the time drain of traffic delays and multiple set-up times while growing their business with better exposure at a high profile location. While generating profits onsite, detailers have the additional benefit of growing off-site business as well.

Flex-serve synthesis is a sensible option for exterior carwash operators to help stabilize their business by offering their clientele much wanted hands-on services without the day-to-day burden of finding, training, managing and administering labor. Although not for everybody, this innovative resource may provide a critical lifeline for express exteriors that are failing to generate the needed traffic to sustain their business.

Understanding the basic flex-serve synthesis is simple: The whole becomes significantly greater than the sum of its parts. In effect, providing hands-on aftercare services may very well make the critical difference between flourishing and floundering.

Steve Okun, developer of the flex-serve operating platform, is a 40-year veteran of the carwash and detailing business.
His company, FL-based SMOKUN & Associates, provides carwash and detail consulting, training and marketing services.
Contact Steve via e-mail at

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