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Flexing your muscles

October 11, 2010
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When it comes to running any kind of business, change and the need to adapt are inevitable. With the need to cut down on labor costs and increase the speediness of washes, some carwashes, especially full serves, are considering adding on or replacing existing lanes with flex-serve ones.

The commonly accepted definition of a flex serve is a combination of an express exterior and a full service platform which attracts a broad customer base due to the range of pricing. Steve Okun, the carwash consultant who first coined the term “flex serve,” said the advantages of flex-service are obvious. “By offering the choice of a quick ‘outside-only’ carwash and dry — or the optional added convenience of ‘hands-on’ detailing services, you’ve covered all the bases and eliminated the need for the customer to go anywhere else,” he said.

Why switch?
According to Anthony Analetto, president of the equipment division for SONNY'S The Carwash Factory and one-time director of operations for a 74-location national carwash chain, now is the time for conveyor carwash owners and operators to consider a switch to flex-serve.

“As operating costs continue to increase and competition encroaches into many operators trade area, I believe many operators should be looking at their options,” Analetto said. “Adding an express exterior lane to a full-service location can have many positive impacts. If land and traffic flow allow and done properly an operator can realize faster processing times, increased volume and revenue and the big bonus big labor efficiencies."

Okun agreed that switching to a flex-serve can increase both volumes and profits while reducing costs and competition through an expanded service menu. “The beauty of flex-serve is that it offers customers the flexible convenience of options and alternatives.” “[It’s] the selective power of choice.”

Michael Moorehead, director of business development at Shammy Shine Car Washes, a chain of carwashes throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey, put it pretty simply when asked why a carwash should switch to flex-serve. “Less labor, better managed employees, increased volume, consistently happy customers … what’s not to like?”

How to make the switch
Renovating your carwash to a flex-serve operation takes some work. Analetto stressed the planning process as the first important step. Planning should include:

  • A site layout;
  • An equipment audit;
  • A utility demand evaluation; and
  • A market study including menu changes and an evaluation of operating hours.

According to Moorehead, one should consider the constraints of the wash’s physical layout, the local zoning code and potential traffic pattern issues. Operators should consult with their equipment representative(s) to consider what equipment will be required. For example, “auto” attendants, flex-wraps, auto-preps, tire shine machines and any other services that may have once been done manually. “After-all, if you are not going to save labor expense, why bother with the change over,” Moorehead said.

Labor issues
The role your employees play and how you manage them will change. Labor, according to Okun, is marshaled into a centralized work area and staff is cross-trained to do all tasks where flex-serves are concerned. “That flexibility empowers the operator with a lean-and-mean arsenal of prudent staff versatility. No more dependence on individuals because everything is done by interchangeable teams of two cross-trained staff of multi-tasking adaptability.”

Moorehead said that if the changeover is properly planned and executed you can automate previously labor-intensive jobs. Customers will stay in the car to pass through the tunnel, which keeps the employee from having to drive cars to the tunnel entrance all day long. Upon exiting the tunnel express wash customers simply drive off your lot after the blow drier.

“From a management process it is much easier to concentrate your employees at the tunnel exit where they can be better directed in their activities,” Moorehead explained.

How to let customers know
Regular customers will need to be informed of your planned renovations because prices, services, customer-employee interaction and the speed of service will all change.

“Explaining the features and benefits offered in the improved format, consumers would quickly appreciate the ‘advantages of choice’ along with the timesaving convenience of quick, no-hassle exterior washing,” Okun said.

Operators should also plan a grand re-opening event and new signage to explain the new service format year-round. Consumer sign and image consultant Perry Powell said it is best to be honest and upfront with customers so that they don’t feel hosed. “The most important thing to remember about the washing public is that they are not carwash owners,” said Powell. “They do not understand industry jargon. All marketing communications must be approached from an uninformed prospective, using language an industry outsider will understand. Consumers want an honest, straight forward approach to sales communication, and they want great service for a great price.”

Moorehead added that the change to a flex serve also expands your potential customer base. “Not every carwash customer is looking for a full-serve wash. Even full-serve customers aren’t looking for a full-serve wash every time the exterior of their car is dirty. We have found that regular full-serve customers still visit with the frequency, but they also stop by for an express-exterior wash in-between full-serve visits. With the additional visits from your regular customers and the added volume from express exterior customers you should experience increased volume, consistently happier customers and an improved bottomline.”

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