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Business Operations

I'll be watching you

October 11, 2010
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Carwash operators today are busier than ever. The pressures of operating multiple sites, continuing a 9-5 job or launching several business projects at once means remotely managing and monitoring a carwash business is not only necessary, but sometimes the only way to operate. Remote management technology allows an operator to keep an eye on the carwash, as well as the till, and give peace of mind at the same time.

Professional Carwashing & Detailing recently spoke to Ryan Carlson, director of marketing for WashCard Systems, a Lino Lakes, MN-based company that specializes in credit card, fleet management, and gift card technology for the carwash industry. Carlson is also the host of the wash industry podcast “Wash Ideas.” He let us in on how carwashes can now be monitored via text messages and why remote monitoring is perfect for those owners who want to, but cannot be at their wash around-the-clock.

PC&D: Why do some wash owners need to monitor their wash remotely?

RC: Wash operators are always looking to meet two goals for their wash business: The first is to reduce expenses and the second is to look out for themselves. Making more money and spending less time at the wash fall chiefly into the second category.

Wash monitoring systems are one of the key tools to eliminating last minute expenses and repairs. Everybody knows it’s always more expensive when you wait until the last minute or until you need something on the weekend. More importantly, if your wash is down, you’re not washing cars and making money.

Outside of hiring additional operations staff for a carwash — which increases expenses — remote monitoring is the only way to keep a wash in check and spend less time at the facility. Advanced wash monitoring systems will send SMS text messages with alerts to owner/operator cell phones, send email reports, and provide reporting on the health and wealth of the carwash.

PC&D: Do criminals target unattended locations?

RC: Remote monitoring systems are by no means meant to replace employees that are onsite helping customers or cleaning down bays. I would have to imagine that criminals are far more likely to target locations with no employee onsite.

Advanced remote monitoring systems do have the ability to monitor unattended bill changers and in the event of a “stringing attempt” by a criminal the system will detect the jackpot and kill power to the changer, trigger the alarm or video surveillance system, and send a follow-up text message to the wash operator. I would argue that a monitoring system increases the security of a location.

PC&D: What are some of the tasks a remote management system can perform for the operator?

RC: For starters, remote management systems can count all coins, bills and credit card activity from throughout the wash. The monitoring system will send the owner and/or site manager an SMS text message or email every day with detailed car counts and wash revenues broken down by profit center. Wash owners entering into partnerships will find it invaluable to know exactly what is going on financially at the wash. It keeps honest partners honest.

In addition to cash and volume counting, remote monitoring systems can alert operators to equipment failures, power outages, low chemical levels, etc. For instance, if an in-bay automatic goes out of service the remote monitoring system will notify operators of the outage.

In the case of an entry station shutting down due to an improper wash entry (backing off the pressure plate) the remote monitoring system can be used to remotely reset the entry station and refund the customer’s wash. Chemical monitoring will make certain soap tanks never run out before a busy weekend because low tank alerts go out to operators and the chemical supplier before the low levels even become an issue.

For carwashes in cold climates, remote monitoring can save a bundle on lost heat from doors left open in the winter. Receive a text message when a door is left open too long. With advanced remote monitoring systems, rather than driving to the wash, you can choose to close the door remotely from the comfort of your own home office.

Last, but not least, detailed reporting allows wash owners to identify historical trends such as knowing when peak times are at the wash. This allows for proper and efficient staffing of employees which improved onsite customer service.

PC&D: What are some recent advancements in remote management?

RC: One of the biggest changes would have to be that advanced remote management systems are now all web-based. Previously, a lot of the setup of these systems had to be done onsite at the wash. Now much of the administration and use of the remote management systems is done “remotely” through a web-browser or specially written remote access applications that can be used from any computer with an internet connection. This has been a huge time saver.

PC&D: How do these new systems take advantage of cell phone technology?

RC: Remote management systems can alert customers by sending an SMS text message through their cellular phone provider. This allows the carwash owner to ditch the pager they carried and streamline this part of their work life into a device they are already carrying. Say bye-bye to pager codes and start using the text messaging plan already built into your voice minutes. (Talk to your provider for details; not all plans come with text messaging.)

PC&D: What are some of the common mistakes made with remote monitoring?

RC: Assuming the system is always right — wash operators need to understand that a remote monitoring system will greatly reduce trips to the wash, it is by no means a substitute for making visits to the wash. Remote monitoring systems will never eliminate the need to visit a location.

If you are making an investment into a remote management system, realize that in order to get the most accurate snap-shot of the health and wealth of your business it requires tying the system into everything on site. Monitoring the mission critical services on site should be the first priority for wash owners, but additional monitoring capabilities help you to see the big picture and improve operations at your carwash.

PC&D: Do you have to be a computer wizard to use a remote monitoring system?

RC: Honestly, there are dozens of owners that I know that never touch a computer for their remote monitoring system. They only want the daily text message alerts and mission critical alerts for when things are down.

The more you know about computers the more you can get out of a system by doing some “advanced monitoring” of other non-critical systems on site. But once the monitoring system is set up the only thing you really need to know what to do is figure out how to get your text messages on your cell phone or know how to check your email (if you want alerts and reports sent to your email).

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