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Don't look now, but they have us surrounded. On the bus and in the park, in the dentist's office and at the movies — they lurk. Behold! Stare in fright as light reflects lifelessly off their glassy, soulless screens.
Depending on your viewpoint, the sweeping popularity of smartphones and tablets has either advanced global culture by decades, or it has regressed humanity, causing infrequent personal interaction and misspelled words. Sure, they are called smartphones, but that does not mean that they are used for intelligent things. In fact, it often appears as if users go out of their way to do just the opposite.
For example, we all know it's never a good idea to post a Facebook update while flying down the interstate. Yet, this happens every day. And, while that might have been the best Chicago-style hot dog ever created, the grainy, low-resolution picture posted on Twitter made the meal and restaurant look less than appetizing.
Even so, it is too early to give up on the utilitarian usage of these miniature modern marvels. Today there are thousands and thousands of useful business applications that do not, in any way, involve angry birds or slicing fruit. Fortunately for operators and owners, one great example can be found right here in the carwash industry.
What are they?
Remote management systems use web-based technology to work hand-in-hand with smartphones, tablets and computers. They offer carwash owners and operators a real-time window into multiple facets of their daily business operations. Simply put, whether an owner is across the street or across the seas, these management systems put pertinent information right at his or her fingertips.
Jon Simmons, president of SONNY'S AutoPilot Controls, said the most important feature that remote management includes is the ability to access a carwash's information anytime and anywhere an owner or operator can login to the Internet. Since almost everyone has a smartphone, laptop or tablet device with Internet capability, this is an easy way for an operator to stay connected to his or her business.
Via the Internet, the systems allow an owner to log in to their point-of-sale (POS) system or controller and retrieve reports, make adjustments or even edit a time card, for example, Simmons stated. In addition, automated text or email reports sent at certain times throughout the day will provide vital statistics such as the number of cars washed, the dollars per car, the labor costs per car, etc.
What else can they monitor?
Brian Bath with Innovative Control Systems said the systems have a schedule built into them that will provide reminders of maintenance tasks. This schedule can be based on either timed intervals or the amount of cars washed. Also, this monitoring software will provide to-the-minute information about devices at any individual location.
"The software can post an alert on local computers or a corporate server as well as email or text message critical data," Bath stated. Examples of alerts a pay station could send range from low bills in the bill dispenser to a bill acceptor cassette that has become full and needs removal.
A carwash software system should also serve as your time clock, allowing employees to punch in and out, according to Judy Dunn with DRB Systems Inc. Because of this, the system will monitor the attendance of all carwash employees.
The time clock functionality means that, as employees clock in and out in their respective departments, labor will then be tracked and adjusted, Simmons noted. Thus, the system can help operators make sure that overtime is limited for wash employees.
Finally, the system can monitor carwash supply inventory levels as well, Simmons said. Reorder points can be set in the system that will trigger a notification of inventory levels. As items are sold, the POS system will automatically deduct them from inventory. Here, using a cloud-based remote management system, an operator has the ability to access the numbers just as if they were on-site.
"By having a point-of-sale system, automated pay station or tunnel controller interfaced together, it gives the operator peace of mind that there's tight control in place," Simmons said. "This reduces the chance for employee theft."
Can they manage multiple sites?
According to Dunn, information replication features, as well as the remote access capabilities, are very important for carwash owners that operate multiple sites.
Bath explained that the systems give an owner the ability to see all carwash locations in one place. Now, an operator will no longer need to connect to each individual location to confirm the daily sales numbers or bank deposits.
"We now see more and more new investors entering the carwash business from outside industries, and many are planning multiple sites," Simmons said. "Because these investors can't be at every site all the time, they rely on viewing the wash statistics in real time no matter where they're located. Web-based systems allow access to each site anytime, anywhere you have Internet connectivity."
This sharing of information between sites can benefit a carwash chain's customers as well. "The operator of multiple locations wants to offer their customers the ability to visit any of their locations and still be recognized under their current unlimited wash plan," Simmons said. Customers should also be able to use gift cards and washbook cards at any of a chain's multiple locations. "When the customer can use any of the chain's washes and continue to receive the appropriate discounts or rewards, it keeps them loyal to that carwash business."
Do they offer new features?
One new feature that some remote management systems include is the ability to be tied in with marketing and promotional efforts, according to Ryan Carlson, director of marketing for WashCard Systems. These tie-ins can be included for different social media sites or for eCommerce tools that are integrated into a carwash's business website.
Dunn said user-friendliness is a feature that is also very high on every operator's list. "Any software product is going to be of less use to you if it's difficult to access and navigate or if the reports are cumbersome or lacking in detail," she explained.
In the carwash industry, visual reports with charts and graphs are very popular with operators, Dunn noted. This type of report makes it very easy for an owner to see "at a glance" how different carwash sites are trending.
What should I remember?
Software needs to run on the operating system that it was designed for, warned Bath. In most cases within the carwash industry, Microsoft Windows applications are used. One example is a carwash specific software that is a Microsoft SQL product, and it will operate on Windows XP Pro or newer. One advantage of the SQL.net platform is that it allows owners to custom fit their reports to provide most relevant data without going through a cumbersome "boiler plate" report that has little to no value.
Simmons reminded owners that remote management does not take the place of on-site management, no matter how advanced the technology. "You still need a great manager in place for day-to-day operations and face-to-face communications with customers."