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In-bay Automatic

Multi-site management for IBA operators

October 11, 2010
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While many carwash investors/operators endeavor to have multiple locations, management can be a challenge. First, it is important to develop an operations plan that directs you and your employees on the day-to-day operations of your washes. This is critical as you are sharing your time among multiple locations instead of concentrating on one.

In developing this plan, list the duties of each employee as well as the location(s) they would be responsible for. These duties should be clear and concise to maximize each employee’s time and minimize any downtime of the equipment.

One very efficient way to do this is create daily, weekly and monthly check-sheets. Ask your distributor to assist you as they may have a sheet already created specific for your equipment that can be used as a guide. After an employee completes these check-sheets, they will serve as a record of the work completed and provide a means of accountability of the employees charged to perform the work.

Next, determine if additional employees are needed to implement the operations plan. Decide what type of employee is needed, if any, and the number required.

In a multi-site operation, it is imperative that you do as many repairs in-house as possible to maximize profit. When looking for the necessary employees, make sure training is available to complete the job. Contact your distributor to find out if they, or the manufacturers they represent, provide training for your equipment. In today’s technical carwash world, do not assume you can teach everyone how to make repairs.

We find the most effective employee structure is to have a clean-up attendant at each location that works a set schedule each week. That person would clean the site and perform minor repairs or needed maintenance.

In addition, the attendant would complete a condition report or check-sheet that details all the duties performed that day as well as the operational status of the equipment on site. If problems were detected, they should be noted on the sheet. A staff technician would then be notified of the problem and makes the necessary repair.

After repairs are completed, the technician would file the completed work order and the repairs would be logged by site and type. This information is helpful for reference and used to spot on-going service issues.

Make certain that your employees have a way to communicate from the site. Most everyone has a cell phone nowadays, but make sure that there is a phone on site available to make calls. If you accept credit cards, then you have the line. Install a cordless phone for business-use only that site attendants can use for troubleshooting or to report problems.

Post a complete list of contact numbers in each equipment room and service truck. This eliminates confusion about who to call in the event of a problem.

Customer relations
Creating a customer relations section in your operations plan is very important. A bad customer experience at one of your washes could have an effect on other sites you own especially if they are all branded the same.

The plan should address how employees interact with customers and what they should do with complaints, comments or compliments. It should also have a clear policy regarding refunds and what customers should be given if a problem occurs.

For example, our employees are instructed to give any customer who is unhappy with their experience at our washes a coupon for a free wash that is accepted at the bill validator. This coupon is accepted at all our locations and has the address of our sites listed on the back.

Our employees then fill out a customer information report detailing as much information about the problem as possible and the action taken to resolve the problem. If possible, they get the customers contact information for follow-up.

If the customer requests a monetary refund, the same report is completed and the customer is issued a check from the office. All sites also have informational signs posted in several locations with contact information.

Many operators think their inventory is stored at their distributor’s warehouse. To minimize downtime, especially in a multi-site operation, it is imperative to maintain a healthy inventory of parts and chemical supplies. You should leave wear parts like hoses, swivels, friction material, and buttons for point of sale equipment at each site.

Create an inventory list so employees can make certain that these parts are on hand at all times. Remember, we are talking multiple sites. As crazy as an inventory list sounds, you have employees who are worried about the operation of that site just as much as you are.

More expensive items like sensors or bill validators could be left in a central location available to all sites. Chemical inventory should be done weekly at every site. Since you have multiple sites, try to order for all locations at once. If your order is large, ask your distributor if there are any discounts.

Monitor usage and create a schedule for ordering that will maintain your stock at a comfortable level. To simplify ordering, try to have all sites using the same chemical when possible. Products like triple foam wax should work on most any machine and would allow you to move inventory from one site to another in a crunch.

Marketing your wash is definitely important to the success of any site, but with multiple sites, it becomes a necessity. Marketing is probably the least used tool that operators have. We like several different advertising ideas for drawing in new customers.

One idea is the paper coupon. Hand them out to local business owners, friends, and relatives. It is relatively inexpensive and the coupons can be used over again. Paper coupons work well because you can print instructions for its use as well as location and contact information on the back of it.

Another idea is placing an ad in the local newspaper(s). In the ad, place a four-digit code that allows a customer to use that code and receive a discount at any of your locations. This is cost effective for multiple sites since the ad lists all your locations.

By using this code, you can retrieve the number of codes that have been used and then decide how effective your advertising was. If you place the ad in more than one media, use a different code for each one so you can retrieve the code usage data and determine who is providing you the best bang for your advertising dollar.

Marketing also has to do with how well you maintain your site. It’s like going to your favorite steak house, ordering the best steak in the house, and it is served on a trash can lid. You can have the best wash quality in town but it has to be clean, well lit, and inviting to the customer.

Today’s technology can really be your friend when it comes to managing multiple sites. A good digital video system with remote internet access allows you to be in multiple places at once. While it is important to have video surveillance to catch vandals or thieves, we have found it has allowed us to become more efficient operators. We have determined our peak business times and then scheduled our employees around them.

We also use the video to monitor our equipment while operating to spot potential problems or play back video if a malfunction occurs. This video provides a wealth of information to a staff technician or your distributor when troubleshooting an intermittent problem.

In addition to video systems, equipment to monitor your site and provide accounting information can prove invaluable to multi-site operations. It is effective in determining weather your employees are there on time and doing their specified job.

The equipment allows operators to monitor the operational status of items such as in-bay automatics, point of sale devices, and spot-free tank levels. Virtually any item in your equipment room can be monitored. If the programmed condition occurs, the system will send a text message or e-mail to the designed person(s). Some systems even provide accounting and status information that can be accessed remotely.

If you do not have a time clock on site, this system provides your employees a way to clock-in or out on site and then you can monitor their time from a remote location. Talk with your distributor about the options available to you and make certain the system can grow as you grow.

Remember, multi-site ownership is a huge risk but can also be a great reward. Having help from your distributor can make all the difference. If you don’t have a good distributor, get one. Most all manufacturers make good equipment. The difference is the quality of your distributor and how well they are supporting you and the products that they sell.

Jimmy Sisk is vice president of Carwash Concepts, Inc. in Thomasville, NC. Contact him via-mail at: or phone at: 800-733-9760.

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