Professional Carwashing & Detailing
An Industry Perspective:

Increase your carwash revenues — PART TWO

What one activity, what one business process, when you complete it consistently, expertly and passionately, will have the greatest impact upon your carwash revenues?

October 22, 2012

Nothing is more important today than in-bay operators washing more cars and making more money. Yet, as simple as it is to state this objective clearly and concisely, for far too many in-bay operators, this has proven to be a very difficult task.

Indeed, for operators who have not finely-tuned or upgraded their old equipment, or who have not planned and implemented a solid, results-oriented marketing program, 2013 will continue to be a very challenging and disappointing year.

Experienced operators today, as you know, face two fundamental challenges.

First, many operators still use carwash equipment that is in urgent need of repair or replacement.

At this critical time, when building a larger customer base is of utmost importance, most operators must gain a much better understanding of the maintenance and service requirements of their washes.

For a timely and authoritative discussion of this hot topic, see Debra Gorgos’ article, “Setting Up A Preventative Maintenance Schedule,” at www.carwash.com.

But, even with the best equipment, successful operators must also answer these three basic, yet nagging, questions:

  • How do I capture more (new and repeat) carwash customers?
  • Who “takes ownership” for my carwash revenues?
  • How do I compete against intense competition from other retail businesses in my market?

Obviously, those select operators who wish to maximize the revenue from their in-bay washes must become much more focused on consistently and expertly marketing their businesses and washing more cars.

To help interested readers identify a solution to a poor-performing in-bay wash, see the sidebar, “Five Common Causes of a Failing In-Bay Automatic Carwash.”

The new in-bay challenge

Twenty-five years ago, during an impressive growth spurt, the two biggest challenges in-bay operators and suppliers encountered were obvious ones: “How do we install this bulky piece of steel, and who will keep it operational?”

It didn’t seem wise to the first generation of in-bay owners to invest in a $70,000 carwash system, and then fail to have a plan in place, or a specific business process, to keep it up and running.

To understand the different challenges operators have faced since 1980, see the sidebar, “Four Stages of In-Bay Development at Retail Petroleum Sites.”

These first in-bay washes, both touch-free and friction, became important and highly-prized profit centers for forward-thinking retailers in many major markets.

In Atlanta, for instance, Don Densmore, a popular AMOCO dealer and a terrific carwash pioneer, had a legendary, high-volume touch-free wash in Dunwoody.

Not to be outdone, the young but market-savvy McCurley brothers, BP operators in Peachtree Corners, featured a famous friction unit which consistently washed 2,500 cars a month and regularly grossed $12,000 or more in revenues.

Since 2006, most in-bay operators can only marvel at these impressive but now-forgotten numbers.

How can you recapture those lost customers?

Operators today face another daunting challenge: “How can we gain the maximum financial benefit from any investment, when there seems to be little product differentiation, and cash-strapped consumers are putting off so many discretionary purchases?”

In a recent blog, entrepreneur and business coach Simon Reynolds shared his keen insight on this important topic.

In his blog entitled, “Making Your Business Stand Out From the Pack,” Reynolds suggested three specific ways to achieve this worthwhile and necessary task:

  • Make your product extraordinary;
  • Make your service remarkable (the Bud Abraham school of thought); and
  • Make your marketing different (the Mike Perry school of thought).

Can you get your suppliers onboard?

As I indicated in June, in Part One of this article, marketing your carwash in today’s economy is a much different task, and a more difficult one, than what it was a few years ago.

Moreover, many multi-tasking owners who operate only a few in-bay washes simply do not have the time, attention to detail or marketing skills to put together a winning game plan to compete in today’s highly competitive retail market.

These second and third generation operators are in a precarious spot, similar perhaps to the one the original operators found themselves in during the 1980s and 1990s.

During this Golden Age of the In-Bay Automatic, manufacturers and distributors worked closely to help the retail operators install their washes, and to keep their doors open.

The biggest question operators asked then was, “Which in-bay will make me more money, friction or touch-free?”

But in today’s highly fragmented market, the most important question being asked now by results-driven operators is a somewhat different one: “Which equipment supplier will help me wash more cars and help me make the most money?”

The choice is yours to move forward

To close, I believe fervently that the winners of the imminent in-bay renaissance in 2013 will be those few, exceptional operators who are clearly and intentionally focused on consistently and expertly marketing their washes.

Their specific mission in the next 12 months is to build a larger customer base.

To accomplish this task completely, however, these “best in class” operators must also become extremely passionate in marketing their washes too.

Indeed, the trait which I have always witnessed and most admired in every successful first generation in-bay operator was their almost fanatical desire to have all of their customers experience and enjoy their wash.

In short, they were incredibly proud of the investment they had made, and they wanted confirmation from their customers as well, that this was a remarkable piece of equipment and their carwash was a real asset for their businesses.

Perhaps this genuine and unabated enthusiasm to please their customers provides a logical explanation as to why so many wildly-successful in-bay pioneers washed so many more cars then than most operators are washing today.

But no, this is not a fair statement. Finding, cultivating, capturing and satisfying customers in this economy is much more challenging now than it was even five years ago.

I will close this piece as I did Part One, with another stirring quote from Jim Collins, a brilliant business writer.

“Whether you prevail or fail, endure or die,” Collins said, “depends more on what you do to yourself than on what the world does to you.”

For your carwash revenues to improve next year, your marketing efforts and skills must get better too.

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To gain more insights and ideas on how you can navigate successfully during these still challenging months, follow Mike Perry’s weekly blog, Increasing Carwash Revenue, at www.carwash.com.

Mike Perry has more than 30 years’ experience in retail marketing and in business-to-business sales. He can be reached at 770-330-2490, or at mpccws5@aol.com.



Five common causes of a failing in-bay automatic carwash

1. Inordinate amount of down-time
Solution: Meet with your service provider.

2. Old, poorly-performing equipment
Solution: Meet with your service provider. Evaluate new or used equipment upgrades and, if appropriate, evaluate other options
for bay use.

3. No one “takes ownership” of your carwash revenues
Solution: Meet with a professional marketing consultant.

4. Intense local competition
Solution: Meet with a professional marketing consultant.

5. Not capturing enough new and repeat customers
Solution: Meet with a professional marketing consultant.



Four stages of in-bay development at retail petroleum sites

Period Operator Challenge Supplier Response Marketing Thrust

Birth
(1980-1987)

Get carwash installed Installation training and technical manuals for distributors and operators developed. Free with fill-up

Development
(1988-1995)

Keep carwash running Service training and manuals for distributors developed. Discount w/ gas

Maturity
(1996-2003)

Improve wash quality Chemical companies create new products and basic marketing tools; many distributors train dedicated chemical reps. One-tier pricing

Decline
(2004-present)

Build a retail business Silence with no "value-added" support. Wash counts and revenue decline