Professional Carwashing & Detailing

An Industry Perspective...These two ideas will help you wash more cars

I suggest operators roll up their sleeves, sharpen their focus, and engage their customers on two key questions.

February 21, 2013

“Good is the enemy of great,” writes business writer Jim Collins.

For many years, I have wondered how that unambiguous statement is manifested in the carwash business.

I understand the basic concept. It applies to people, businesses, schools and many other organizations.

Once carwash operators reach a certain level of success and achievement, do they suddenly lose their ability to reach a higher level?

Sadly, it seems so.

“The vast majority of companies never become great, precisely because the vast majority become quite good — and that is their main problem,” Collins concludes.

To escape the fateful and frustrating trap of “just being good,” I suggest operators roll up their sleeves, sharpen their focus, and engage their customers on two key questions.

Hopefully, this probing thought process, and the subsequent answers will inspire you to make 2013 your most profitable year yet!

First, what does “wash quality” mean to consumers?

Secondly, why do they get their cars washed anyway?

Carwash revenue is the vital life-blood of the entire industry

Based on my experiences, I have learned that “wash quality” is an almost impossible concept to define. For example, I have witnessed many operators negatively evaluate an entire wash, yet when those customers were asked about the appearance of their just-cleaned vehicles, they seemed quite pleased about the quality of the “final product.”

Obviously, “clean, shiny and dry” means different things to different people.

Carwash operators, of course, are correctly concerned about the day-to-day performance of their washes; nothing will erode a customer base quicker than solutions which streak or leave a windshield eyebrow, or an incomplete rinse pass, or worst of all, blowers which do not dry the surface of the vehicle as it exits the tunnel or bay.

For operators who strive for greatness, then, how do they overcome this nebulous yet pervasive “wash quality” issue when dealing with an irate customer?

Exceptional customer service is quite likely the best answer

Have you ever “won” an argument with an upset customer?

I complain about few things. However, when I feel I haven’t received the value for the product or service which I ordered, used or purchased, there is not a much that an owner or manager can do to appease me.

I suggest operators who experience complaints from unhappy motorists on wash quality issues, shift their focus and become instead exceptional customer service companies.

Rather than debate an unfortunate event, simply acknowledge quickly the mishap, and do your best to apologize without any reservations.

We are all human, everyone makes mistakes. I greatly appreciate a business owners’ honesty and his sincere apology. Most customers, even when they are upset, will also give you the benefit of the doubt.

Perhaps the most important part in making this adjustment will be coaching your cashiers, servers and attendants to resolve quickly and completely this troublesome matter when it occurs.

Most of all, do not let an unhappy customer leave your business without knowing what steps you will take to correct this circumstance, as well as what efforts you will make in the future to earn his trust and business again.

At a minimum, I encourage you to make a “courtesy” follow-up phone call that day as a standard procedure for this rare occurrence.

I have used an “attitude of gratitude” to get back on the same page with an upset customer. In truth, because of his complaint, I have become more conscious of an area or problem which I might have otherwise ignored.

This course of action could be used with excellent results at your wash too.

What prompts customers to wash their cars anyway?

I recently asked three experienced operators how many specific occasions they could name, when their customers might routinely get their cars washed?

Their silence was deafening.

Here, I confronted Collins’ observation, that good businesses may not be able to become great ones.

I concluded that good operators only tracked their wash counts and revenues.

What would “great” carwash operators do, I wondered?

Specifically, would their wash counts increase once they fully realized how many times during a normal month that a motorist might consider washing his car?

I have no evidence to prove this statement, but I do know from coaching baseball, that batters in the top half of the batting order are more eager to take batting practice than their team mates in the lower half of the order. The best players wanted to take full advantage of having four at-bats in any one game, whereas the good players were not as motivated; they only got three at-bats.

My point is this: when any operator realizes there are more than two dozen events which could trigger a consumer to get his car washed, he might also be more inclined to market his carwash more effectively. (See Sidebar: “Are These Your Customers?”)

My final thoughts

Nothing is more important in 2013 than operators building a larger customer base, washing more cars, and making more money.

Operators who anticipate possible upsets at their carwashes, and who can teach exceptional customer relationship skills will retain more customers than those who won’t.

Finally, operators who fully anticipate the daily needs of their customers have an excellent opportunity to wash more cars.



Why do your customers get their cars washed? How many would answer…

  1. “I wash my car because it is really dirty.”
  2. “I wash my car infrequently, and it is always an impulse purchase.”
  3. “I wash my car because I have a pre-paid car wash package.”
  4. “I wash my car because I am going out of town, or going on vacation.”
  5. “I wash my car because the weekend is coming up.”
  6. “I wash my car because I have never used this wash before.”
  7. “I wash my car because today is my pay day!!”
  8. “I wash my car to celebrate my birthday.”
  9. “I wash my car because I am picking up my in-laws at the airport.”
  10. “I wash my car because I have an important meeting in the morning.”
  11. “I wash my car because I received a text or email announcement earlier today.”
  12. “I wash my car because a clean and shiny car always makes me feel good.”
  13. “I wash my car because of a special day or event.” (i.e., Mother’s Day)
  14. “I wash my car because we are going to a wedding tomorrow.”
  15. “I wash my car because I have a date with my significant other.”
  16. “I wash my car because I could see they weren’t very busy.”
  17. “I wash my car because it maintains its value better when it is clean.”
  18. “I wash my car because I am working with my boss tomorrow.”
  19. “I wash my car because I saw an attractive promotion on the reader board.”
  20. “I wash my car because I like taking a break in the middle of a busy day.”
  21. “I wash my car because the trained cashier prompted me to wash it!”
  22. “I wash my car because I enjoy the superior customer service I always receive.”
  23. “I wash my car because I received a promotional offer in the mail.”
  24. “I wash my car because of an attractive on-site promotion.”
  25. “I wash my car to celebrate a recent promotion, sale or successful meeting.”

Knowing the many specific, daily events which might prompt your customers to wash their cars allows you to plan and implement a more effective marketing plan.