Professional Carwashing & Detailing

Part 1: Paying respects to the year 1973.

February 21, 2013

The pace of technological advances has been accelerating at a dazzling rate. No industry has been left unaffected. The carwash industry has seen incredible advances as new developments in technology are being implemented into every aspect of the carwash process. It is worthwhile to reflect back just a little and see how progress in other industries has had profound influence on ours.

1973 — Fundamental advances in the evolution of communications and POS

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the first cellular phone call. On April 3, 1973 Motorola manager Martin Cooper placed a cellular phone call to Dr. Joel S. Engel, head of research at AT&T’s Bell Labs. Technology had finally evolved to the point where we were untethered from wires to communicate with each other. In four decades we have progressed from cell phones the size of a loaf of bread and primitive software to phones that fit in your pocket and have become so advanced that we rely on them as our primary source of information and communication ... and can hardly live without them.

Coincidentally, 1973 was also a fundamental year in the history of point of sale (POS) technology. In August of 1973 IBM released the IBM 3650 and 3660 store systems, the first commercial use of client-server technology and peer-to-peer communications. In 1986 ViewTouch, the first graphical point of sale software with a widget-driven color graphic touch screen interface was introduced. The first POS software created to run on Windows (IT Retail) was released in 1992.

1973 — The technologically challenged state of the carwash industry

By comparison, carwashing in 1973 was primitive by today’s standards. A customer had one choice … a basic carwash. The tunnel components were controlled by mechanical switches with long wands. When a car hit the wand, it would activate the switch, which would activate that piece of equipment. A typical car wash would have eight to 10 wands dragging down the side of customers’ vehicles. The point of sale consisted of a basic cash register at best, perhaps no more than a cigar box or an apron.

The benefits of new technology for the modern carwash owner

Today’s carwash business owners and operators are reaping huge benefits from developments in computing, software and communications. Point of sale systems are no longer limited to simply processing transactions and managing sales and labor, today’s software encompasses total site management. Several highly sophisticated, feature-rich, web-based and multi-site management systems are on the market with powerful point of sale support. They empower owners, controllers, managers and operators to access data conveniently from anywhere. Remote access via mobile devices such as laptops, smart phones (including iPhones) and tablets connect locally via a Wi-Fi wireless network. Real-time, detailed data is tailored to meet the needs of each of their specific responsibilities. System scalability allows for growth within the organization and flexibility allows for customization of multiple configurations from within the organization.

Site management software (SMS) monitors, by the minute, all of your sites’ data gathered while processing current transactions. Statistical and performance data, throughout your enterprise, is compiled into reports that make it easy for you to analyze and effectively manage your business. The multi-site reporting environment allows you to structure your organization from individual devices to separate manageable profit centers, to sites in regions and states … all the way up the corporate chain. Then it allows you to drill down and view custom reports on any level. Management statistics are based on the following areas: sales, salespersons performance, labor management, fleets, customer loyalty programs, equipment alerts and reconciling tunnel activity to the register.

Armed with the information gleaned from the SMS, an operations manager can analyze and adjust every aspect of the profit center:

  • Sales revenue and labor cost are aligned by profit center to provide the most robust management tools.
  • Labor minimums and efficiencies are taken into account to ensure that labor costs are controlled without negatively impacting speed of service and quality.
  • Contribution margin analysis identifies revenue after labor costs. What does an operator have, after labor costs, to pay the other bills? The impact of more favorable cars per man hour becomes evident after using a contribution margin report.
  • Managing sales per car has also gotten more complex. Incentives can be created for commissioned salespersons based on sales-per-car thresholds and fixed commissions per item sold. These incentive programs need to be able to omit non-sales opportunities such as charge accounts (like the state police) that cannot upgrade or customers using newspaper coupons.
  • Performance gauge reports will provide an hourly breakdown of sales and labor against your targeted goals. Variance analysis is used to show by-the-hour and for-the-day how effectively your manager managed sales and labor for the site. The report adds impact since it is displayed in dollar terms. Example: A manager can beat the sales target and show a positive $300 while operating with too much labor that costs an additional $350. Manager performance, measured in real dollar terms, can show variances of over $600 per day.
  • Point of sale systems should also tightly integrate with the tunnel controller. It is essential that the POS can identify every vehicle being washed and align it correctly with a sales transaction. A wash-to-register report comparing all vehicles washed to all vehicles paid is essential to any cash management system. Services washed and paid must also be compared.
  • Customer tracking gives you tools to understand customer buying habits, increase volume and drive bottom-line earnings through increased customer loyalty through identifying and rewarding your most frequent.

Profiles — freedom in sales and services price management

One of the new powerful tools with the SMS software is the ability to set up profiles. Profiles allow an operator to group a set of sales items. This profile, or group of sales items, can be configured at corporate and automatically sent to the appropriate sites and point of sale devices at the site that will sell these items. Express wash services can be sent to the payment terminals at multiple sites that use the same configuration. Hand services can be sent to flex wash sites. The hand service sales items can be made to turn off at 5 p.m. while express wash services continue to 8 p.m. Profiles can be created to handle external factors such as weather. On rainy days the wash can remain open but hand services can be closed, and the hand services will be removed from the wash menu. Service profiles can be added for fleet and club accounts. For instance a state police profile can be created offering a $3.00 basic wash, eliminating upsells such as wax and eliminating sales tax. A club profile can be created for all your monthly clubs offering upgrades to your best and most frequent customers. Why would you not allow them to purchase tire shine, protectant or a hand service? The club upsells can also be priced specifically for your club customers. Any profile can be adjusted, activated and deactivated as needed from anywhere by an authorized manager or operator. Unique service profiles can be setup for individual cars, customers or specified fleets and tracked by license plates or RFID tag. Once the profile is activated it immediately takes affect at the attended or unattended POS.

Next month, part 2 will cover unattended POS and the heart of the carwash.