Below is an article by Mike Perry that was featured the September edition of the Chevron and Texaco Petroleum Marketers Association magazine.
Chevron and Texaco operators, a hardy group already, may face significant and unusual challenges this fall.
Surging gas prices, sagging consumer confidence, continued high unemployment and changing consumer shopping patterns and habits all should send a clear and ominous signal to every retail business: be on top of your game in capturing and serving your customer base, or suffer the expected consequences!!
During these very uncertain times, experienced operators surely recognize that change always creates both challenges and opportunities. In fact, this could be the best time to build your car wash revenues and customer base.
To be sure, even during better economic times, many c-store washes are a grossly underutilized asset. From my research, I have learned that most washes suffer from a single-digit "capture ratio" and are operating at less than 70% capacity. It is shocking, moreover, to consider this very depressing scenario: over the lifetime of an in-bay car wash, usually between 84 and 120 months, even a good and attentive operator could be "losing" $200,000 or more in revenue!!
The good news is that operators no longer are forced to do all this heavy lifting alone. Just as there are Chevron and Texaco operators who strive to reach a "best in class" level of operational performance, so too are there now a few car wash suppliers who have a "best in class" mindset for product performance, and in the field support.
Nothing is more important today than helping operators capture more customers, and make more money. Moving into the last quarter of this year, astute car wash owners should evaluate quite closely the quality of the support they receive from all current suppliers.
In very simple terms, a good supplier will help you achieve good results. But a highly skilled and committed "best in class" supplier will help your wash achieve outstanding results.
Certainly the most important area where a trained and results-based supplier can make a very profound difference to an operator, is in his/her choice of a chemical or "soap" supplier.
Not all soaps, of course, are created equal. And the performance of your cleaners, protectants, brake dust repellants, waxes and drying agents will have a remarkable impact upon the ultimate success of your wash.
This is because cleaning "dirt" or making wheels and tires shine in one part of the country, in Boston or in Baltimore, for instance, may be a whole lot easier than doing these same tasks effectively in Bloomington or in Boulder.
Likewise, erasing the annoying "eyebrows" on windshields in Decatur or Duluth probably requires a different chemical formulation and product than the one operators would use to clean windshields in Detroit or in Dallas.
In short, in matters concerning cleaning cars and obtaining "best in class" results at professional car washes, in an environment with so many different variables, there is no such thing as "one size fits all." Getting the cleaning results you want, and what your customers want, is not just a simple science. It is also an acquired skill.
"Attacking different types of dirt and road film, cleaning windshields, treating and shining chrome, tires and wheels are all distinct and separate parts of creating a clean, shiny and dry vehicle," agrees Mark Brock, Vice President of Marketing for Lustra Car Care Products.
"But in each region of the country, weather and soil conditions are variables that we can't control," he adds. As experienced car wash operators know, every day creates a different cleaning challenge, depending upon, for instance, the amount of sunshine that day, the level of humidity, and the fluctuating temperatures from morning to night time during the day.
To assist operators, however, to gain the maximum use and effectiveness of their finely-tuned product line, Lustra Car Care works closely and exclusively with a large network of experienced and reputable car wash distributors, and these "solution reps" have been schooled to learn which products work best in certain weather conditions. (To determine where the local Lustra Car Care Products distributor in your market is located, go to www.lustrabear.com).
"Since each wash is different, we closely evaluate the cleaning process and determine which chemicals are performing best," says Brock.
To be sure, most Chevron and Texaco operators may already have a good relationship with a chemical supplier, but when so many in-bay washes are operating at 70% capacity or less, the ability and willingness of a new, more supportive supplier to help build your revenues becomes an important and differentiating "value-added" benefit.
As Doug Marquis, Vice President of Business Development for Lustra Car Care told Professional Carwashing & Detailing earlier this year, "suppliers helping operators do a better job… is truly a win-win situation. Merely providing quality chemicals at a good value shouldn't be the end of the relationship. Helping operators use and sell those products effectively is what leads to long-term success for everyone."
In addition to working more closely this fall with a motivated and well trained chemical supplier, successful operators also must develop a "best in class" mindset themselves. For a few operators, this level of interest may be a new venture, but it is also one that is very rewarding.
As you might expect, owners who consistently set and achieve high wash count and revenue goals, and who enthusiastically communicate and celebrate their successes with employees and suppliers will reach revenue levels that will surely surprise them.
Indeed, washes make a tremendous financial contribution to the overall profitability of any site. Though NACS does not create a separate category for "car washing," if it did, car washes would easily be a top-five contributor to the gross profit margin of that site.
Moreover, top-performing operators, I have learned, rightly take great pride in knowing that their washes provide a valuable service to their community.
Moving into the last quarter of yet another challenging year, Chevron and Texaco operators who seek out results-based suppliers can be very confident that your joint efforts to create a "best in class" car wash will attract more customers, build a larger customer base, and enjoy higher profits!!
Mike Perry has more than 30 years' experience in retail marketing.
For more information go to LustraBear.com.