Professional Carwashing & Detailing

Five traits of best-in-class carwash operators

June 25, 2012

Successful business owners are greatly motivated by one compelling thought: How can my business achieve better financial results?

To reach this desired objective, many owners, I have found, seek as well to gain an unfair competitive advantage. It is apparent, no one wants to own a "me too" business and compete permanently on price.

In 2012, "best-in-class" operators will gain an unfair competitive advantage in a stagnant economy by relentlessly pursuing a two-pronged strategy.

First, they will focus only on productive activities which they themselves can control. This means they will not fault a depressed market or inclement weather conditions for an average or mediocre operation. They know they have no direct control over either of these tormenting situations.

They will focus, instead, on many vital, day-to-day activities which they can control to help them build a stronger and more resilient business.

Secondly, they will focus on building a stronger team to better serve their current customer base and to attract more customers to their washes. This intense new focus will reward conscientious operators very handsomely and drive their washes to achieve "best-in-class" results.

The message here is a simple one: For your carwash to get better financial results, you as a business owner have to get better too.

The good news in this important message is very encouraging: Even in this economy, carwash operators can surely become much more profitable in 2012.

Indeed, business writer Jim Collins has painstakingly researched hundreds of businesses in several industries, and one of his most important conclusions provides great hope to sustain every disappointed but not defeated carwash operator.

"You absolutely do not need to be in a great industry to produce sustained great results. No matter how bad the industry," Collins said, "every good-to-great company figured out how to produce truly superior economic returns."

Five specific personality traits and tasks enable carwash operators to build a stronger team and to develop a more successful business.

1. To achieve your stated carwash goals, prepare passionately.
I am not an Alabama football fan. But I truly love watching Nick Saban's football teams play. Specifically, I admire the disciplined way Saban prepares his teams to compete. His accomplishments are noteworthy, and because of his complete commitment to prepare thoroughly, Saban's teams gain a tremendous competitive advantage.

Like Saban, "best-in-class" carwash operators know that performance excellence at their washes begins at the top.

What is your vision and mission for your wash? What activities must you master to accomplish your goals? How do you effectively communicate your vision and mission to your employees? Nothing is more motivating for a player than to be properly coached and fully prepared to achieve a clearly-defined goal.

As the owner of your wash, make your plans and goals transparent to all, especially to your team members. Also, the more people you engage in this essential planning process, the more committed they will become to help you achieve your goals.

Put your wash count and revenue goals in writing for the next 10 months, and make it your mission to review and adjust these monthly targets as necessary. Be assured that both your team members and your customers will appreciate your infectious enthusiasm, and they will reward you with their dedication and loyalty. These hidden assets always exist in "best-in-class" washes.

2. Become a patient and dedicated coach; teach performance-improving skills.
Growing up in the United States, what can be easier than hitting a baseball? Every grade-school kid who plays Little League wants to become a Major League Baseball player, right?

But professional baseball players will tell you, learning to hit a fast-breaking curve ball or timing a well-placed off-speed pitch requires a tremendous amount of practice, and the patient assistance of a highly-skilled batting coach. There is nothing "magical" or lucky in becoming a consistent .300 hitter.

Unless you put in thousands of reps and have the support of a skilled and dedicated coach, don't expect to be a major leaguer.

Howie McCann, father of Atlanta Brave all-star catcher Brian McCann, is such an invaluable coach. His critical eye, but calm demeanor, are both essential and valuable skills necessary to take good athletes and fine-tune them to become much better players.

During two winters, I watched McCann coach a dozen or more players, ranging in age from 8 to 18, and I marveled at his uncanny ability to produce significantly better hitters. Observing him coach, I witnessed each player become "brilliant on the basics" (a Brian Tracy concept), but one which also can help you improve the day-to-day performance of every employee at your wash.

Do your cashiers and greeters know the features or options of your wash? Do they recommend wash packages to each customer? Do they greet your best customers by name? Do your employees know how to handle a "difficult" customer? Building these sometimes neglected communication skills enhances the confidence and enthusiasm of your people and gives your business another competitive advantage.

3. Be a thoughtful learner; where can you improve your systems and operation?
John Feinstein, like Collins, writes feature pieces about "best-in-class" performers. Feinstein is best known for writing a revealing book on Bobby Knight during a memorable championship season, and he has written brilliantly about other elite athletes too, like Tiger Woods and John McEnroe.

During a recently televised interview, Feinstein was asked what one skill was most overlooked in many of the outstanding coaches and athletes that he had studied. Feinstein was well prepared for this question. He noted that Mike Krzyzewski, Duke's brilliant basketball coach, seemed to be the best coach at learning from his mistakes. While the hall-of-fame coach already enjoys a phenomenal program and a proven mindset, Feinstein said Krzyzewski always looks for new ways to improve.

Feinstein noted that Krzyzewski seemed to learn the most about his team following a loss or an uncommonly poor performance. For a coach whose teams have won more than 900 games during a record-setting career, Coach K has experienced only a few "teaching moments," but he has certainly learned each lesson wisely from these precious few opportunities.

How do you get your information? What is your plan to improve your offering? How do you verify that what you think you know, does in fact, represent reality? Do you share your feedback with other business owners or team members to get their input and important insights? How can you move forward, especially at a time when many other local retailers are caught in a limiting or "business as usual" mindset?

4. Be an inspiring leader; put your players in a favorable position to make a game-changing play.
Who can ever forget this gutsy call, a daring play, designed to catch the better team, already enjoying a 10-6 halftime lead, and who would be getting the ball first to start the second half, off-guard at a critical moment during the Super Bowl?

The onside kick ordered by their coach to start the second half worked perfectly and enabled the New Orleans Saints to defeat the heavily-favored Indianapolis Colts. Quite simply, Saints' Coach Sean Peyton evaluated the challenge he faced and fatefully decided that, to give his team the best chance to win, he had to take a huge gamble. It worked fabulously, and the Saints, inspired now by their coach's confidence in them to execute such a high-risk play, went on to record a stunning 31-17 victory when, at half time, many players may not have seen any path at all to a victory.

During today's struggling economy, be sure all your team players understand their important roles and how their daily efforts and personal skills contribute to your carwash's continued success. Though not every play can be a game-winning one, encourage your employees to uncover new ways to delight your best customers.

Also, when you reach an important milestone, like when you reach or exceed your monthly wash count, celebrate this notable accomplishment as if you had indeed just won a Super Bowl!

5. Be a fearless leader; have a clear vision of what you want to accomplish.
As you holistically evaluate your carwash, understand that many hidden, human emotions, like fear, doubt, confusion and uncertainty are as toxic and disruptive to your carwash as the worst weather pattern, or the fatal impact of double-digit unemployment.

From my own experience, I know each of these destructive emotions exist in the work place, yet many busy owners choose mysteriously not to acknowledge them. This is not an insignificant problem. Moreover, performance-oriented problems are exacerbated, as well, in a down economy.

But "best-in-class" operators, however, are of a totally different mindset. These exceptional operators have developed a clear vision of what they want to accomplish, and they take positive action to guarantee the best possible outcome. In fact, it is here, in building a powerful and fully-engaged work force, and in creating a compelling and easy-to-implement mission at their washes, that the most successful operators truly will stand out. Indeed, "best-in-class" operators know that by bringing together their other special skills as a planner, coach, learner and leader, they will also be better able to build a maximum, high-performance operation.

To conclude, the best carwash operators seek to build their businesses and become more profitable because they choose to follow a specific, two-pronged course of action.

They concentrate on well-defined activities which are within their ability to affect or control, and secondly, they seek to build high-performance teams at their washes.

Remember to be grateful
In closing, let me share one final thought. "Best-in-class" operators know they must reward their top performers to keep them highly motivated, and as we know, every high achiever likes to receive due recognition based upon his or her specific performance.

This year, reward your top producers by compensating them so they can attend and participate in either the ICA Show in May or the NACS Show in October.

I promise you, this invaluable learning experience will not soon be forgotten, and this act will also motivate other team members to be so honored and rewarded next year.

In his exclusive Professional Carwashing & Detailing series covering the in-bay market, Mike Perry will next discuss the most important, yet elusive problem, which continues to upset and even threaten the very survival of the in-bay market segment.


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.