Professional Carwashing & Detailing

Here is your 2012 battle plan

December 1, 2011

To capture more customers and earn more profits, determined and resourceful in-bay operators, I predict, will once again "get serious" about their carwash programs. To kick-off this long-awaited offensive campaign, I encourage operators to "get serious" in 2012 about four vitally important parts of their business.

  • First, get serious about your mindset; what business are you really in?
  • Next, get serious about your marketing; for the next 12 months, put your wash count and revenue goals in writing and commit to reach or exceed them each month.
  • Also, get serious about your management; who "takes ownership" for your carwash revenues?
  • Finally, get serious about your machine and its care; in 2012, plan to evaluate very carefully both your carwash equipment and your current supplier.

For carwash operators to obtain better financial results, and to excel even in a struggling economy, they must commit to becoming better operators in each of these four critical areas.

Get serious about your mindset

Nothing is more important in 2012 than operators developing a different and more empowering mindset.

Operators must fully embrace the cruel and unmistakable fact that they are in a very complex and challenging retail environment, with no clear relief in sight, and they must battle every day to capture more customers.

Too often, I hear operators express the mistaken notion that they are in the carwash business. Of course, operators provide a valuable service to motorists and help them keep their cars clean, shiny and dry.

But this extremely narrow focus also limits your vision.

How you perceive or define your business in the marketplace has an extraordinary impact upon other business decisions too.

For instance, many baseball pundits contend that George Steinbrenner was the perfect owner for the Yankees because, more than anything else, "The Boss" understood that though the Yankees were a very good baseball team, they were, in fact, in the entertainment business. To be successful financially, he knew the Yankees had to compete not just against other baseball teams, but also against all the other popular activities which could capture the attention and following of even their most loyal fans.

Your carwash is no different. To maximize your carwash revenue, you have to outplay all the other washes in your immediate three to five mile market, and you must compete as well against all the other retail businesses too.

Action Step One: Be certain none of these local retailers — your direct competitors too — have a more advanced customer acquisition plan than you!

Get serious about your marketing

Nothing is more important in 2012 than operators committing to plan and implement a consistent, detailed and aggressive marketing plan every month.

In some parts of the country, carwashing is considered to be a seasonal business, and operators occasionally will ask me what the best times are to promote their washes. A better way to ask this question could be: Do you want to market your wash during your slow months or during your busiest ones?

Without being fully informed on either the specific local conditions or any real budgetary constraints, I often will ask the operator, "Why not both?"

How many months this year will you be open for business and expect to wash cars? To be sure, no one wants to make unwise marketing decisions, but it seems to me that if you expect to wash cars for 12 months each year, you should expect to market your wash all 12 months too.

I wonder: "Is there ever a bad time to bring a new customer into your wash?" Incidentally, how you allocate your marketing dollars over a 12-month period is probably a more important question to ask.

As smart retailers know, consumers have changed their shopping habits and patterns tremendously during the past five years, and every carwash operator must be up-to-date concerning these important trends.

Action Step Two: Create a written and detailed 2012 Marketing Plan, and put your monthly wash count and revenue goals in writing.

Get serious about your management

Here the slope gets very slippery. Astute operators surely know that the economy remains depressed; they understand that consumers have fewer disposable dollars today, and they have crafted a well thought-out marketing plan.

But who truly "takes ownership" for your carwash revenues?

It is at this stage where operating a successful carwash becomes much more problematic.

Do you have a Tom Brady, an Aaron Rodgers, a Drew Brees or an Alex Smith who can consistently get the desired results you want?

In fact, nothing is more important in 2012 than operators converting their well-intentioned plans into specific, attainable, measurable and results-oriented action steps. For many operators, this is not only a new task, but also a very formidable one.

Carwashes are no longer an impulse purchase, yet too many in-bay operators simply have not made the necessary adjustments in their mindset and marketing plans. In truth, consumers have to be found, cultivated, motivated and rewarded for using your carwash, and this is a highly skilled set of tasks which cannot be treated casually.

As Brian Tracy says, casualness creates casualties, and many in-bay operators have closed their doors because of their inability, ultimately, to build a larger customer base.

Action Step Three: Promote, assign or contract with one results-oriented person who is both skilled and dedicated to reaching your specific and written carwash goals.

Get serious about your machine and your supplier

Moving into 2012, nothing is more important than the performance and daily upkeep of your equipment, as well as the business relationship you have forged with your major supplier.

On these two important matters, operators will encounter both good news and bad news.

The good news is that there are many manufacturers who are designing, building and selling very good equipment. Never has the industry been so well served by so many quality suppliers.

Yet regrettably, this state-of-the-art equipment has not created a corresponding breakthrough at the operator level. In fact, the bad news is that many operators are washing fewer cars now than in 2006. It seems ironic, that never have so few cars been washed by such good equipment!

As experienced operators know, several factors have negatively impacted wash counts and revenues. But moving forward, operators must evaluate both the usefulness of their washes, as well as the quality of services they receive from their current supplier.

Operators must look first of all at the age and performance of their current washes. Many in-bays, because of their advanced age and normal wear and tear, have long since passed a very dangerous threshold, when revenues have plummeted yet operating costs continue to skyrocket. This dire situation requires your urgent attention.

For many owners, 2012 could be a very opportune time to upgrade their old equipment. Indeed, many in-bays have hundreds of thousands of washes on them, and they have performed reliably for much of their working lives.

But savvy operators will not want to push their luck too far.

Therefore, be the first in your market to make an equipment upgrade, and then promote it shamelessly to your market to gain maximum benefit and find new customers.

Action Step Four: Evaluate not only your carwash but also the quality of service that your supplier offers. If you do decide to upgrade your equipment, but your supplier seems interested only in an equipment order, you might want to look for another qualified supplier.

"Profit is the applause you get for delighting your customers," states Ken Blanchard, the noted speaker and management consultant.

Operators who fully implement these four action steps will find themselves in a very advantageous position, and will receive loud applause and earn larger profits in 2012.

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