Professional Carwashing & Detailing

The Economic Impact Study

October 11, 2010

When it comes to succeeding in a recession, the overwhelming majority of Professional Carwashing & Detailing readers — nearly 75 percent — believe they are struggling like other operators, but are managing their carwash businesses the best they can given the circumstances. While they may have trouble attracting customers or controlling labor costs, it seems most of you have found a rhythm and a method for floating along until matters improve.

Actually if our Economic Impact Study (a survey of 10 questions circulated this June to gauge the shriveled economy’s affect on carwash operators) is any indication, the biggest concern for operators is not the economy at all, but the weather (53%). Operators in the Midwest and Northeast especially said poor or exceptional weather has been the ruling factor in their success or failure, while another 40 percent of you agreed the economy is most to blame for your troubles.

But, as PC&D discovered, not all operators are treading water. Some operators are getting along just swimmingly and several shared their personal success stories with us so that we might bring them to you. Not only that, but PC&D also tracked down the directors of the International Carwash Association (ICA) and the Western Carwash Association (WCA), who provided their own insights and interpretations of the data.

As you continue to make your way through the last few months of 2009, remember that success is a choice and you have many options around you. Look to fellow operators, trade associations, family, friends and mentors, as well as this magazine, for ideas, inspiration and support as you climb your way to the top and ride this wave to new beaches.

Keep it new
Anders Marstrander, president of A Great Carwash, Inc., in West Chester, OH, said he has grown volumes despite the recession by keeping a steady maintenance schedule and continually renovating his self-serve business. Marstrander admitted that not all operators can afford to upgrade their equipment and facilities, but “small investments are good for business — especially when they are visible to our customers.”

Marstrander and his wife purchased their carwash in 2007, just around the time that Mr. Clean was opening its first full-serve tunnel wash about four miles away. The couple also faces competition from three other self-serve facilities and at least one other full-serve location in a five-mile radius, but Marstrander said they are able to stand out by updating the wash’s signage, building and equipment.

“We renew ourselves,” Marstrander explained. “This can be anything from changing the color on the foam brush soap to investing in some new equipment or offering a new service.” For example, Marstrander said the couple has allowed a detailer to rent a bay of their self-serve facility to attract new business and in a few weeks, they will purchase a new vacuum.

This policy of continually renovating the facility, as well as taking a hands-on approach to its operations, has given customers a reason to return to the wash. Keeping things fresh, Marstrander suggested, is just one way to distinguish yourself from the competition and please customers in new ways at every visit.

Another option? Don’t participate!
Marstrander isn’t the only operator swimming upstream. Dave Calhoun of Let It Shine, LLC, in Tremont, IL, said he partnered with other local businesses to educate the consumer base and rise above the media tide which continually barraged Americans with negative news and gloomy predictions.

“We have been in the forefront; encouraging our citizens to not participate in the recession and so far they have not,” Marstrander told PC&D. The process involved writing letters to the editors of local papers and working with the chamber of commerce and other community groups to educate members, who could then educate the community.

Last but not least, a local non-profit business group produced a series of TV commercials entitled, “It’s Better Here,” featuring area mayors who discussed the real estate climate, positive business investments, and strong bank activity in the region. Calhoun said the basic message was “buy local and keep our families employed.”

“For this to be effective it must be a community effort,” Calhoun stressed, suggesting that other operators have precious little time to enact similar programs in their hometowns. He likened the coming together of various business owners to the ending scene of “It’s A Wonderful Life,” when all of George Bailey’s friends and neighbors gather to pitch in a little — which turns into a lot — in order to save Bailey, his family and the family business, a bank. A scene that showed people “their money was being invested in others in the community,” Calhoun said.

From Eric Wulf, Executive Director, ICA
The results of Professional Carwashing & Detailing magazine’s Economic Impact Study are a good indication of what some carwash operators are experiencing with their businesses. The dual challenges of reduced consumer spending and restricted capital access affect suppliers as well as operators; both are restricted in their ability to invest, expand or hire.

But, while success may not be as commonplace in today’s environment, it is far from extinct.

The results also show that operators continue to make essential investments in innovation (approximately half report changing their cost structure or enhancing their marketing). Others are using the “reset” in real estate and business valuations to acquire new locations. Still others are investing in new equipment, technologies or processes that lower costs and improve service or efficiency — thus improving their market position now and for the inevitable economic recovery.

Business leaders who invest in knowledge, networks and innovation can survive, and even thrive, in nearly every business climate — and for them can be their most important business partner. From the world’s largest display of carwash supplies at Car Care World Expo™, to the industry’s leading educational offerings, the ICA has not stopped investing in our industry. In fact, we’re accelerating.

This year we launched what is now the industry’s leading environmental recognition program, WaterSavers™. Nearly 400 locations are already participating in this effort to educate consumers as to the benefits of professional car washing. We also launched Wash Week, five days of informative seminars and education in cities across the U.S. and online. Those who have partnered with International Carwash Association through these programs have found real solutions and realized lasting impact.

Today’s economic conditions will improve. Consumers will spend again and banks will lend. But the successful car wash professional focuses in these times not on what he can’t control, but what he can. For innovators, opportunities still abound.

From Holly Macriss, Executive Director, WCA
Professional associations, like the Western Carwash Association, the Southwest Regional Carwash Association or the Southeast Regional Carwash Association to name a few, are considered great organizations for owner/operators to use as a resource to generate ideas or network with peers. Professional associations offer members a direct line to a network of peers who value each other and share with each other ideas on how to deal with certain situations or improve their business practices. All professional associations offer a venue for like folks to communicate and brainstorm ideas to help move the industry forward.

WCA offers a wide range of member benefits that can enhance the owner/operator business. From customer loyalty programs to labor law and best practices, professional associations offer easy access to programs that may help members have an advantage over the competition and grow their business.

While professional associations can’t control the weather for our members (if we could it would be sunny everyday and only rain over waterways and watersheds), what we can do is offer our members access to opportunities in areas where they might need a little extra assistance.

Respondents of the PC&D survey mentioned that attracting new consumers is proving difficult during these tough economic times. Right now all business owners are trying to be extra savvy with their marketing dollars and in October, the WCA will provide access to tools on how to attract new customers and build stronger relationships with current customers.

For WCA’s 28th Annual Convention & Tradeshow, the WCA Program Seminar Committee and staff are working with leaders at the Disney Institute in Orlando, FL, on developing industry specific tools using the time-tested lessons of one of the greatest businessmen in customer satisfaction, Walt Disney. We are excited to bring education to our region that until now could only be experienced at one of the Disney parks. This Disney Institute program will provide attendees with a blueprint for building a strong business foundation along with tools for prioritizing action planning.

These outcomes will clearly illustrate ways you can adapt these lessons into your organization whether it is a full service or self-serve carwash, or a supplier to the industry. For more information please call (800) 344-9274 or visit the WCA Web site,