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Business Operations

Remote control carwashes

October 11, 2010
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Business owners often have to take their work home with them. It comes with the territory.

Money, equipment, safety and employee management issues are concerns that stay with carwash owners even after they’ve left the property. Luckily for today’s operators, remote monitoring technology allows them to be on-hand, but offsite at the same time.

Defining remote monitoring
Everything from monitoring the site and security systems to following sales and refund transactions can be done via a home computer, email, iPhone, or Blackberry.

Gunnar Danielson, national sales manager for Integrated Services, Inc., said a successful business is a well-monitored one.

“Every successful business is built on an effective management system and that is no different in the carwash industry,” he explained. “Many operators in this industry have multiple sites making it difficult to be at every site throughout the day. This is where remote management comes into play.”

According to Danielson, real-time monitoring is key to maximizing profit dollars as well as delivering quality service to your customers. “With the cost of utilities increasing, monitoring and being able to act on the information immediately or better yet proactively is increasingly important,” he said.

For instance, Danielson suggested setting parameters with appropriate monitoring equipment for temperature, pressure, flow, vibration, and other factors can help owners and operators to dial in a system to so that a carwash is operating at its best and help trigger proactive attention.

Remote monitoring, according to Danielson can show real time data for everything from sales figures to consumables to preventative and condition-based maintenance (see sidebar). “Alarm and fault conditions as well as status information is now available and is increasingly implemented at sites,” he stated. “Sensors can be installed to monitor and gather data from any source on site as well.”

Is remote managing better than being onsite?
Of course it’s nice for a customer to know that an owner or operator is on-hand in case they have a question or something goes wrong. But, it’s not always feasible. Remote monitoring is not meant to replace the presence of an actual person, but to make a site safer, more secure, and continuously running in case something comes up, shows up, backs up or falls down.

Or as Ryan Carlson, project manager for WashCard Systems, put it, the primary reasons behind monitoring systems are to monitor the health and wealth of a carwash business around the clock.

“Knowing how much money is on hand reduces opportunities for internal theft and will alert owners to theft before the losses grow too high,” Carlson explained. “The ability to know when bays or services are offline allows for more uptime.”

And, he added, when uptime equals money, it should be clear that reducing negative customer experiences and limiting the time an ‘out of service’ sign is up is greatly beneficial for a service-based business.

But, even with remote monitoring, a visit to the carwash is still needed. As Carlson said, “Monitoring systems won’t identify vandalism, overflowing trash cans, or do visual inspections of the wash … that’s what a camera system is for.”

Smart phone supervision
Smartphones are pretty revolutionary. Not only can they make phone calls and send texts, they can also serve as a portable personal computer. Think of them as a mini-mini-laptop. A smartphone is commonly known as a BlackBerry, iPhone or Android. They can also be used to monitor a carwash.

According to Danielson, phones with the capability of running a browser application like Internet Explorer can actually access live data remotely and make changes on the fly from anywhere in the world where a network is accessible.

Carlson said it goes without saying that cell phones are seen on just about every carwash owner and operator. “Since most operators are on the road a lot, their phones become a mobile office, especially since you can do just about everything you can do on your PC on your phone,” he said.

A leading trend now, according to Carlson, is that owners and operators are being notified of carwash red flags via SMS text messages. “Owners can now leave town without fear of letting some critical service go offline, running out of chemicals, letting doors stay open too long, losing water pressure, etc.,” Carlson explained. “Instead of an angry customer being the notification system, the wash contacts the owner instead.”

Josh Hart, vice president of Airlift Doors, Inc., said in the near future, a majority of carwash doors will be controlled from a home computer or cell phone. “If a door is stuck open and the temperature is below freezing, a notification will be sent to your cell phone and you will have the capability to send a close signal from a remote location.”

How complicated can it get?
Setting up a good system will take some homework before a purchase is made and after one is made as well. There are computers, smartphone applications, wires and signals involved and it’s important to have sales representatives available for lots of questions and concerns.

However, according to Danielson, many systems are as simple as opening up a website and entering a user ID and password, or opening an email attachment. “Non-tech-savvy people will have a small learning curve as the development of the systems simplify the usability of meaningful data,” he added.

The initial configuration and setup is not always a simple process since most of the remote monitoring features are ‘set-it and forget-it,’ said Carlson, adding some will probably hope to never hear from a monitoring system because it will generally mean something is wrong or needs fixing. However, he said, “the ongoing use of a monitoring system will be very straightforward since ongoing use will consist of clearing alerts and running reports.”

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