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Stick to Carwashing

November 22, 2006
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Stick to Carwashing
Carl the Carwasher

I have no problem with making money. I'll take all I can get (legally) and, I'm sure, it's why we're all in this business. Therefore, I won't say I'm against "multi-profit" centers. The key word there, however, is "profit."

When I talk about carwashing, I'm not referring to the roll-over, self-serve bay stuck in a corner of a gas station lot or built onto the side of a c-store where a wash is sold as just another piece of business, like a gallon of gas or a dozen eggs.

Also, right up front, I'll add another caveat. I'm not lumping vacuums and vending machines, or even a stand-alone ATM, into this discussion of a multi-profit operation. Vacuums and vending machines, to my thinking, are a necessary part of any decent carwash.

In my mind, carwashing is THE business. The sign by the street out front says "Car Wash" and people come to your business because you know carwashing. You know the answers to the questions your customers have. You have been over and under the equipment in your wash bays and know what produces the "best wash in town."

Yes, you are that carwashing business. But can you sell a dozen eggs or a gallon of gas or know oil changes? Do you know what makes a good cup of coffee for the morning commute and, most importantly, can you do those things and still keep up with the wash?

What's multi-profit mean?

Multi-profit means multi-tasking. Juggling two businesses might be doable, but toss in a third or a fourth and you don't have enough arms and hands. At some point, they will fall to ground.

Many car-care complexes out there give the appearance of being a single-owner shopping center of multi-profits where each business is doing well. But look more closely and you might find they are actually separate businesses.

The carwash owner knows how to get a vehicle clean and the c-store operator can figure profit margins on milk, butter and eggs. Over at the quick lube shop, the employees know a car's fluids and what Chevy and Ford recommend.

What has made this complex work is each owner does what he does best.

Several chains are doing just that, opening their carwash on part of the lot and leasing out space to the c-store or gas station or quick lube business. Chuck Howard at AutoBell said it's a business plan his company has decided to follow and it has worked well.

For most carwash owners, there are a lot of pluses to such an arrangement. A lease produces a steady, known income. Hiring and training of employees is done for the business you know.

How much of your business can you divide?

The more businesses you own on your lot(s), the more your attention becomes diluted. Loyalties are constantly challenged. Which do you do first, fix the wheel brush, do that maintenance job on the refrigeration unit or renovate the waiting room in the quick lube building.

You could hire a manager for each segment, but good managers are hard, and expensive, to find and keep.

The same goes for lower-level employees. Does the clerk who stocks the c-store shelves know enough about the carwash? And, if you find one who does or can easily learn both operations, that person will soon be gone to a higher-paying job.

In other cases, a carwash chain, or even a single-site owner, becomes the tenant. This may be an even better situation since it eliminates the headaches of managing the property and allows the carwasher to put his full attention into giving his customers what they want.

Divert too much attention or spread ownership, management and employees too thin and, eventually, the balls will start falling.

It takes just one bad tune-up or a sloppy wash job to turn a customer away. A dirty store or empty shelves will not result in a return visit. If part of the business gets a bad rep, deserved or not, the rest of the multi-profits will take the fall, too.

So, if you make a profit from running all kinds of multi-profit centers on your property, "Bully for you." But for the rest of us, sticking to what we know best — carwashing — makes our business and those around us all the better.

Editor's Note: Carl the Carwasher is a fictional character whose argument was created based upon comments and information taken from online forums and general industry discussion.