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Writing in favor of automatic cashiers

August 14, 2006
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Writing in favor of automatic cashiers
Carolyn Coates

"Quality and Service." Those are the words written on the first page of the Employee Handbook of Manahawkin Magic Wash, words we have tried to live up to since we opened our doors in 1983.

However, with the increasing inability to get labor (with a valid driver's license), operating a traditional full service carwash and being able to live up to those standards was becoming more of a challenge each and every day. With no shows and labor shortages we were not able to give the customer the consistent quality and service they expected and deserved.

We knew it was time for a change — a change to keep the customers wants and needs at the forefront and give them the consistent quality and service they deserved and expected, yet without high labor costs and without increasing prices.

My manager and I traveled around to several "express" automated-entry carwashes to observe the process. We observed the customers, who ranged in age from young to senior. We spoke with owners and managers. We asked numerous questions. We experienced the automated process ourselves. We looked at the latest in wash equipment needed by the new automated system to give the cleanest vehicle possible. In essence we did our homework and then some.

Along with the change in operation would come a completely new concrete entrance driveway, more tunnel wash equipment, moving the vacuum system to the tunnel exit, the addition of an aluminum truss structure for what Magic Wash calls its "Red Carpet" Interior Service at the end of the tunnel and the addition of two Auto Sentry eXP Terminals with gates.

In October 2005, Manahawkin Magic Wash became the first carwash in New Jersey to convert to a flex serve operation.

Magic Wash Express was born!

By switching to the ICS terminals and keeping the customer in their vehicle, we solved a big problem — LABOR with a valid driver's license. Now, it didn't matter, we didn't have to worry.

By using the eXP terminals, we found these other differences:

Labor
  • Fewer employees to manage — we only need two Auto Sentry eXPs and a human staff of 6 (including the manager) — not 23 - 26;

  • We can be very picky and only hire the best employees;

  • No call outs or no shows;

  • No paid vacation (and no worry about coverage during those vacations);

  • No health insurance;

  • Consistently available (no worry about not being able to open after a rainy morning because employees won't answer the phone);

  • Always pleasant; and

  • Able to pay your key personnel a higher base wage.

We now maintain a staff of six employees, consisting of one manager, one guide-on attendant and four people in the flex service area (one person from the flex serve also subs for the guide-on attendant on her two days off).

We still maintain a fully-stocked lobby, including over 400 greeting cards. We didn't intend to eliminate our lobby cashier position, but when she decided to move on to another position, we found another cost savings by utilizing our manager as the lobby cashier. He also attends to customer's needs, questions, etc.

This position gives him the perfect vantage point to keep track of the flex serve area, while answering the phone and booking detail appointments, etc.

The number of unsatisfied customers and complaints became so miniscule we were able to maximize and diversify his duties and save another salary — all without sacrificing customer service.

Our guide-on attendant is at the conveyor entrance and is also available to help any customer who needs assistance at the Auto Sentrys. She also checks each vehicle for any prior damage, reminds customers to lower their antenna and check the beds of pick-up trucks for loose items that could become airborne in the wash process.

This attendant hands out goodie bags to all vehicles with small children. The bag contains crayons, coloring book and bubbles. The kids keep asking their parents to visit the carwash more frequently so they can get another goodie bag.

Customer service is still a priority, even with the automated tellers.

The bottom line

The installation of the Auto Sentry eXP Terminals has also helped decrease our expenses, thereby increasing our bottom line. Let's face it, we didn't go into business to work for free, we went into business to make money.

The automated tellers have increased the bottom line by:

  • Decreasing payroll;

  • Decreasing worker's compensation insurance premiums;

  • Decreasing package policy insurance premiums (if rated on number of employees);

  • Decreasing damage claim payouts (vehicle is in care, custody and control of driver). We no longer pay for broken antennas, open windows, etc.;

  • Decreasing matching payroll taxes; and

  • Eliminating payment of commissions.

Contrary to the belief of some, the automated tellers can and do up-sell the customer. The secret is in the way you display your various washes.

The most expensive wash must be at the top of the list. Most customers will choose the wash their eyes see first, without reading anything else on the menu.

We accidentally proved this theory. We started a "Wacky Wednesday" special just a few weeks ago and when I set up the programming, I put the lowest price wash on top with the highest price wash at the bottom. After several hours, my manager came to me and told me that for some reason sales weren't where they should be and that we were selling more of the mid-line package than ever.

When he checked the Auto Sentry screen he discovered the washes were in the wrong order. As soon as I listed the highest price wash at the top, sales of that package dramatically increased.

Bingo! You've up-sold the customer and didn't have to pay anyone to do it.

Furthermore

The Auto Sentry has other advantages, too:

  • Able to stay open on those cloudy, rain-imminent days. We only pay one person instead of a full staff. We can cut out the flex serve area and remain open until the rain begins to fall. On those days when it's raining in the morning and clear by the afternoon, we don't have to worry about getting employees to come in, we just open the lanes and we're ready to wash.

    Our manager can act as the guide-on attendant. We save on additional payroll and still service our customers.

  • Able to stay open longer hours. We don't have to pay overtime to a large staff. We only need one person to be the guide-on.

  • Process more cars per hour than ever, with minimal labor expense. On a heavy volume day we have been able to reach (express wash only) 53.86 cars per man hour, with a labor rate of $0.19 per car (wash only). Adding in the flex service, we have been able to reach a combined rate of 15.60 cars per man hour, at a labor rate of $0.65 per car (includes wash & flex service).

With the full service wash model on the same volume day the most we could reach was 4.21 cars per man hour, at a labor rate of $2.27 per car. We only reached this per-man-hour rate because we were understaffed and not giving the consistent quality we should have.

We no longer have long lines, even after a snow storm when everyone in South Jersey wants to wash their car. We are able to keep a smooth, consistent traffic flow and drive-bys have been eliminated.

With automation we have been able to give our customers a consistently high quality wash, since we are not dependent on a large staff.

We don't have to wonder who is going to show up for work and who is not. We offer the flex service option everyday at set times.

Our customers receive the same exceptional quality each and every time they visit. Nothing is left to chance or the human variable.

And we are able to do it all at a lower price with savings, speed, consistency, service and quality — each day, every day.

At the start of our ninth month with our new express/flex-service format, using the ICS terminals, we were very glad we made the change. Honestly, I wish we had made this switch a lot sooner.

I would say 95 percent of our customers are in love with this new format and system. We are giving them an exceptional wash, at a much lower price. We get phone calls raving over our quality.

It's been win, win, win — for us and for our customers.

Carolyn Coates is the co-owner and operator of Manahawkin Magic Wash, located in Manahawkin, New Jersey. She has been in the carwash business for 23 years. You can email her at magicwash@comcast.net.