Each season brings its own carwashing challenges, and each region of the country embraces the seasons in a different way. However, there are opportunities unique to spring, summer, fall and winter, respectively, and while we’ll explore some of the possibilities in this article, it’s up to you to determine how you can adapt your wash seasonally for year-round profits.
Winter is coming
The new year begins in the heart of winter — which can mean a great start to the year for regions that see snow throughout the season. For these areas, however, this is also the season that requires the most preparation. As for regions that don’t receive much snowfall, these are likely to be your slower months.
In addition to winterizing certain equipment, such as air doors, you also need to prep your heating equipment. For instance, Ty Dubay, chief operating officer of Mike’s Carwash, which has locations in Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana, notes that the chain’s washes use floor heat to keep the snow and ice from freezing. In the fall, they prep this equipment and make sure it is ready for a season of hard work. In the spring, they turn it off and idle the equipment.
In addition to using heated floors, heated dryers and other heating equipment, you can also use hot water in the wash to help prevent ice buildup and wear and tear on equipment.
Related: Carwash winter preperation
Your carwash will take an annual beating from winter weather, so while routine maintenance year-round is always important, it’s especially critical during this time. Brian Krusz, owner of Sgt. Clean’s Car Wash in the Cleveland area, notes, “It’s on us to do an increased level of attention to detail during those winter months, and we’re looking to make sure all the bells and whistles of the carwash aren’t frozen over — that the nozzles, the tips, all the applications for the carwash are actually giving the customer what they’re paying for. And, we’re making sure that no ice not only builds up on the racks for the customer but also on our equipment.”
In addition to keeping equipment in tip-top shape, you also need to keep your lot free of ice and snow for the safety of both employees and customers. Use the early fall to stock up on salt and ice melt, and make sure any shovels, salt spreaders and ice cones are in good condition and ready to use throughout the season.
Finally, remember to keep your team members warm. While heated tunnels and bays will help keep them thawed out, make sure they have heavy jackets, hats and gloves as part of their uniform. In addition, provide team members with hand warmers. “If it’s cold, rotate them inside regularly for their comfort and so they don’t get frostbite,” Dubay adds.
For snowy climates, your winter advertising should focus around vehicle protection, i.e. washing off corrosive salt and slush. Thus, the main services you are going to want to promote are your chassis bath, undercarriage wash and rust inhibitor.
However, what about the areas of the country that don’t see snow? In fact, some areas, like the West Coast, typically have their rainy season during this time, making this one of the slower — if not slowest — seasons of the year.
“For the wintertime in the West Coast, we do a lot of rainy day specials, or we often do what’s called a rain-check policy,” Chris McKenna of McKenna Assets in Los Angeles describes. “So, we give you 48 hours to come get your car rewashed for free. We also push the waxes so that the car has some wax on it, which enables the rain to bead up better.”
Of course, rain presents a threat year-round to all parts of the country, especially during the transition months.
Springing into action and falling out of favor
Spring and fall are two sides of the same coin. Both feature moderate temperatures and a slew of natural elements that can attack cars, leaving them ripe for washing. During the spring season, pollen and bugs can pull in huge revenue. In the fall, pollen, mud, dust, leaf debris and even snow all provide great reasons for a car to get a wash, but for whatever reason, customers appear less willing to wash at this later time of year.
Krusz believes the reason may largely have to do with the transient, unpredictable weather. A fall day could start out sunny and then start pouring down rain midway through before going back to being clear again. Another reason, he states, may have to do with the back-to-school season. With parents getting into a new traffic pattern at the start of the school year, they’re having to develop a new routine.
However, don’t let generalizations about the seasons set your expectations in stone. Innumerable variables account for some wacky changes in weather year over year, and what might be a slow fall one year could be a killer season the next.
“I would say the fall definitely seems to be the slowest season around the industry, but which season is best or worst, honestly, from what I’ve seen, is just dependent on what year you happen to look at,” Dubay states.
While a slew of rainy days can put a dent in your profits, they also provide an opportunity to put your carwash in order. All the cleaning that falls by the wayside during the busy days can be accomplished during rainy periods.
“Basically, when it’s raining, you try to cut back on your labor to adjust to the demand that you’re dealing with and use it as an opportunity to go catch up on cleaning or work on maintenance-related projects,” Dubay explains.
Another unique aspect to these seasons revolves around operating hours. If your carwash decides to adjust opening hours, it will generally happen in conjunction with changing the clocks. Not every carwash changes hours, however. While self-serves often run 24/7/365, express carwashes tend to have set hours every day of the year, and they may run earlier and later in the day than full-serves.
Given the extra labor costs associated with them, full-serves are more likely to close early during rainy days or change hours based on when it gets dark. McKenna’s carwash, for instance, only stays open until 5 p.m. or 5:30 p.m., depending on the time of year. Near the end of the day, in the last half hour or so, he will have a skeleton crew running the operation, since there is not as much demand for carwashes at that time.
On the flip side, Dubay notes, Mike’s Carwash stays open every day from 7 a.m. until 9 p.m., because the company has found that there are enough people who come in on the early or late side of the demand to justify staying open.
“We want to be there, be consistent, so that the customer doesn’t have to wonder what hours we’re open,” Dubay states.
Perhaps the largest driver of business during these seasons are bugs and pollen. While pollen just creates a dirty-looking car, the acidic remains from bugs will actually corrode the finish on a vehicle over time, so these are the times of year to promote your bug wash. Whether you set it out for customers to use themselves or you have your own employees prep every vehicle with it, it’s a service that customers love. In fact, if bugs are bad enough — think the love bug epidemics of the Gulf Coast — you can even create specials around deep bug cleaning.
These seasons are also the time for mercurial weather, which pose the problem of consistent revenue for carwashes. To diminish that problem, Krusz highly recommends having an unlimited plan. Not only are you guaranteed revenue, but the customer is guaranteed peace of mind.
“It kind of takes out that factor of the carwash being the bad guy, because Murphy’s Law doesn’t matter,” Krusz states. “Because if Murphy’s Law gets you when it’s raining outside or the bird does its business … utilizing the unlimited programs helps [customers] also maintain that vehicle and not make it emotional.”
The challenge, Krusz notes, is retaining customers on the unlimited program past your busy season. He notes that many of Sgt. Clean’s customers tend to drop off the unlimited program after the winter, but the company tries to combat this issue by promoting year-round the fact that a carwash is the easiest and cheapest form of maintenance for a consumer’s first or second biggest investment: a vehicle.
Suddenly it’s summer
For regions with warmer climates (and nary a hint of snow in the winter), summer is likely to be the busiest season. Without the wet weather that can dog the spring and fall, summer promises days upon days of sun — which can be both a blessing and a curse. While the sun means customers are more likely to come out to get their cars washed, it also means they’re more likely to try washing their cars themselves in their driveway.
However, hope is not lost, because nowadays, as Krusz notes, “Time is the most valuable resource.” Many people today are choosing professional carwashes over driveway washing simply for the convenience factor. Consider that a professional, automated carwash takes only a handful of minutes, whereas a driveway wash will easily take 30 to 45 minutes or more.
In regions of the country where the summer is not, in fact, the busiest season, customers may still mistakenly assume so due to the weather. “Customers are tricky individuals,” Krusz states. “The consumer has this assumption that we’re the busiest and our season is the best during the summer. Now, we do well here, but it’s funny that they think that, [because] the consumer doesn’t perform that way. They’re not showing us that it’s the busy season by staying on the unlimited program longer during those months, by coming in more and more often as pay-go customers.”
Whether it’s your busy season or not, here are some ways to bring in customers regardless.
While driveway washing is on the decline, you can still promote your business as the better alternative. For instance, Dubay says Mike’s Carwash promotes the fact that it is more environmentally friendly than washing in the driveway, what with the amount of water used, the soap runoff and the lack of water reclaim. “We emphasize all the good qualities of the wash and then also on the fact that it’s just done more environmentally friendly,” he adds.
Speaking of water reclaim, there’s another opportunity to advertise your reduced water footprint: during droughts. While droughts can happen at any time during the year, the summer can exacerbate dry conditions, leading to water restrictions in municipalities.
Related: Water conservation insight
Drought conditions can create dusty cars, and since residents may have restrictions on using water to wash cars, it is far more likely that they will come to a carwash rather than keep the dust on. If you do end up facing drought, be sure to keep abreast of your municipality’s restrictions and see if and how they would affect your business. With the right preparation and conditions, droughts can easily be money-makers for carwashes.
Summer is also the perfect time to promote some of your additional services to make a car look its best. For instance, since a spotty windshield is easier to see in sunny weather, this is the time to advertise your spot-free rinse. Also, push your tire/wheel cleaner and tire shine for a sharp look. Finally, make sure to promote protection services, such as UV protectants and waxes.
As far as operational changes go, Dubay notes that not a lot changes when transitioning from cold weather to warm weather. The most major change concerns your team members’ safety and comfort.
“In the summer, you’re more worried about the sun and [sunscreen] and making sure [team members] drink plenty of water to stay hydrated,” Dubay notes. Part of your preparations during the spring should be to stock up on water and sunscreen for them.
McKenna adds that looking at weather reports for the coming four to five days is key for your busy season — whether that be summer or winter. “When we know that it’s going to be a hot, dry day or hot Saturday, we know what kind of business we’re going to do, and we make sure we get ahold of all the employees and let everyone know they have to be ready to work. And, those guys who decide to call in sick or play hooky or whatever — that just isn’t going to fly. We make sure that we manage our employees really well in that regard.”
It’s the time of the season … to adapt
As far as promotions go, there’s no limit to what you can do. “It’s kind of up to the imagination of the carwash owner or manager to come up with different specials,” McKenna asserts. “There’s really no limit. You just have to get to know your customer base and know your market and know your climate.”
For example, McKenna adds, if you have a particular chemical that hasn’t been selling well or that you want to get rid of for whatever reason, you can make a special around it to deplete your stock.
“If you can pay attention to your weather and use the tools that you have and some of the marketing and some of the feedback from customers, like a suggestion box, that can really help to pick up on what your customers are trying to tell you or might want, and then combine that with the weather to try to make a very customer- and user-friendly experience,” McKenna adds.
However, it’s not enough to simply know what weather is coming — you need to be as changeable as it is and react to its moods.
“The key to success that I see is adaptability. If January is incredibly snowy this year and incredibly dry next year, you’ve got to have the management systems and structures in place to handle that and adapt and flip the business very quickly to handle the different scenarios, and that applies to all four of the seasons,” Dubay concludes.
Related: Weather’s impact on carwashing