Steven L’Heureux is a quick learner. With only two years under his belt as President and Chief Executive Officer, Ryko Solutions of Grimes, IA, is positioned to launch into a real growth spurt.
In this exclusive interview, L’Heureux touches upon many important industry topics. Frankly, it was his obvious passion and commitment to help operators become more successful that impressed me the most. His suggestion that operators seek out value-added partners as suppliers is a clarion call for renewed growth in this market segment.
Mike Perry: Now that you have been in the industry for two years, what do you know now that you wished you had known earlier about the carwash business?
Steven L’Heureux: I have a much better appreciation for the diverse needs of our customers. The carwash industry is composed of many segments, each with their own unique needs and wants. Market segmentation and building solutions to meet specific market needs has been a key strength of mine, that’s what drove our dramatic ramp-up in engineering and aggressive new product development activity. We’ve launched
3 three major product platforms in 2012 and will match that again in 2013.
Mike Perry: What has impressed or surprised you most about the industry?
Steven L’Heureux: I was really surprised by the sophisticated technology built into modern carwashes and the tremendous resilience demonstrated by the owner/operator in the face of challenging economic environment. I was also impressed with the high degree of trust between Ryko and our customers. I knew coming into the position that Ryko had an excellent industry reputation, but had no idea how strong those relationships have grown over the company’s 40 year history. Ryko takes its responsibility to help customers build profitable carwashes very seriously and has the products and programs to back that commitment up.
Mike Perry: As CEO, you have placed a high priority on product development and building a stronger service organization. How did you know which products the market needed?
Steven L’Heureux: When I came to Ryko, I surveyed the OEM field and realized that no one was attempting to offer the “full package.” By that I mean, there wasn’t any company which offered operators a real one-stop shop to find equipment, cleaning products and, most importantly, after sale maintenance and service support. Not only that, but I could see the industry was shifting from a single-site owner/operator to an investor/operator who has multiple locations. That kind of person needs to simplify the procurement and operational support process as much as possible; they need one-stop shopping. Our focus is to help our customers build the most profitable carwashes in the market, and that means offering our customers support at every step of the process, whether it’s finding the funds to build their project or surveying the site or marketing their business and providing on-going service and cleaning solutions optimized to their specific needs.
Mike Perry: Can you talk about the training process of Ryko’s new service technicians? With Ryko’s large install base, this has to be a huge part of your continued success?
Steven L’Heureux: It is the absolute cornerstone of our success and the success of our customers. Preventive maintenance is the key to building wash count volumes and profits. To that end, we have nearly 300 factory-trained technicians who have an industry-leading average of nine years of experience and the necessary tools to ensure they get the job done right the first time, with a 90 percent first-time fix rate on our service calls to prove it. In fact, we have invested over $4 million to ensure that the most frequently used carwash parts are on our fleet of vans or in our regional warehouses. This includes many of the commonly needed competitor parts, as well. To keep this team of technicians ahead of the developments in our industry, we bring every technician into our Grimes, Iowa manufacturing facility once every year for a week of comprehensive and intensive training on new techniques for how our products are manufactured and study on new ways to service both Ryko and competitive equipment. In 2012 we invested over $1 million in technical training and will match that again this year.
Mike Perry: What specific activities can operators do to increase their revenues?
Steven L’Heureux: I’m glad you asked this question. In addition to preventive maintenance, I think a lot of operators dismiss the importance of a scheduled and well-thought out marketing plan. We recently helped a successful Midwest convenience store chain boost car counts by over 75 percent at their 20 carwashes by focusing on those two areas. This was an additional $55,000 that fell to the bottom-line for the company over sixty-day period!! We worked with the company to create new signage and pricing to be marketed in all five different zones of a C-Store location, and developed two more phases of the marketing plan which will continue to boost volumes throughout 2013.
Mike Perry: How should a serious operator evaluate a potential supplier like Ryko?
Steven L’Heureux: In addition to the obvious equipment considerations, you must also look at the total cost of ownership and evaluate the value the vendor is bringing to the table. It is also important to assess the vendor’s viability. Unfortunately, our industry is facing a challenging period and we expect to see considerable consolidation as well as some players exiting the business altogether.
Mike Perry: Does it seem ironic or problematic that long-established manufacturers like Ryko are making very functional equipment, yet operators seem to be washing fewer cars now at their sites than they were ten years ago?
Steven L’Heureux: This is really a carwash industry urban myth. Carwash counts were actually up in 2012; the ICA states counts were up 2 percent. We track carwash counts at nearly 3,000 sites across the country because of our popular Cents Per Wash program and have seen carwash counts increase over the past year as well. We have one large account customer that saw a 6 percent increase across their network of several hundred washes and a 29 percent increase where a new machine was installed and Ryko’s new marketing programs deployed. Regionally, we’ve seen carwash counts up in every region of the country, except California. I think the issue for operators today is to maximize their uptime and to find equipment which allows them to see high throughput while also offering a wide variety of menu options to lure in a large customer base.
Mike Perry: Ryko is known to be a company which has always been passionate about “wash quality” to satisfy consumers. Are there more wash quality issues that in-bay consumers and operators still want to see improved?
Steven L’Heureux: I see wash quality as attention to detail throughout the whole process for operators – do I have the right equipment, the right cleaning solutions, is my bay and equipment maintained correctly. That attention to detail is reflected on the experience the operator gives consumers.
Mike Perry: What will be the next “breakthrough” in the in-bay market?
Steven L’Heureux: In terms of the OEMs, I think we’re still seeing consolidation as a result of the economic recession, and this will mean operators can demand more from their suppliers. The breakthroughs will be in terms of support the OEM can offer, whether it is technical service, marketing programs or bundled chemical solutions. The most profitable carwashes will be the ones who can streamline their operations and find this kind of partnership.
Mike Perry: What advice would you give operators with six to 10 year old machines?
Steven L’Heureux: A lot of our c-store customers are using older machines due to the economic realities of today and honestly, there’s no advice specific to an older machine that wouldn’t also apply to a newer one. It’s simple: Maintenance. You need to be concentrated on preventive maintenance and following through with a regular, rigorous maintenance schedule. That’s what’s made our service programs such a success – operators recognize the importance of regular, reliable maintenance which prevents so many of the headaches you hear about from other IBA operators.
Mike Perry: What one thing would you like to see operators do better in 2013?
Steven L’Heureux: At Ryko, our goal is to help the customer build his or her most profitable carwash. There’s much we can accomplish together in growing the business if the operator embraces a partnership mentality. We believe strongly in partnering with our customers and working together to build a more profitable carwash. I believe for Ryko to grow our customers must thrive. I think the customer who recognizes those efforts at partnership and the importance of regular service and preventive maintenance, as well as the lucrative support in terms of marketing, operations and chemistry solutions, will excel in 2013.
Mike Perry: What one thing would you like to see Ryko do better in 2013?
Steven L’Heureux: While we are the clear leader in North America and in the top three carwash manufacturers in the world, we aspire to be global leader in our industry. I want to see us branch out into different segments and global marketplaces of the carwash industry.
Mike Perry has more than 30 years of experience in business-to-business sales and in retail marketing. He can be reached at [email protected], or at 770-330-2490.