The success of a carwash is dependent on the corresponding success of many different variables. One of the most noteworthy is the wash operator’s relationship with his or her distributor. First and foremost, a good distributor is one that can be a trusted resource for anything and everything — whether the wash is a new build or an established business looking to upgrade to the latest wash technology.
Building a good distributor relationship depends on asking and answering a series of questions, whether of the distributor directly or within the wash organization itself. We recently sat down with Mark Tentis, the vice president of global sales for OPW Vehicle Wash Solutions, to discuss some of the important questions wash operators should be asking of their local distributor.
DIPAOLO | As businesses continue to work through the COVID-19 pandemic, how can the distributor relationship aid in ensuring the future of the wash?
TENTIS | The shifting landscape that has resulted from the pandemic needs to be viewed from both a near- and long-term perspective, and forward-thinking wash operators can work with their distributors to identify processes that can be put in place that will help them emerge with a business that is even stronger and more well-positioned to succeed when that “new normal” is fully defined.
In preparing for the path to full reopening of local businesses, operators should consider the following:
- How will the local economic impact of COVID-19 affect your consumer base and its willingness to spend disposable income?
- Are any potential disruptions in the supply chain just around the corner, or have some already occurred — and what has been or could be their ultimate effect?
- How have local distributors been affected, and will they have shipping or service delays in the months to come?
The answers to these questions will be different for every wash owner, since every site is unique. In all cases, though, having an honest and frank discussion with a distributor can help lay the groundwork for an effective recovery plan.
DIPAOLO | In general, how important is a good distributor relationship for wash operators?
TENTIS | First off, distributors should never be viewed as solely the deliverers of new wash equipment, components and accessories or a conduit for maintenance services. They are also residents of the communities in which you operate, so they will also possess inside knowledge into the community’s inner workings. This can make them valuable suppliers of information, from big-picture items like ongoing trends in population demographics and local business development to more specific — but no less important — ways to approach things, such as finding creative ways to bolster revenue.
DIPAOLO | How can a distributor help you assess the market as a way to help generate success?
TENTIS | When the owner of any new business in any industry is looking for a spot to put his stake in the ground, it is imperative that due diligence is performed before cutting that check for land acquisition and breaking ground. One of the first stages of this research project will be to seek out the wash distributors that service the area.
Good distributors will focus on making each and every carwash they service successful, knowing that every successful wash business makes the overall local market stronger. Basically, every new entry to the market is also a potential new, long-term customer and can be another foundational piece in a strong, successful market.
The end game is to identify a distributor with a strong reputation who can be your best ally as you work your way through the site selection, permitting, equipment selection and installation processes. In other words, the best distributors will take an “if you’re successful, they’re successful” approach to all of their clients.
DIPAOLO | How important are distributors as a source for wash system product knowledge?
TENTIS | Distributors who know the area inside and out can provide important information regarding which of the types of systems they sell have had the most success within the market. This knowledge can be indispensable when the operator is trying to decide, for instance, if the best vehicle-wash solution is an in-bay automatic or a tunnel system. Or, does the market prefer touchless or soft-touch washing? And, what is the best type of entry system to deploy?
DIPAOLO | Can distributors help develop menu packages or product offerings?
TENTIS | There’s much more involved with operating a carwash than simply saying,” I want that system.” Because the distributor will likely know what has been successful for his other clients, he can suggest the best equipment and options with which to outfit the wash. This can let the operator know how to construct his menu of wash packages, i.e. whether or not things like triple foam, tire shine and spot-free rinsing have helped strengthen the bottom lines of other operators in the area.
DIPAOLO | Will your distributor be able to stay abreast of the latest technological advances?
TENTIS | A distributor who is familiar with any changes or enhancements in equipment technology can help keep the wash operator’s offering on the cutting edge.
In terms of a wash’s nuts-and-bolt operation, most distributors are now recommending systems that rely on variable-frequency drives (VFDs) to ramp up and ramp down the activation speed of the wash’s various electric and hydraulically powered equipment. The benefit of VFDs is that they can adjust speed “on the fly,” which reduces equipment wear and tear, while also allowing for real-time line-speed adjustments that keep pace with customer demand: slower when not busy, faster on busy days.
Another recent innovation is next-generation remote-access technologies that let the operator stay in touch with the wash and be aware of its operational and maintenance patterns — and allow him to make instant adjustments to those patterns — from anywhere in the world via computer or smartphone.
Better, more efficient wash technologies can also reduce water, soap/detergent, polish and electricity usage, leading to streamlined operating costs that will result in a healthier bottom line and a more environmentally friendly wash operation. All of these innovations have only entered the market in the past five years or so, but rest assured, equipment manufacturers are always working on upgrades to even the newest cutting-edge technologies; the distributor will likely be the first to know when these advanced technologies will become available and whether or not they make sense for each individual wash’s needs.
DIPAOLO | Does the distributor possess the overall industry expertise to be a reliable resource for a wash site?
TENTIS | Your distributor must be a trusted expert that can provide valuable guidance whenever called upon.
In summation, some of the areas where you want to be confident that you can tap into the distributor’s knowledge base include:
- Identifying environmentally efficient solutions
- Assisting in site evaluations in order to select the best options for your system, potentially adding value or saving your business money
- Providing factory-certified installation, preventative maintenance and emergency service.
And, finally, nothing will go perfect in perpetuity, so like it or not, breakdowns and their related downtime are part of the process for all operators, especially as systems age. To ensure that profit-absorbing downtime and repair or replacement costs are kept to the bare minimum, you should work with your distributor to set up a preventive maintenance program that can help prevent problems before they happen.
In this area, the distributor should not only have textbook knowledge of the complete wash system but should also employ a staff of expert technicians who are able to respond quickly and confidently to any equipment emergency.
All told, the fulcrum of a successful vehicle wash business — whether new or existing —is a strong relationship with a good, knowledgeable distributor.
The ones who can reliably offer wash operators a complete package of services — from site and equipment selection to ancillary profit center advice and on-time maintenance service — should be treated as a valued asset and one that can help guide you to the ultimate success of your wash business.