Have you ever heard that Willie Nelson song? Great tune. I’m not really much of a Willie fan, but that song always grabs my attention. It could be because I’m spending more and more time on the road these days, or maybe because it’s one of the only songs where Willie’s voice doesn’t sound like nails on a chalkboard to me. Either way, I like it.
With most states in the country now reopening, life on the road is returning. This month, my travel schedule was an itinerary like that of the year 2019. It started off in Chicago with a seminar, then a few days in Fort Worth for the SCWA tradeshow, then it was off to Phoenix for a four-day Repair Class and last week more seminars in Boston and Newark. After having to postpone “On the Road” seminars last year, it was good to get out and see some folks again.
So, what’s changed about life on the road since the pre-COVID days? Quite a bit. Air travel didn’t change much: It’s still a nightmare, but now you have to wear a mask while enduring it. And while the airlines are slowly returning to somewhat “normal service,” flight attendants still spend most of their time sitting and reading at either the front or the back of the plane or reprimanding passengers if their masks drop below the tips of their noses. Seems a meal in first-class now consists of a box with stale crackers, some fruit and a couple of pieces of cheese. Reduction in services for the same price as pre-COVID. It’s so nice to be on the road again.
Staying at a hotel is a little different as well. I remember my first hotel stay when the country opened up again. I went back to my room and wondered why my bed wasn’t made. When I asked the front desk, I was informed the maid service was suspended. Service was only performed between visitors unless specifically requested. Again, reduction in services for the same price as pre-COVID a year ago.
Renting a car hasn’t changed much, except the price has more than doubled. That’s if you can find a car to rent. On one trip, we were forced to pay over $200 per day for a standard SUV. At least the services have remained. So far, my car rentals have all came with a steering wheel, four tires, brakes, etc.
Think about it. The travel industry is removing services, charging the same or higher prices, and as consumers, do we have a choice but to accept it? Especially if our lives revolve around doing business outside of where we live? Not so much.
At your wash, have you ever tried to do the same — to remove services while maintaining the same pricing? If you prep vehicles, stop the service and see the reaction. If you have ceramics, remove it from your top wash and see where that gets you with your customers and average ticket price. If you have bright lights when customers purchase extra services, turn them off and tell customers to “trust” that they’ve received what they paid for. If you towel dry, stop the service and see what happens. Stopping many of these services will probably get you into an argument (at the very least) and maybe into a physical confrontation.
So, how do we go about it? How do we remove a service we’ve provided in the past without irritating the customer? We’re not like the airlines: People won’t just accept the same price for an inferior service.
Oftentimes, the best place to start is in areas where the cost of the service is highly dependent on labor, which is becoming more expensive and scarcer. In other words, figure out which services are a potential money pit and figure out options. Removing prep and towel drying can potentially add tens of thousands of dollars to your bottom line. You may also sleep better at night not having to worry as much about having enough staff for the weekend.
The goal, as always, remains a clean, dry, shiny vehicle. To successfully remove a service that meets this goal, we have to provide an option that is of equal or greater value to the customer. And, we have to deliver on what we promise.
If we’re removing prep, add a self-prep area, if space allows. Or perhaps a new high pressure arch at the entrance end that performs more consistently than manual labor. If we’re removing hand toweling, perhaps some additional dryers can be added. If your drying chamber isn’t currently lit, add lighting to draw attention to the new way this service is delivered. Also, free towels in the vacuum area will assuage a lot of negative reactions.
Communicate the changes when necessary. Signage explaining your new services should point to the positive things being added rather than the negative of what’s been removed. Customers who see that you’re investing in your business and your equipment will feel confident spending their hard-earned dollars with you. Sometimes, addition by subtraction is the best plan!
No matter how you slice it, we’re in business to make money. I have my own feeling that the changes in the travel industry are more focused on saving money and less focused on our safety. But I’m no expert. What I do know is I’m back home for the next month. My bed will be made, and I won’t be scolded for mask violations. Yet, after some time passes, I’ll be just like Willie and thinking, “I just can’t wait to get on the road again.”
Bob Fox has 35 years’ experience in the carwash industry and is the vice president of Sonny’s Car Wash College™. Bob can be reached at [email protected]. For more information about CarWash College™ certification programs, visit CarWash College or call the registrar’s office at 1-866-492-7422.
This content is sponsored by CarWash College. Sponsored content is authorized by the client and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Professional Carwashing & Detailing editorial team.