Customer-centric suppliers “add value” in many ways to help operators build financially stronger businesses. Belanger’s far-sighted vision sees a growing partnership between valued-added suppliers, and the uncommonly successful operators who will actively seek them out.
1. Mike Perry: Given your experience in the industry, what do you know now that you wished you had known earlier about the carwash business?
Jimmy Belanger: I wish I would have known earlier that every carwash, regardless of brand, has a never ending punch list of repairs, adjustments and PM service items starting at grand opening and lasting the life of the wash. Why is that revelation important? It’s important because when the wash is well maintained and adjusted, equipment and chemicals, it becomes relatively easy to deliver the service promise of producing a clean, dry, shiny car safely and conveniently. That is easy to say but hard to do. Keeping the punch list less than 10 To Do’s requires discipline, technical skill and constant maintenance, and funding. Most operators, however, don’t even keep a punch list, let alone keep it less than ten items, so they struggle to keep their washes running properly. This lack of attention then erodes their customer base, and further dampens an operator’s enthusiasm for proper maintenance. When most operators get into the business, they just don’t realize the magnitude of the constant attention required to run a well maintained wash. That’s where a professional carwash service solutions and products company like ours comes into play. We help operators strive toward operational excellence by providing an array of professional maintenance and repair services. We do the heavy lifting for them on the maintenance and chemical side, so operators can work with their customer service team, fine tuning their customer’s experience.
2. Mike Perry: What has impressed or surprised you the most about the carwash industry the past five years?
Jimmy Belanger: I have been very impressed by operators who found ways to grow their revenue and expand their retail footprint despite the negative banking environment and the dismal economy. It really says a lot about the entrepreneurial energy of our top operators. They attacked all aspects of their business during the last five years to improve their situation rather than sitting on their hands. Of particular note are those operators who reinvented their business, converting to another format, a risky move even during good times. A number of our customers, for instance, who were operating dying c-store rollovers or self-serve combination washes transformed them into rollover mini-express washes or mini-express tunnels that greatly rejuvenated their revenues, and positioned them for many more years of continued service to their communities. It really was evolve, change, or die. We have been very fortunate to serve a group of dynamic, engaged operators who have allowed us to help them achieve pretty staggering growth while their competitors have been idle or going backwards.
3. Mike Perry: Can you talk about the training process of your service technicians?With your large install base, this has to be a huge part of your continued success.
Jimmy Belanger: You’re right, recruiting, hiring and training technicians is a huge deal for us. Providing onsite, professional technical services is the primary value proposition we offer our customers. Getting into position to deliver these services is expensive, and because we service all major brands and types of equipment, the effort becomes very complex. To date, we have been training the technicians using a combination of traditional methods; OEM factory training, certified National Carwash Solutions (NCS) trainers in the classroom and in the field, OEM sponsored field training, and field service supervisor mentoring during live service calls. We have about 50 technicians today with growth plans to add 50 more in the next two years. To accomplish this, we need a process to accelerate technical skill acquisition and more importantly provide comprehensive hands on learning – nothing beats hands on for techs. We are implementing a major initiative this summer with the opening of a National Carwash Training Center (NTC) at our regional office in Knoxville. Working in close cooperation with our key vendors, we have equipped a complete carwash backroom representing all of the key components from tunnels, rollovers, and in bays including a myriad of chemical dispensing systems, controllers, an array of commonly found sensors and motor control devices, water treatment systems, pump stations, a number of auto pay kiosks, a handful of rollover and in bay heads or major sub assemblies, etc; all live and functioning to shorten the year-long tech training cycle by 6 months. I think this will be the most complete, multi-brand live training center in the country and maybe the first of its kind in our industry. We are pretty excited about it.
4. Mike Perry: What role do you think suppliers can play in the success of any wash?
Jimmy Belanger: We do five things for customers that will help every wash be more successful:
1. Share application expertise ― real world application expertise is really valuable because despite their best efforts, OEMs are mostly theoretical about applying their own products; OEMs simply do not have enough field experience. Ironically, companies like ours know more about the real world application of products than the OEMs. We work on all brands every day in the field, solving real world application and performance challenges. We truly know what works best and we share that expertise with our customers. That represents real value and helps operators better achieve their objectives.
2. Offer onsite maintenance and repair – as mentioned above, we do the heavy lifting for our customers regarding maintenance and repairs, so they can focus on customer experience and revenue. Making the change from cost-centric to customer-centric in this way can substantially increase ROI.
3. Offer professional chemical service ―when given the opportunity to help customers enhance their wash quality we find that operators, almost invariably, are running their chemicals too rich or too lean, at the wrong pH, in the wrong sequence or out of balance. When using our professional chemical service, we save customers 14 percent on average while improving wash quality and customer experience.
4. Provide brand neutral equipment consulting – most equipment suppliers offer only a single line of equipment so one size fits all. With access to most top brands, we offer “brand neutral” customer centric equipment solutions based on need, fit and budgets. Our unbiased advice reflects our expertise from servicing all of the different brands. We advocate for our customer’s success, not a given brand of equipment. That is quite unique in the market.
5. Offer ongoing education – we have developed a number of operations and maintenance classes that provides our customers the opportunity for continuing education. The more informed our customers become through our investment in professional development, the more success they have in the carwash business. Their success drives our success, so we are actually investing in our company through them.
5. Mike Perry: Do any of your customers have one professionally trained person who is specifically tasked to increase carwash revenue?
Jimmy Belanger: Wow, what a loaded question. Let me answer it this way. We are seeing a very positive trend led by well run customer-centric companies. Market leaders are focusing their best talent on customer experience and building revenue. They are partnering with companies like ours to help them maintain machine and chemical availability, reliability and optimization, while they focus on new and better ways to satisfy customers. These companies are all at different places in this process, and we believe this bodes well for their future success ― their eye is on the right prize. Cost-centric organizations are struggling.
6. Mike Perry: What specific activities can operators do to increase their revenues?
Jimmy Belanger: Depending on the business format, operators have different options. The absolute no-brainer right now for any tunnel is the addition of a Hot Wax N Shine or Lava Type offering. There are different ways to go about it. Good suppliers, like us, have empirical data on various configurations and offerings that work very well. Payback is typically within six months. However, every carwash can do the simple things relatively inexpensively, like refresh and renew their image. For example, hang vinyl wall covering and replace old lights with new lights ― your wash will look and feel new and bump your volume ― or change out stale signage, paint the exterior of the building, or even just plant flowers. Today's consumers seek complete experiences — a mix of need-based service, convenience, entertainment and value. Part of that experience is creating a nice looking place for the consumer to go for a wash.
Next month, in the second part of this insightful interview, Belanger talks about the emerging breakthroughs in the industry, discusses pricing issues to help operators become more profitable, and reveals the hidden reason for the outstanding success of National Carwash Solutions and its customers.
Jimmy Belanger can be reached [email protected]
National Carwash Solutions is based in Cranberry Township, Pennsylvania, and services a 14 state area. NCS has a dedicated and professional staff of 80 employees, and four regional offices in Ohio, Tennessee, North Carolina and Virginia. Hank Richards is the founder and President and has more than 20 years of outstanding service and impressive growth in the carwash industry. For more information, visit www.nationalcarwashsolutions.com.