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Operations and Management

The Trees or the Forest?

Focusing on numbers can distract operators from what is truly important to the profitability of their business.

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Focusing on numbers can distract operators from what is truly important to the profitability of their business. Car counts, labor, revenue per car, downtime, chemical costs, maintenance and other operating costs are factors an operator deals with everyday. All of these important factors, and the numbers relating to them, can contribute to the success or failure of a business. Concentrating on them, making adjustments and looking at ways to increase profit and decrease expenses are good business.

At times, however, operators need to pull their heads out of the numbers and look at their operation. They need to look at what customers see as they access and experience the wash and its employees. Putting emphasis on looking at your car wash through the eyes of your customers, concentrating on the value you provide them and seeking out opportunities to develop a more efficient, and yes, a more profitable operation. This approach can compliment your efforts in the numbers game.

Setting higher expectations at your wash for you and your employees is the first step in finding opportunities to improve your numbers and the consumer experience. This all comes from a plan that is centered on finding three of your “weakest links” and addressing them one at a time over the following few weeks. Taking the time to experience your wash as your customers do should help you identify areas to improve. It might be fixing a leak or cleaning the walls of the bay. It could be improving the lighting or upgrading your landscaping. These are easy to identify and solve. Once you solve your first three, pick three more and address them as well. Other opportunities may be harder to find. Here’s an example:


After a busy Saturday, as you are looking at your numbers, you are surprised to see a lower number of washes than you expected. There were long lines all day long. Why did we wash fewer cars than on a day with no lines?

We all like strong steady traffic at the wash, but when lines form we risk customers not wanting to wait causing them to drive off. Without evaluating the cause of the line and by assuming nothing can be done to fix it, we are basically turning customers away. This is not good for business. By making the effort to find the cause of a negative issue, we may be able to discover an opportunity to improve it.

Careful analysis of your wash process will help you to find ways to increase throughput. Depending on your type of wash there are questions you should ask. Are your pretreatments taking too long? Can you add an attendant to speed up the process? Are the dwell times too long? Can they be shortened without compromising results? Are your chain speeds too slow? Can you speed it up without causing rewashes?

Is your equipment running at top level performance? Are your employees properly trained? Are they working “smart”? Are you properly staffed during peak periods? Are you utilizing marketing to encourage washes at off peak times?


Questions like these can help you to make improvements that will end the long lines, improve the consumer experience and raise your wash counts. Make sure to take a look at your competition to see what they are doing as well. They may have experienced a similar situation and developed a plan to improve. Leveraging best practices are a great way to keep your business strong.

Everyone would agree that the numbers are important to your business but we should not lose sight of the forest because we are focused on the trees. The bottom line is treating your customers well and ensuring they are enjoying a great experience that is convenient and will bring them back again and again.

Next Month: Listening to Your Customers

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