What would you do with an unlimited budget?

Dear Venus and Mars,

If your budget was unlimited, what is the one thing you’d do immediately to your washes to make them more profitable?

Venus Says

My first impulsive answer was “automation.” I dream of everything being computerized and somewhat operated or maintained virtually. However, does that really improve profit or is it just making my life easier? Sure, it would drive up some profit as I would increase my price a bit to cover costs. And maybe through some strange automated marketing, customers may be persuaded to buy up. But, who am I really serving with automation? Mainly myself, and the customers to a smaller degree.

That led me to a choice that would draw in more customers. Without a doubt and considering that our goal is making a wash more profitable, curb appeal would be the best investment.

If I had more customers I would have more profit. Not only could I gain more customers, but I could turn more washes, using product faster and in more quantity, giving me bulk pricing. Plus, just seeing a busy wash makes people feel as though they need to wash too!

Thinking back to my days before carwash ownership when I cared little about washing a car gives me the ability to remember what the untouched non-carwash customer feels when it comes to a carwash. It seriously never ever crossed my mind to wash my own car. My father washed my car when he thought it needed it and by hand as there were no washes nearby. When I moved on to college, I still did not ever feel the need to wash my car.

I honestly never recall using a wash and definitely not an automatic during my early adult life. They were loud and I had flashbacks from the ‘70s of dark tunnels and soapy rags hitting against the station wagon and shaking the entire vehicle. Nope, I was never even going to use an automatic.

I was about 30 when I started to wash my car in the automatic that was located next to my dentist’s office. It was just convenience and for some reason it made me want to wash. My husband liked clean cars and I was very proud that first time I used it. I remember lining up my car perfectly and once I entered I noticed there was a sign to tell me when to stop. Keep in mind that a new customer may even be unsure of where to enter your wash.

When driving down the road, a property that is neatly and freshly landscaped attracts a second glance. I am thinking maybe fresh paint, a new roof and cleaner and brighter signage. More lighting and putting lights in different areas to draw focus but make a big difference too. I would look at the parking lot to see if a new coating of asphalt or just sealer would be the best way to freshen up the area. I would also look to redesign the parking area with arrows and add more signage on how to enter the bays. Flowers that are in bloom when possible along with heavy mulching and small trees would also enhance the look much like it does to a home.

So, you have to get me to want to wash my car. That starts by getting my attention so I notice all of the washing others are doing. If I see someone else do it, I might think about my own and realize I am dirty. I also have to feel like I can easily wash the car myself with proper identification of entrances and signage. But when I go by a place and it looks nice, I might look for a few more seconds and see that busy wash. It might be a wavy flag I have never seen before that gets peaks my curiosity.

And that automatic that I first used all by myself, well, after about a total of maybe 15 uses, a strange opportunity presented itself and Mike and I bought it along with a couple others. Who would have thought?


Mars Says

This is a great question and so many things come to mind. It is hard to pinpoint one single thing. There is, of course, always-new equipment desires or making the place greener. If it were possible to clone myself so I wouldn’t have to be there, for certain that would be my choice. Since cloning is currently not possible I will have to think of something else.

In the carwash business for most of us labor is our biggest expense.  I myself operate two full service washes. We are always looking for ways to cut down on our labor expense to increase our bottom line. Of course, we look to do this without taking away from the quality of the wash we put out.

Currently, our highest costing employees are sales greeters and cashiers. If I could effectively eliminate these positions I feel I can be more profitable and offer faster, more convenient transactions to my customers. At present, I pay a sales greeter a salary and a commission to upsell on washes. I also pay a cashier a salary to collect money and a commission to sell prepaid washes and unlimited plans. With only one of each of these positions throughput is often limited on busy days. In addition, time available to upsell can be at a minimum when it gets busy.

Motivating employees to upsell can be a challenge as well. Despite aggressive sales incentives employees can become complacent or lazy.  Maybe they are having a bad day or are tired and sales are down as a result. When this happens not only are their commissions down but also profits.

With the increasing costs of labor nationwide, I believe automation is going to become more and more common. When fast food chains are forced to pay their employees between $15 and $20 per hour they are going to be faced with the decision of having to raise prices or replace employees. The technology is there to have computers or POS systems replace people taking orders and money at these establishments. We already see it in the big box stores like Home Depot, Lowe’s, and in supermarket’s, for example.

With that being said, I would take my unlimited budget and build out a three-station automated greeter station to take orders at my full-service location. Inside in the lobby area I would put three self-pay cashier stations. The customer would bring their barcoded ticket that was given to them at the greeter station; scan it at the self-pay station and pay. In addition, they can pay for air fresheners or other items that are for sale in the lobby area. As a result, I feel profits will increase through reduced labor, faster throughput and increased sales from a greeter that never has a bad day and doesn’t tire.

As mentioned earlier, this technology is becoming more and more common and will continue to pop up in unexpected places. Our customers are becoming more tech savvy and used to the ever-changing retail environment.

Venus and Mars, aka Heather Ashley and Paul Vallario, are carwash industry veterans. Heather is the President of the Mid-Atlantic Carwash Association. She is also a co-owner of Virginia Car Wash Industries, Inc. in Toms Brook, VA. Paul Vallario operates Westbury Personal Touch Car Wash in Westbury, NY, and is the President of Urban Avenue Carwash Distributors and Consulting. He is a board member of the New York State Car Wash Association.

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