Successfully Managing Commercial Fleet Business

Car wash operators that are seeking to improve their wash and bring consistency to their cash flow should consider approaching local businesses and making arrangements to wash their company vehicles.  The greatest challenge is that many car wash owners overlook the vast number of company vehicles in their community. Most car wash owners disregard commercial fleet accounts because it can seem a bit overwhelming and without the right tools it can be a lot of work. The good news is that with the proper tools and armed with the right information, catering to commercial businesses in your community is far less difficult that you might think.

Why Commercial Fleet?

Commercial fleet business is perhaps one of the most reliable sources of regular vehicle washing for successful car wash businesses today. Most companies with fleet vehicles have strict policies on keeping their vehicles clean both inside and out and must adhere to local environmental guidelines. Drivers of these company and municipal vehicles that do not have car washing facilities of their own will use professional car wash facilities within their community. The average commercial vehicle is washed at least three times a month! Some of the larger vehicles, especially those that work around fertilizers, chemicals, and on industrial sites are required to be washed daily due to environmental regulations.

There are many wash businesses that have found it easier to sell the services of their wash to a single business owner that represents multiple vehicles than it is to reach out to each individual consumer that makes up customers from the public sector. If you can cater to the needs of the businesses owners in your community your wash will never have a slow month again.

Succeed Where Others Have Failed

There are many car wash operators that claim to have gone after commercial fleet business in the past and failed. The reason why those efforts failed is because without addressing the biggest problems of these business owners the negotiations will always come down to discounts. Once you make the conversation about price you have failed in differentiating your wash from a competitors other than whether they are willing to discount more than you.

You can be highly successful with fleet business and avoid discussions about discounts all together if you can address the number one fear of every business owner which is that their employees are stealing washes from them. Business owners with commercial vehicles are forced to either reimburse their employees or distribute untraceable coupons or tokens to their employees. There is nothing about coupons or tokens that provides the level of accountability that business owners can truly feel comfortable with. By finding a way to provide the accountability that business owners desire you will enjoy the same levels of success that many highly profitable car wash operators enjoy due to their commercial fleet business revenues.

How to Manage Fleet Business and Create Accountability

The only way to give business customers the level of accountability that can earn you their business is by having some way to track every employee wash transaction. Tracking systems range from low-tech paper logs to software solutions that make use  fleet cards or proximity passes with automatic reporting and online account access.

The most successful car wash operators find that the key to successfully managing all of the details of a commercial fleet operation lies in using technology to automate the busy work of administration. Wash owners from around the country have reported drastic improvements in their commercial fleet business once they were able to provide a detailed invoice to their fleet customers with complete wash transaction data.

Success Story

A car wash operator from the midwest recounted a story about how his fleet business grew to over 80% of his annual wash revenue after he made an investment in a fleet card system and replaced his token sales. Robert was well known in his small town community since he owned his four-bay self service carwash with a single in-bay automatic for close to ten years. Back when Robert pre-sold tokens to businesses he would make his rounds to the ten businesses in town that purchased tokens from him on the first week of every month. Robert recounted that he had a landscaping company that would purchase $60 worth of tokens for $50 every month from their petty cash. The owner of the landscaping company would then distribute the tokens amongst his six drivers. The owner had made several complaints in the past that he was certain his drivers were skimming tokens and used them to wash their personal vehicles on the weekends. There really was very little that either the car wash OR the business owner could do about it. Token sales fail to give businesses the accountability that they want. Robert claims that many of the businesses in town turned down token sales for that very reason. Business owners would either mention that they couldn't trust their employees with the tokens or that the business owner did not like the idea of tying up funds by pre-buying tokens each month.

Robert did some research and found a company that specialized in adding cashless payment systems to existing car wash equipment. He bought the hardware and software that allowed him to retrofit all of his bays, vacuums, and his old automatic entry unit to use a proprietary card to active the wash. Robert had created customized cards with a photo of his wash location, his company logo, his website address, and contact information on the back. That next month after Robert got his cards back from the printer he decided to approach his ten commercial business customers about his fleet card program. Robert had no idea how popular his fleet card program would be in his community and over time it changed his entire wash business.

Robert arrived at the landscaping company and was greeted by the company receptionist who cheerfully started pulling out the usual $50 dollars in petty cash to buy their usual allotment of tokens. When Robert explained to the receptionist that it would not be necessary to pay now, she had no idea how to react. She called the owner of the company out to the receptionists desk and it was then Robert took out the fleet cards he had pre-programmed for them and placed them on the desk that things became clear. He explained that each card was to be given to each driver and that his software at the wash would track every single wash made by the landscapers. Robert pulled out an example invoice that showed how every wash made by an employee would be recorded and displayed on a monthly invoice. Robert pulled out a notecard with a login and password written down on it along with a website address. From the website the fleet account owner would have "online banking" style access to his entire company account. This way he could monitor all employee activity, set monthly spending limits, set price limits, pay his monthly invoice online with the company credit card, and even limit when the fleet cards would work. The owner of the company was amazed and excited to hear that he no longer had to hand out cash or tokens to his employees. He also now had the ability to limit employee card use to company business hours. His fear of his employees washing their personal vehicles on the weekend was completely gone thanks to Roger's new fleet card solution.

Roger received equally positive feedback from his other fleet accounts when he continued his rounds that week and issued the cards to his other customers. One of the best things that came out of eliminating pre-sales was that with all of the added value that a card system brings to the bargaining table wash owners did not haggle over discounts. More surprising was that Roger had an average +300% increase in spending by those fleet accounts because they were no longer limited in how many times or how long they could wash based on the number of tokens in their pocket. Roger believes that the reason tokens and paper coupons fail to hit the mark for commercial washing is that you effectively create an artificial ‘limit' to the amount of washing those customers can do based monthly pre-sales of tokens or coupons.

Roger pulls out a long printout from his fleet management software and points to the long list of commercial fleet accounts that he now has after only one full year of promoting the system to business owners in his community. He has customers that range from city motor-pool vehicles to the automotive dealerships from down the street. Roger indicates that he has customers with anywhere from a single vehicle to several hundred vehicles that wash far more frequently that your average consumer will wash their personal vehicle. Roger describes how his cash flow has lost most of the peaks and valleys that he experienced the first nine years he owned his wash due to the regularity that commercial fleet washing has brought. Since Roger implemented his fleet card program the drivers of commercial fleet vehicles became so used to using a card for activating the wash that close to 70% of the commercial fleet drivers purchased prepaid loyalty cards for washing their own personal vehicles.

Time is Money

A car wash owner that wants to become more successful has to find ways in which to duplicate their efforts, automate the busy work, and rely on the advice of experts to improve their chances at succeeding right out of the gates. Roger admits that he would never have had the ability to manage as many commercial accounts if he had to continue to make rounds to sell tokens and coupons for the automatic wash every month. Roger mentions that he only has to visit a customer to talk to them for the first time to sign them up for the fleet account and issue their first set of cards. The online interface that every customer has access to gives the fleet owner the ability to request additional cards, deactivate lost or stolen cards, and take care of the day to day administration without ever having to directly deal with the wash owner or wash employees. Roger uses the extra time that he has gained to focus on bringing on new commercial accounts, marketing his wash, and focusing on promoting his wash throughout his community.

Is Fleet Right for You?

By now you should have a good idea whether or not commercial fleet accounts are something your business is ready to take on. Some wash owners have no desire to leave their property in order to bring in new business. Other wash owners that recognize the cash flow potential of fleet business will hire employees to go out into the community and sell businesses on the value of signing up for a commercial fleet account. If you have found that token sales and paper coupons are not as profitable as you would like then perhaps it's time to try something new. Find a way to build-in additional value beyond the price of your wash and give commercial business owners the accountability that they are looking for, they will give you their business in return.

Happy Hunting.
Posted on March 7, 2008 and filed under Marketing.