What carwash operators can learn from Big Box Retail

The most difficult question that a business owner will ask themselves is, "how to do more on less?". The stark reality is that business owners, distributors, and manufacturers in every industry are seeing rising costs amidst lower profits. Businesses are expected to do the same job with less manpower for less money. Where did we go wrong? What could business owners have possibly done to have future-proofed their business?

I'm afraid to say that business owners, especially carwash operators have seen the writing on the wall for some time now, it's just been easier to look the other way. When times were 'good' it was hard to justify making potentially costly investments into the business with "things were already working"… Every business will change several times during their lifespan - the only difference is whether the decision to change was out of foresight or hindsight. The reason why big companies always seem to be reinventing themselves is because they have spent millions on research to identify that consumers change far more often than our businesses do. Did you know that big box retail and restaurants have "test markets" all over the country that try new business models, menu items, store layouts, and different promotional programs? They've done a LOT of the work for us and most small business owners have not realized this.

Here are some things we should learn from the big businesses that change with the times (aka. big box)

Customers time is valuable: Like we haven't know this before right? But notice all of the stores with express check out lanes? Do you realize that you can buy just about anything without cash these days? Have you noticed that pharmacies are not even built without a drive-up window anymore?

Takeaway: Some businesses are finding creative ways to make the experience of a carwash quick and easy. They offer express lanes, express detail, cashless payment acceptance, extended hours of operation, express payment terminals, and many more.

Manufacturer and distributors partner with their customers: Walk into any Best Buy and you'll quickly realize that it's not just blue-shirt employees in the store. They have an Apple representative, a Verizon / AT&T / Sprint / T-Mobile representative, Sony Reps, etc. They are all their to support the staff with expert training and help the customers answer their specific questions about complex products. Even smaller stores receive monthly training from their manufacturer and distributor representatives on how to effectively market and understand the various product offerings.

Takeaway: You should be working with companies that can provide you with assistance, training, marketing advice, and consulting. Distributors and Manufacturers should be reaching out to their end users and finding out how they can help make them successful. Send them to trade shows, hold educational sessions, send somebody out for an onsite visit, help them put together a marketing plan.

Customers can pay any way they want: This will come across as a shameless plug but just realize that every fast food business, gas station, retail business, and oil change lube shop all accepts credit cards in addition to cash. Why is it that two-thirds of operators still are a cash-only business?

Takeaway: If your not taking credit cards everywhere on your location you've already missed the boat. Your playing catch-up with your competition and if the other car washes in your area are not yet taking credit card as a form of payment on all of your services your lucky. You have an opportunity to capitalize on this customer expectation and reap the benefits.

Other things ‘Big Box’ has done to survive;

Smart Hiring and Firing: This is the wakeup call that has businesses evaluating their staff and replacing underperforming staff with highly qualified individuals from the ranks of the unemployed. Do regular staff performance evaluations, document issues like time theft, showing up late, customer complaints, and have your ‘case’ built if you have an employee that you would like to replace. This keeps you safe from expensive unemployment claims.

Create financial transparency with the staff: Management never likes letting employees know how much money the business is really making. But it’s now proven that staff that knows the real financial stakes creates a greater sense of inclusivity. Employees work harder and feel that they are part of the solution, not just another problem. If employees know that your business is in trouble perhaps they will work harder to keep things afloat (and keep the jobs they all count on!).

Try new things: Big Box realizes that if what they are doing now isn’t working it’s time to shake things up and do something new. So for your wash business perhaps it’s time to investigate that unlimited wash program, that fleet marketing program, or courting the local fundraiser and charity groups. You never know what the ‘next big thing’ will be in your area until you’ve tried it.

What do you think our industry can learn about what Big Box Retail is doing? How can we apply it to our small businesses?

Posted on December 17, 2009 and filed under Editorial, Industry Talk.