Business is slow. Cash flow is a concern. It’s no surprise that summer is a slow season for many washes and most operators have planned for it. What they may not have planned are critical activities that can shorten the length of the summer season and return the wash to peak volume faster.
Conventional wisdom has most operators using this time to prepare the wash for the busier fall and winter months. But if that is all you’re doing, you’re missing the boat. In addition to preparing for summer, there is an affordable promotional plan operators use effectively to keep their best customers glued to their business during the slow season.
Don’t Let Customers Leave Without a Reason to Return
We are all creatures of habit. Most people will grab a cup of coffee from the same location each morning. Guilty as charged! (I use my Starbucks card anxiously awaiting my free drink of choice) Listen to the same few radio stations. Run the same errands at the same intervals most weekends. The problem with the summer season for the car wash is that it disrupts your customer’s routines. Driving patterns are changed once the kids are out of school. Vacations eat into both time and disposable income. In most climates, cars stay cleaner longer.
Customers are more inclined to wash their cars themselves. The results are lower wash volumes, but that’s not all. The summer season threatens to break the routine of your top customers. Returning from vacation they may pull into a competitor’s car wash that’s “on the way.” This is a risk you can’t afford to take. You must do everything in your power to maintain your customer’s habit of visiting your wash.
The basic goal is that no customer can leave your property without a reason for his next visit. Many operators find success with these types of promotions year round, and nearly every operator should consider them a few weeks prior to and throughout the slow season. The first approach is to sell a second wash. Simply approach each customer after the wash and ask if they were satisfied with the service. If not, make it right. If yes, ask them if they’d like to pre-purchase a voucher for the same wash at a discount to use on their next visit, thus locking them into coming back. Modern POS systems can automate this function, going so far as to ask for and sell the second wash at the pay station. While some operators may not want to invest in pay stations or greeters to sell a second wash, few can argue against the next practice: a single-page summer coupon flyer. This is as easy as typing up a document on your computer and printing off copies at your local office store. Clearly indicate that it’s a summer-only promotion with an expiration date. If you offer detailing services, you may want to include a discounted exterior wax to protect from the sun. Most important, however, is to include a series of discounts off your most popular packages to keep your loyal customers in the habit of frequenting your wash until the season is over.
Most washes seem to prepare for their busy season right before it starts. It seems to make sense, but not when you look at it closely. Going back to the previous concept of keeping your best customers loyal to your wash when their routines are disrupted, it goes without saying that you have to deliver your absolute best service during the slowest season. Many items in the wash are automatically replaced either once or twice a year as a matter of habit — nozzles being a prime example. Sure, there are operators who carefully measure wear and replace only as necessary. The majority, however, will perform these maintenance routines at set times, commonly before a busy season, to ensure their best wash quality and reduce potential downtime. By performing scheduled maintenance at the beginning of your slow season, you make sure you deliver your best customers your best product, with plenty of life on wearable items left to get you through your next peak season. There is another benefit of scheduling preventive maintenance during the slow days of summer. Whether it’s changing oil and belts, or more complicated jobs such as servicing your RO systems, and other water management systems, these jobs are easier to do and train on when things are slow.
Often when we develop training programs, the focus is to help staff do their job better or more efficiently. During slow seasons, this isn’t enough. Cashiers, greeters, detailers, maintenance, no matter what positions you have at your location, bring all of your staff up to speed in as many areas as possible. Cross training your most talented employees will provide you greater flexibility in scheduling to get through the summer months. Also, look for opportunities for your core staff to assume new tasks and roles to grow your business.
One of the best ways to maximize productivity during slow seasons is to schedule facility maintenance during this time. Each week make a list of maintenance tasks to be completed and assign employees to each task.
Scheduling facility maintenance during your slow period demands careful planning. When business is off, and money is tight, if you haven’t previously set aside the funds for facility maintenance, you’ll struggle to make the most of your labor. Plan accordingly. The curb appeal of your wash can differentiate you from the competition, inspire trust from your customers, and increase your car counts. Brightly painted lines, power-washed concrete, and clean landscaping can deliver huge results. When business is slow, put your staff to work on improving the appearance of your property.
Most operators can make money washing cars in seasons when the skies are perfect. Unfortunately ours is an industry that demands planning and hard work to get through the volume spikes and slow periods that can be as unpredictable as the weather. Maximizing seasonal productivity can be accomplished by adhering to a predetermined schedule of advertising, training, maintenance, and staff management. As with most things, the harder you work, the luckier you’ll get.