Down to the Nitty Gritty

Pete Altringer Comments
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Thirty-four years ago, when I started as an agent with a large mutual-insurance company, the “secret to success” was indeed the mystery. I was told it was the law of large numbers. If you made 100 sales a year, you could not fail. One hundred seemed like a lot, but when my general manager broke it down to two sales per week, it seemed much more attainable.

He further explained only one in four people would buy from me, since I was just starting out; so to get my two sales, I needed eight face-to-face appointments per week. To get one appointment, I needed about 20 contacts or phone calls. So I had to dial the phone 160 times to get the eight appointments I needed to make two sales. Being a farm kid from North Dakota selling insurance in the Philadelphia market, I didn’t know any better, and that’s exactly what I did.

Within a very short time, I was asked by other agents, “What’s the secret?” These guys attended countless hours of training classes and endless seminars, yet only one of 10 was financially successful. Why? Because they didn’t take initiative and do what was necessary. They weren’t willing to pay the price.

Is there a secret to having a successful car wash? Every business starts with a good location. Then you have to hire the right people and train them well. Next, you have to install the right equipment and find the best chemicals to clean customers’ cars and provide a superior product. You must also provide customers a positive, welcoming experience—an immaculate site and lobby and friendly, enthusiastic employees. Most important is consistency, day in and day out. This might win you loyal, repeat customers.

This advice is an over-simplification, but it’s a start. So let’s take a look at each of these areas and how successful car washes approach them.

The Importance of Hiring

At successful locations, owners spend significant time finding good managers. They they invest even more time and money training them to do the things necessary to be successful. If they can’t get training done in-house, they are not afraid to hire an industry consultant to school managers properly. Once managers are trained, the next challenge is to hire a good crew and coach them equally as well. It doesn’t stop there, as good employees are always learning new things.

Less-than-successful car washes are lucky to have a manager. If they do, he generally is neither well-trained nor interested in doing what it takes to be profitable. This bad attitude carries through to underling employees.

Buying the Right Equipment

When it comes to equipment, successful car washes are constantly striving to give customers the best. They are always in some state of upgrading or improvement. They look for ways to wash cars better and faster to improve their labor costs. At unsuccessful locations, the equipment is often dirty, run down or not working at all. Is there really any question as to who will turn out a shiny, clean car and get customers to return?

Site Presentation

On to one of my favorite topics: maintaining site cleanliness and creating a pleasant wash experience. There will always be operators who succeed in spite of themselves; but most customers prefer to take their cars to a nice, clean, bright, attractive car wash, a place where they can use the bathroom without revulsion and the windows and floors sparkle.

Customers would like to think car-wash operators really care when they turn over their prides and joys to be cleaned. When they see their cars coming down the conveyor in a bright, clean, attractive tunnel, it helps reinforce their thinking about the kind of a job being done and whether they’re getting what they paid for. Again, successful car washes provide this experience consistently and the others don’t.

The secret to success is there is no secret. The car-wash business is very entrepreneurial —it’s up to you. If you want to be average, you can be. If you want to be the best, you can be that, too. All the information you need to succeed is out there, whether in trade magazines, conventions or industry consultants. The real question is, what will you do with it?

Pete Altringer is owner of Main Line Autowash in Strafford, Pa. He can be reached via e-mail at mlawp@aol.com.

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