I grew up with Buck Rogers, Dick Tracy and a host of comic-book heroes. Yes, I’m at that age when old dogs have to learn new tricks. Remember wrist radios, space ships, transporters and a lot of other imagined futuristic inventions? Who would have thought that many of those goodies would actually come to be? We are living in a time when information is available as fast as you can log on, dial up or say “Jiminy Crickets.”
Car-wash owners/operators are just seeing the benefits of all this technology. Now we can get credit reports, gather information on competition, do our banking, download industry data, visit car-wash chat rooms, and investigate and educate at the touch of a button. No longer are we making decisions purely on instinct—now we can get the facts. Facts are our friends, so use them wisely.
The Advent of Technology
My partners and I recently decided to purchase another car wash, using the Small Business Administration loan program for the project. No sooner had we typed www.sba.gov into our browser than we had all the information we needed regarding the requirements of a successful loan application. In addition, we found helpful hints on business plans, marketing plans, general accounting, and the types of business entities to consider when setting up a company. What we did in minutes might have taken weeks in the “olden days.”
Probably the greatest aid to business owners in the new era has been the advent of the PC and some really terrific software programs. It wasn’t that long ago the majority of us considered financial reports to be one of the true mysteries of business. Sure, we all knew how to make ledger entries, mark down receipts and account for expenses. In general, we had a handle on our businesses; and when our bookkeeper turned our records over to our “accountant,” we (hopefully) learned how much or little we made. Of course, the challenge was taking corrective action, when necessary, in a timely fashion.
Thank goodness times have changed. The technology and information systems available today are terrific. For example, my partners and I are multi-site operators, and our car washes are a minimum of 35 miles apart. It’s difficult to get to every site in a day, so we hired a firm that will enable us to oversee sales, security, labor, profit and loss, maintenance, inventory, customer service and much more—all via the Internet. We can even look at critical information on our PDA, cell phone or laptop. It’s great to be actively engaged with our business at all times. Now we are armed with the facts that enable us to maximize our operations.
Time Is Money
The cost for these technological wonders isn’t small; but cost happens once, and value is forever. In addition to keeping informed, we are now able to respond to any situation quickly. For example, when you apply for a loan, the bank asks for all the usual data, plus it wants to know how you oversee your business. You can now instantly produce current financials—and I don’t mean from last month or last quarter, but current as of yesterday. Oh, and while you’re at it, you show the bank via your phone what is going on with your business right now. You request an operations report, and zip! There it is. That clearly demonstrates how in touch you are with your business.
Banks are nervous when it comes to single-purpose buildings (i.e., car washes) and cash businesses. Show the bank the grasp you have on operations and cash management; mix that with your ability to produce quick, accurate financials; and go to the head of the class. Bankers and business partners want to know you are in control and knowledgeable. To whom would you loan money? The guys with up-to-date information or the group working off last quarter’s or last year’s numbers?
Armed With the Facts
Now that you have instant information and a good handle on day-to-day operations, what about top-line revenue or investments in equipment, chemicals or services? These days, many car-wash manufacturers offer software programs that track in uptime as well as provide a marketing venue. If you’re getting ready to invest in new hardware, isn’t it important to know the uptime and cost of the old equipment? You bet.
Now when you have that conversation with your supplier, you’re armed with facts. You download all the service and uptime statistics, match this with invoices, initial cost and current value, and voila! You have an approximate cost of ownership. It’s this kind of valuable management information that will allow the technology to pay for itself.
As to the marketing and sales systems available, there are lots of companies with clever solutions to about any challenge or desire. I suggest you use the web, do your initial screening, and then set up a time for providers to demonstrate how they can make your life simpler and more profitable by giving with the facts.
Fred Grauer is the vice president, distributor network, for MarkVII Equipment LLC, a car-wash equipment manufacturer in Arvada, Colo. He has made a lifelong career of designing, selling, building and operating car washes. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.