You have all heard the comment, “When times are tough, the tough get going.” General best practices for management would tell us that in times like this the safe strategy is to hunker down, stay close to the business and pray to survive. It’s not exactly a formula for successful remote management, though, or is it?
Finding Your Inner Tiger
During lean, tough times, business owners generally fall into three categories, characterized by animal traits:
- The ostrich—keeps his head in the sand, in denial, and is usually the first to perish.
- The turtle—is slow moving, inflexible, taking limited action while expecting the storm to pass and things to naturally return to normal.
- The tiger—continually planning, stalking, executing and staying proactive. These are the natural tough guys, born to prosper, no matter the odds.
The tiger image recalls the old adage: “In every seed of adversity there is an equal or greater seed of opportunity.” If you fit the tiger mold, you look at tough times as an opportunity. The tiger says, “My competitors are turtles or ostriches. They aren’t going to look for opportunities; they don’t have the tools or the skills to capitalize. So, it is time for me to plan, invest and execute!”
As the planning process evolves, the tiger identifies opportunities, explores weaknesses within the market, evaluates the competitors and, most important, themselves. From this investigation, goals and objectives come to the forefront. Reflection conjures up the development of strategies, assignments and accountability.
The carwash business is facing tough times with shrinking revenues, growing expenses and, for most, reduced frequency of customer purchases. The customer’s access, size and priority usage of expendable income has become smaller and more precious. The competition for an ever-decreasing pie has become increasingly more challenging. So how do you respond?
All Systems Go
Management “systems” and information technology is a relative newcomer to the carwash industry. Of course we’ve all had rudimentary mechanical systems to count cars, energize equipment and provide some management information, but systems were, by today’s standard, primitive, expensive and not terribly reliable or necessary. Most operators were “hands on” and didn’t see the value of sophisticated systems.
Thanks to the government, particularly those branches involved in sophisticated accounting, surveillance and spyware, the private sector has benefited from the trickle-down effect. The ability to manage single and multiple sites has never become more feasible.
The ability and need to identify, categorize and target specific customers has led to a new breed of marketing, sales and management organization. No longer is your core equipment manufacturer your most important supplier. Now, it’s the “IT” guy, formally the nerds, who come to the forefront and show how to capture, utilize and provide a competitive advantage.
Thanks to the Internet, Windows-based systems, Apple and other core-system developers, business owners can avail themselves to a plethora of technology and information that enable management to “hopefully” operate smarter and more efficiently. The hopeful part refers to the old adage of “garbage in, garbage out.” Is there too much information? Can you use it? And what’s the benefit to the
The newest generation of technology and software adds a whole new twist to the carwash industry. Today’s systems have been developed with specific applications in mind. System provider’s work in concert with operators, trying to meld programs with the industry instead of the other way around.
The focus is now on efficiency: How can you maximize resources, minimize investment and positively impact the bottom line? The more control we put into credit card clearing, labor, cash and inventory control, the easier it is to keep track of the bottom line. Add the ability to integrate this into a user-friendly accounting package and voila ... life becomes a whole lot easier.
Most successful operators are looking to expand (or are doing so already) to multiple locations, doing it ever-so gracefully with technology. Of course, technology cannot replace engaged management, but today’s systems do make it easier to operate more efficiently.
Consolidation of resources increases the opportunity for greater margins. Fortunately, technology has become affordable and far easier for the small-business owner to acquire. Put it to the test. Just don’t forget to keep your human touch involved in the business whenever possible. Technology can make systems smoother, but it can never replace the smile and courtesy of onsite management.
Fred Grauer is the president of Grauer Associates. He has made a lifelong career of designing, selling, building and operating carwashes. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.