Full Service Is Dead. Hello, Flex-Service
By Steve Okun
As carwashing has become increasingly sophisticated, computerized systems have revealed an unmistakable correlation between full-service labor costs and the actual overhead of traditional full-service vacuuming and window cleaning. The tasks that distinguish full service cost far more than originally realized. Their drain on full-service profitability has become disproportionate, essentially taking the gains from sales of extra services to shore up the cost of labor.
There is a more effective way to operate--"flex-service." Your customers will prefer it, and you will too.
For the customer it means the ability to continuously enjoy the quick, hassle-free convenience of a quality wash. It also means being able to enjoy the added flexibility of choosing high-value, as-needed services that best suit their schedule.
For the carwash operator it means the ability to better train and manage labor, increase overall revenues and retain more customers.
For the multiple profit center operator it provides an enhanced ability to maintain cross-trained staff with an exceptionally well focused customer retention plan that utilizes advanced relationship marketing techniques.
A misguided focus
Ask most carwash managers what their highest priority is and you may be surprised to find their focus on the vehicle instead of its driver. By focusing on the vehicle, we view only the process results. Get the vehicle in, get it done, and get it out. When the vehicle is clean many believe that accomplishment alone should justify the customer's visit and eventual return. Maybe.
Consumers have repeatedly indicated through surveys and focus groups their prioritized demand for convenience and value. Accordingly, automotive appearance-care services need to be convenient, quick but not slipshod, quality-consistent, high value, honest and genuine.
Although the consumer desire is for prompt, quality service that offers solid value, service providers must take the time to reflect thoughtful appreciation for business given. Essentially, provide exemplary service promptly, and genuinely thank each customer for their support. After all, the desire to return rests with the driver not the vehicle.
Research suggests that much of the volume not enjoyed by traditional full-service washes actually goes to supplemental outside-only washing elsewhere. Our studies confirm that consumers would rather have a sensible, value-priced alternative for exterior washing when inside cleaning really isn't merited. Most full-service washes unknowingly force their customers to go elsewhere, either due to convenience or value.
Statistical studies run by the International Carwash Association along with various trade publications and market research groups confirm that few customers actually use their full-service washes exclusively. Instead, they have someone (even themselves) wash the outside of the vehicle in between full-service visits.
Furthermore, research findings resulting from numerous focus groups strongly suggest only a weak correlation between full-service washing and convincingly perceived consumer value.
Supporting that data is growing in-bay automatic carwash activity at major oil company fuel stops. Although this venue may not be the first choice of many, their resulting purchases are driven by convenience.
By offering a quick, convenient, no-frills alternative for exterior washing, many gasoline suppliers have not only increased fuel sales but carwash revenues too. Remember that not too long ago these same companies were giving the wash away free as an incentive to purchase fuel. Now many of these major oil companies have discovered strong revenues by merely filling the void in convenient carwashing that is prevalent nationwide.
Segregated wash services
The flex-service operating system segregates the washing process from everything else, offering quick, convenient, unimpeded exterior washing in seconds, not minutes. Flex-service enables customers to quickly wash their vehicles without leaving the comfort and safety of their vehicle or having to leave their valuables unattended inside the car.
If customers choose to have interior cleaning or any of the myriad of other express services offered, they proceed to the express after-care area upon completing their wash. After-care services refer to all services requiring labor. This specifically relates to manual tasks like window cleaning, air purging, vacuuming, waxing and shampooing. If it takes a pair of trained hands, it happens exclusively in express after-care.
The separation of exterior washing from a full-service option after the wash is not a new idea, however flex-service differs fundamentally by not offering a "full-service option." Instead, the after-care area is structured to offer the most popular services currently available at the best detail shops and deliver them in substantially less time.
The after-care area will ideally be a separate building, which includes a customer convenience area. It takes the place of the traditional full-service hallway. In multiple profit center operations, this convenience area provides common restroom facilities, sundry sales and lounge accommodations.
Every flex-service facility should also have self-serve vacuums and vending. Attention must be given to nighttime lighting requirements since self-serve business happens on a 24/7 basis, 365 days a year.
The after-care workspace is strategically designed and equipped for maximum ergonomic efficiency. It recognizes that effective "human engineering" yields substantial production increases and enhanced staff morale while at the same time noticeably reducing worker fatigue and quality slippage.
The technologically advanced design of the aftercare area contrasts with a traditional full-service finishing area. The contrast would be much like comparing a hospital emergency room to a first aid station at a school or amusement park--unmistakably like night and day. Why? When time makes all the difference in the world, it pays to have everything you need right where you need it. In this case, lost time and energy take an unacceptable toll in effective productivity.
Self-serve accommodations pertain to coin-op vended provisions available for customer purchase and use in a designated area. This specifically relates to items like self-serve vacuums, air fresheners and towels.
Flex-service does not require self-service washing facilities. However, they are acceptable if their addition doesn't compromise traffic flow.
Essential upgrades include a new concept called service activity cells (SACs). These two-member team-based work bays employ the latest technology integrated into an ergonomically-correct performance area.
Due to the enhanced design, these high-performance capabilities actually reduce labor problems and compress unit production time. By achieving considerably less fatigue for the staff, employee morale is enhanced and quality lapses are significantly reduced.
Retrofits are feasible
An obvious conclusion one might draw from the comparisons between full service and flex-service is that it would be far easier to convert an existing "exterior" carwash to flex-service than it would be to retrofit an existing full-service operation. Maybe, but not necessarily.
Most existing exterior operations lack the room required for flex-service. Scrunching things into a tight fitting layout will prove counterproductive if customers find it difficult to enter and leave the facility.
Full-service retrofits require that walkway pass-throughs are abandoned and the panorama of hallway window viewing of the tunnel also disappears. Innovative retrofit designs offer an exciting new footprint aimed at revitalizing the entire operation.
There is always genuine concern about building new facilities around an outmoded operating system. Nobody wants to build something that becomes obsolete seemingly before the paint dries. In this age of rapid technological obsolescence, it is increasingly important to carefully review and evaluate how you do and what you do.
Nearly all other retail establishments routinely refresh and upgrade their facilities. Now it is time for carwashers to take similar steps toward new profitability by re-inventing themselves while taking on a fresh new look. The refreshing change will rejuvenate our image and generate plenty of positive excitement.
Full Service Versus Flex-Service
Some comparisons and contrasts:
- Vacuuming is usually done at the beginning of the process
- Single sales process is conducted prior to vacuuming
- Customers exit their vehicle and return after washing is complete
- Drive-on staff load vehicle onto conveyor, prep and send through
- Customer views washing process from outside the vehicle, usually from a hallway
- Customer pays cashier for wash; considers sundry purchases
- Vehicle is driven off the conveyor by staff
- Vehicle is driven to kiss-off area where windows are cleaned and final wiping occurs
- Any off-line services previously purchased are also completed prior to vehicle return
- Quality control inspection
- Customer reclaims vehicle and exits.
- Vacuuming is not part of the washing process
- Primary sales transaction completed prior to conveyor loading; customer pays
- Customers remain in their vehicle; optional valet service available for those who refrain
- Customer controls the vehicle during conveyor loading
- Customer observes the washing process from inside the vehicle
- Customer exits the conveyor upon completion of exterior process and leaves
- Customer may visit coin-op self-serve pod
- Customer choosing off-line services proceeds to after-care area and exits vehicle at designated location
- Customer waits in convenience center
- Selected off-line services are performed with opportunity for upgrade purchasing
- Quality control inspection
- Customer reclaims promptly completed vehicle in express time and leaves.
Steve Okun has spent over three decades owning and operating carwashes, truck washes and detail shops and consulting to the automotive appearance care industry. His company is S.M. Okun & Associates in Jupiter, FL, (561) 744-6586; firstname.lastname@example.org.