Be Consistent, Persistent and Innovative
By Robert C. Schrum
We joined the ICA in 1979, two years before we ever built our first location. This was the best money we ever spent--no, invested. The association, the fellowship with other carwash operators, and the conventions helped us to develop a small carwash chain. In 1979, I was a fairly successful builder and land developer (I still develop some property) and I survived the recession of 1980 and 1981.
What we do at Flagstop Car Wash is take care of a customer's vehicle--its appearance and its fluids. We sell gas at one of our locations and have gas pumps that are pretty innovative. They take cash (yes, that's right, cash) as well as credit cards. Tie that in with our new touchfree automatic wash and our self-serve wash, and you have a nice little package. Our first site, built in 1981, consisted of an 80-foot automatic cloth tunnel, six self-serve bays, 10 vacuums and a small convenience store with 16 gas pumps all on 1.25 acres. It was pretty innovative for 1980. Our newest location has a full-service, 100-foot cloth tunnel, six self-serve wash bays, three lube bays, two detail bays, and a very unique gift shop and lobby with a fireplace and business center. Our valued customers love our business center complete with complimentary phones and fax service.
But enough about Flagstop. The reason I am telling you these things is to prove a point. We have been tempted over the years to venture into the restaurant business, bar and entertainment business, tanning clubs and a variety of other non-related businesses. Guys and gals, stick to what you do best--car care or related businesses. But be innovative while doing it. Borrow some ideas from your fellow car-care professionals and improve upon them. Be unique. After 20 plus years in this business, I have loved watching all of us literally transform this business into a phenomenon that has taken the country by storm.
But guess what. There have been failures. I believe that these failures come from a lack of consistent commitment to our industry. We opened in 1981 to 21 percent prime interest rates and lost a considerable amount of money in the first 14 months of operation ($112,000 to be exact). But we kept at it, worked closely with my banker (he didn't want to have to wash cars or pump gas), and kept him informed constantly with what we were doing. He adjusted our rates dramatically, and we were able to pull ourselves out. It's remarkable what commitment and 70 hours per week can do for you. Love your banker, especially one who works with you and does not want to wash cars.
If you provide attractive, clean and unique locations to your valued customers, train and work persistently with your valued employees, always instill in them your commitment to provide customers with the cleanest vehicle possible, and charge a reasonable price, you will succeed beyond your wildest imagination.
So, join the ICA, AOCA and your local car-care association. We are part of the Southeastern Car Wash Association. All of these groups around the country and the wonderful people in them will help you to succeed.
Bob Schrum is the owner and operator of Flagstop Car Wash & Quick Lube locations throughout Virginia. He is also a member of the Modern Car Care Executive Advisory Board. He can be e-mailed at Flagstop4@aol.com.