Christal Narday’s grandfather opened his first car wash in the early 1960s. Her father began helping out at that same car wash when he was just eight years old, and went on to open his first car wash in 1981. It’s safe to say Narday was born into the car-washing world, but she has built a career of her own within the Valet Car Wash brand.
“I’ve been brought up in this industry, so it’s like family to me,” she says. Narday now manages one of seven Valet Car Wash locations, and recently became a member of the Canadian Carwash Association (CCA) Board of Directors.
“I believe in giving back to the community and the industry, so that’s why I wanted to become a member of the CCA board,” she says. “I wanted to learn more about the industry, too, and this was a great way to do it. I’m also hoping that my experience as an operator can help the CCA in any way possible.”
Narday has grown up in the industry and watched it change over the years. Here are the trends she’s witnessing now:
It’s about time.
People are getting busier, says Narday, but despite their lack of time, the desire for a clean car remains intact. This poses a challenge for operators, who need to find ways to save time for their customers while also providing the quality service they demand.
“With people becoming busier, their vehicles have become messier, so I’ve been noticing people aren’t maintaining their vehicles the way they did 10 or 15 years ago,” she says.
Customers are moving away from the quick in-and-out cleaning to express detailing. “For the most part, they need more than just a quick tidy-up because they haven’t been maintaining their vehicles like they used to. Our customers opt for a more thorough vacuuming of the carpets and thorough cleaning of the vinyl, but it still has to be quick,” she says.
Narday believes this shift creates an opportunity for car wash operators to tailor their services and operations to give their customers what they need: time.
“Monthly passes are really popular for us. For our monthly pass, people can put a Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) chip in their windshield, so when a customer comes and wants to get an exterior wash, they don’t have to stop. They pull in and our system reads their RFID, so they can just drive up to the wash and go straight in. Another way we save time is by having pay stations, so people can pay without the help of an employee,” she says.
Increasing your offer.
People want to get as much done as they can in a little amount of time, so expanding your services can help, says Narday.
This has prompted Valet to offer more on-line services during a wash. “On-line services are things people can purchase that go on inside the car wash, so waxes, certain brushes, and so on. Right now, the latest trend we’re seeing is a two-to-four step shine process. So it raises the dollar-per-car amount quite significantly, but they’re not wasting any additional time to have it done. I think that’s a really big trend – people want more services without having to wait for them.”
A lot of people are eating on the run, or grabbing coffee on the go, so the need for express, while-you-wait services has become really important, adds Narday. “Instead of having your car detailed and leaving it for six hours, customers want to be in and out in 30-60 minutes, and maybe even get some work done in the lobby while they wait. This is why offering WiFi in the lobby has become really important,” she says.
When it comes to car wash operators, Narday understands what keeps them up at night. Here’s a rundown of her top three concerns for wash operators:
1. Managing utility costs.
Utilities are on the rise, so operators are always looking for ways to conserve energy and water, she says. “We’ve got dryers at the end of the wash cycle that will close as soon as the car goes through. This way, the dryers are not left running when the car is gone.”
A simple change, such as switching out old light bulbs for more efficient LEDs, or a costlier change, such as implementing a water reclaim system (local bylaws permitting), can have a positive impact on your utility bills.
2. Scheduling employees.
As with any small business, “It’s hard to train and retain employees,” says Narday. “This industry is really tricky because you don’t know how many staff members you’re going to need on a daily basis.”
If it’s raining one day, you likely don’t need as much labour as you would if it were a beautiful sunny day, she says. Understanding the patterns of your business can help you manage the unknowns, such as weather.
3. Keeping up with wear and tear.
Regular maintenance is an easy and inexpensive way to ensure your car wash is performing at its best, and not costing you extra money. “If you’ve got leaky hoses or something like that, it can all really add up over time,” warns Narday. Regular maintenance can help to prevent wastage and unnecessary spending down the road.