The day starts somewhere between 5am and 6.30am, depending on how far I have to travel that day. With a head office in Croydon and living on the Surrey/Hampshire border, the drive to work takes about an hour so I have plenty of time to gather my thoughts before starting the day.
Trained from school in a retailing background, I have worked for Wilcomatic for 10 years so I like to think I have quite a bit of experience and knowledge to share in the car wash industry now.
In October 2007 I was lucky enough to buy the business with my business partner, Selwyn Rodrigues, from our then parent company Inchcape plc. Being an owner rather than an employee has brought a number of distinct differences to the way we work.
Private ownership has allowed us the flexibility to focus on investing in business improvements, service infrastructure, acquisitions and business development much more than being a non-core subsidiary of a motor retailing company could ever bring. That’s not to say the job has not become more challenging though. But it’s a good business, we have an excellent team of experienced, committed people, some of whom have worked for Wilcomatic for 30 years I love it.
I like to try and get out and meet customers at least twice a week. I believe face to face is the best way to do business understanding what customers want, the challenges they face and then tailoring our offer to best support their needs. Within the business I like to know everything that is going on so try to speak daily to the sales team, account managers, service desk, chemical telesales and the installation department to understand the issues and what we are doing about resolving them.
When we reviewed the business at the time of the buy-out, we identified that we had lost our way a little in supporting independent operator’s businesses and as such have spent the past two years running hard to try and catch up. The needs of an independent’s wash operation are not so different from those of a major oil company or supermarket really, but where we can make a real difference is within the support mechanism to help them grow their business. Selling equipment or winning maintenance contracts is great but in today’s depressed market where we can make a real difference is by helping operators to grow their sales through exceptional levels of service, marketing support, assisting in the development of a promotional strategy and generally raising site standards through bay cleaning, lighting and signage.
But sites need to help themselves too it’s no use rolling over and giving in to hand wash competition. If every cashier asked every customer "Would you like a car wash, we are running a promotion at the moment?" sales would grow exponentially.
Promotions linked to a free gift, money-off fuel (pence per litre) or even a limited ’buy one get one free’ are all proven promotional tools, but the offers need to be refreshed to retain interest. However, ultimately the customer experience needs to be good representing superior value and convenience compared to the competition.
Meanwhile, I’m keen to re-invigorate the Car Wash Association. David Charman has done an excellent job in reinventing the Association but I believe we need to continue to provide tools and advice to retailers wishing to challenge unregulated competition and to provide help to retailers in developing and growing their valeting business. After all, it still remains the most profitable revenue stream on the forecourt.
In addition, I believe that the industry should promote a more environmentally-friendly approach to business and our focus will be on helping operators achieve this.
Home time is generally about 6.30pm when I make the last call of the day, which is always to the service department to discuss the status for the following day. It gives me something to think about on my drive home!