Managing Profit Centers

Oct. 25, 2023
Balancing two different sides of the business.

Shea Perkins, the general manager of Gwatzilla Wash 'n Lube in Jacksonville, Arkansas, tells NOLN that while oil and water don't mix, "You put vinegar and oil on a salad still." That point was made as much to tout a tasty dressing, as it was to address the combination of a car wash and quick lube shop. It can provide an additional profit center for a shop. 

And though oil and water might not mix, these two businesses serve to complement one another quite welland it can even help to ensure customer loyalty, which isn't bad for the bottom line. 

"It comes down to convenience. How convenient is the stop for the customer? The more things the customer can have done during this one-stop, the better," Perkins explains. "Anything that I can offer to the customer pertaining to their vehicle is a plus. If I could top off the gas tank during an oil change, I would. One less thing they would have to stop and do later on." 

Customer Convenience 

The two seemingly dissimilar businesses are something that Perkins says go hand in hand for many customers, which is ever crucial as "free time" during the day is often spent crossing "to-do" items off the chore list. These are things that can't be done after the workday, and it allows the clients to tackle two things at once. They can get the oil changed and get the car washed afterward. 

"The customer feels they are taking care of the car at that point; mechanically and aesthetically," Perkins continues. "The other oil change options in our city do not offer a car wash. That is one thing that sets us apart from the competition in town." 

Offering the car wash service can also be an attraction for many customersas it provides that one-stop option for two tasks, but it also is something that can build loyalty. Whereas oil changes can be something that sees "return business" every few months, a car wash can serve to keep those clients returning at other times. Yet, Perkins says that he has still learned that you can't count on everyone to come back for frequent car washes. 

"We have some customers that don't care too much about washing their car. A small portion of our customers only wash their car when they get their oil changed," Perkins tells NOLN. 

Yet, the fact that some clients do come back in between the regular oil change means that Gwatzilla Wash 'n Lube is offering the right services. The placement of the car wash can possibly convince some consumers that they can save time by having their car washed while running errands. 

Moreover, a carwash business can offer a variety of value adds, such as a wash club subscription service where customers can opt to pay monthly and then use the service as often as they want. That is a way to get those customers to come back quite oftenwhich serves as a reminder to get the oil changed sooner than later as well. 

Addressing the Staffing 

Though adding a car wash, auto detailing, or similar service to a quick lube shop will serve as a second revenue stream, it could still mean that some seasonal issues could come into play. However, this can be mitigatedin part because a car wash tunnel often only requires one or two employees to run it. 

"The people that want their car to maintain a clean appearance typically want it to remain clean most of the time. Sure, we are busier during pollen and spring with bugs, but the 'slow time' is still a steady flow of cars and averages a couple of hundred cars a day easily," said Perkins. "If it isn't the pollen or bugs keeping the customers consistently returning, it is the rain on the ground, salt or sand in winter or just the fact that they want tire shine back on the tires.” 

It should also be noted that customers are just as likely to head to the carwash in the colder months when it would be unheard of to pull out the hose and wash their own car! 

Yet, whatever the second business is to the quick lube, there will always be considerations with staffing. A rainy or snowy day could mean that those employeeseven if it is just one or two tasked to the car wash – will have less work, but managers and operators should just plan to have other duties to address. That can include an ongoing "to-do" list of tasks that don't require immediate attention but can be done during lulls in the business. 

"I honestly can't think of a downside of offering the two services; nothing that you would not deal with if you had just one of them on their own," says Perkins. "If you find yourself slower than normal, which happens anywhere, that is your opportunity to get the wash cleaned and maintenance done." 

Making Sure the Businesses Support Each Other 

Synergy is also important, but that goes beyond having a single marquee out front. The customer needs to know through marketing efforts that the two businesses are one and the sameeven if the offerings are as different as oil and water. Distinct businesses need to support each other. At the same time, operators should never expect the customers to know what you consider to be obvious. 

"Customers must be trained sometimes, even on what seems apparent," Perkins adds. "For example, our store had been open for five years when I got hired on, yet a large portion of our car wash customers had no idea we did oil changes, even with our name ending with 'Wash n lube.' We put a large sign at the end of the wash tunnel stating we change oil as well and picked up a lot on the quick lube side. The customers assumed we just offered detail and cleaning services, not oil changes." 

In other words, every aspect of the shop's marketing needs to be made clear, and in this way, the two unique services can help support each other. 

"Having both services allows you to cross advertise to each of their benefits," Perkins explains, noting how Gwatzilla Wash 'n Lube alerts customers directly. "'Become a car wash member and get a discount on the lube side,' and 'Since you are getting your oil changed, you have the option for a wash at a discount.'" 

This is all proof that sometimes oil and water in the right combination can be the perfect mixand not just for those fall salads! 

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