An Initiative That Proves “The Whole Is Greater…
...Than The Sum Of Its Parts”
By Steve Okun
By prudently blending two essential elements together, a strategic relationship is created between two
universal bedfellows: the automatic carwash and the mobile detailer, forming a dynamic Flex-Serve
Although many might think of an automatic carwash and a mobile detailer as contentious adversaries,
when properly combined, they actually provide all the critical components of a very robust operating
platform. It may very well be the saving grace for troubled express exteriors — along with a sensible
option for all exteriors.
The Flex-Serve format is well known for its resilient adaptability in meeting the most stringent market
demands in serving consumer needs with seamless efficacy. Consisting of a high quality express
exterior carwash for automatic washing… and an express aftercare component for those customers
seeking a variety of hands-on service options, flex-serve is the quintessential carwash model. A
variation of that theme has been structured to provide a format that addresses a growing need by standalone express exterior operators who seek an effective way to take their clientele off-the-market from competitors while nevertheless insisting on absolutely avoiding the burdens of labor.
Likewise, mobile detailers are constantly seeking ways to cluster their activity in one location to avoid
costly downtime lost traveling from place to place as well as the inefficiencies involved in setting up and
dismantling down again between locations. Time waste is the mobile detailer’s constant nemesis.
Each of the two operations — the carwash and the mobile detailer — is a completely independent, selfcontained business with its own management and operational infrastructure. Yet, when combined, the collective resources provide a comprehensive marketing approach that can be significantly more
profitable for both.
As a business model, flex-serve is a good fit for both partners, providing fair and balanced benefits…as
well as shared responsibility. The mutual benefits are obvious.
Each business component retains its own identity. The express carwash offers a quick-and-easy wash
and dry without any hassles or needless delays. The mobile detailer isn’t really mobile… yet retains the
mobility of serving off-site customers, too. Both parties must demonstrate the benefits of the merged
services while carefully avoiding any compromise to the overall effort.
Detailers must help the carwash operation by sidestepping the urge to criticize, and instead provide any
needed supplemental support. The carwash operation should be viewed as a robust feeder system for
all the hands-on detailing needs. Good for the carwash owner, good for the mobile detailer and
especially good for the consumer.
A Supply And Demand Equation
For the carwash owner, the upside to the flex-serve synthesis is significant. Offering the consumer a
wide array of choices at one location is a powerful advantage.
Instead of asking customers to go elsewhere for needed hands-on services, the express exterior can
keep those customers from finding and using other alternatives, thus taking them off-the-market from
competitors. And, instead of running a staff-less facility, the detailer presence provides real-live walking and-talking people assistance.
The mobile detailer is self-contained, so no interior space is required. Conversely, the downside is
minimal. Reconfiguring the site for hands-on aftercare is usually quick and easy, providing the site is set
up properly — the basic responsibility of the carwash designer. Shortsighted equipment suppliers and
their lack of planning vision may compromise some sites but most will be able to easily adapt.
For the mobile detailer, the upside is significant. It’s an instant feeder system for hands-on services. Just about every vehicle that goes through a carwash can eventually benefit from detailing services, however slight. Maybe merely wiping the vehicle dry and doing the windows can become a mini-detail service.
On the other hand, the downside requires planning for peaks and valleys and setting some guidelines.
Unless the site is exceptionally busy, the hands-on services might be a part-time feature that cherrypicks peak demand times.
Mobile detailers need not change their business; simply grow it while maintaining existing clientele. If it
means expanding your equipment and staff, evaluate the opportunity and make a sensible business
decision. It need not be a change, but rather an expansion into another dimension.
All Hands-On Activity Occurs In After-Care
Unlike traditional full-service facilities, Flex-Serve Express After-Care is a hands-on option that doesn’t get in the way of carwashing. Instead, carwashing and “hands-on” after-care are completely independent of each other.
And in place of the stereotypical unskilled carwash attendant, a more competent team of detailers
deliver services to your clientele in meticulous fashion.
After-Care service availability can be determined by both parties to suit their respective needs as well as capability. Whether a full-time commitment of exposure or a designated day and time format, the handson aftercare services should be available to bolster consistency, thus enabling the service confidence to grow.
If one mobile detailer and his staff aren’t enough to fill the void, several other responsible mobile
detailing services may join the alliance. Irrespective of the number of partners, for it to be good for one, it must be good for all. The Flex-Serve synthesis creates a powerfully profitable synergy for all!
Who Handles The Money?
Cash control is simplified by each independent partner controlling their respective profit center within
mutually agreed upon guidelines. Many express exterior formats utilize automated cash control systems
that take care of the complete carwash transaction.
The carwash owner can integrate the aftercare offerings into the existing format and have a negotiated
payout or simply direct the aftercare operator to keep transactions separate. This flexibility may offer
many of the carwash-automated cash control services such as push-button sales and credit card
acceptance to the mobile detailer, providing potentially newfound advantages for growing profits.
Housekeeping & Image Synergy
Irrespective of what is being done in aftercare or who’s doing it, there should be a clear understanding of what the image of the overall operation must be, as well as overall staff conduct. For the alliance to be successful and fair to all parties, a unified effort towards absolute customer satisfaction should be the prevailing objective. You’re in the “business of clean”, and everything about the operation should
reinforce that image.
Each profit center retains its own identity, so the detailer enjoys added exposure and grows name
recognition. Just because the staff constantly deals with dirt doesn’t mean they must wear it. If you
intend to interact with consumers, it’s wise to look and smell clean. Busy days and hot weather may be
reason enough for multiple uniform changes.
Clean-smelling squeaky-clean restrooms speak volumes without uttering a single sound. Lighting that
eliminates shadows and bathes the entire surrounding with clean, bright light projects the image of a
safe, clean environment.
Fair And Balanced Synergy
Essentially, the carwash operator can develop a multi-profit center climate on the previously intended
single entity operation. Rent, merchandising and credit card processing fees can be collected from the
mobile detailing operation while bolstering a more robust destination site. Smart carwash operators will
have a few mobile detailers waiting in the wings for eventual blending in when needed. Labor hassles
remain the detailer’s challenge, motivated by the risk of non-performers being replaced.
On balance, automatic carwashes are typically busy on weekends and just before major holidays, so
special consideration should be given to coverage during those times.
Mobile detailers can find comfort in eliminating the time drain of traffic delays and multiple set-up times
while growing their business with better exposure at a high profile location. While generating profits
onsite, detailers have the additional benefit of growing off-site business as well.
Flex-serve blend is a sensible option for exterior carwash operators to help stabilize their business by
offering their clientele much wanted hands-on services without the day-to-day burden of finding, training, managing and administering labor. Although not for everybody, this innovative resource may provide a critical lifeline for express exteriors that are failing to generate the needed traffic to sustain their business.
How To Establish An Effective Match
❏ Assess your marketplace and evaluate your resources. If you’re a carwash operator, investigate
mobile detailers. Conversely, if you’re a mobile detailer, evaluate carwash opportunities.
❏ Carwash operators should survey existing customers and research their needs. Exterior
customers typically go elsewhere for hands-on services or do it themselves.
❏ Carwash operators need to make room for the supplemental hands-on stuff. If there’s a free
vacuum area, consider segregating and sharing some of it for the detailing component.
However, avoid congesting the easy no-hassle carwash flow.
❏ Mobile detailers must gear up to increased demands and prepare to provide quick, courteous
service that takes minutes, not hours. That means staffing accordingly.
❏ Carwash operators should insist on maintaining separate identities with detailers wearing clean
uniforms distinguishing their own company. Blurring the lines is risky unless a more
comprehensive agreement with appropriate safeguards is established.
❏ Mobile detailers should remain self-contained, manage their own space and not abuse the area
with spillover activity not defined in the original understanding with the carwash operator.
❏ If shared responsibilities involve crossover activity, clearly define the scope of involvement.
❏ If several mobile detailers are recruited into the alliance, make sure everyone understands and
agrees to guidelines. That requires oversight and is dependent upon effective communication
between all parties. For things to be fair for one, it must be fair for all.
❏ Mutually beneficial merchandising aids must be planned and executed carefully to gain their full
effect. Each profit center should bolster the other, with the consumer feeling the most benefit
by having many good service choices. Mobile detailers can also grow off-site service
continuation when appropriate and non-conflicting.
❏ If at first you don’t succeed in finding an acceptable match, try again. Sometimes, for whatever
reason, things simply don’t work out. Don’t quit; just find a better fit.
Understanding the basic Flex-Serve blend is simple: The whole becomes significantly greater than the
sum of its parts. In effect, express exterior operators that provide hands-on After-Care services find
having them creates the critical difference between flourishing… and floundering.
Steve Okun, developer of the Flex-Serve operating platform, is a 40+year veteran of the carwash and
detailing business. His company, FL-based SMOKUN & Associates, provides strategic planning &
development, carwash and detail consulting, training and marketing services. Contact Steve via e-mail