Saturday, April 20, 2013

Entropy: How We Used the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics to Help Our Car Wash

Yes, you read that correctly. We’re beginning this blog with a small science lesson. Hey, it’s Metro: expect the unexpected. So here goes … 

From a business perspective, we’re always looking for new tools that help us to manage more effectively. Sometimes, this can be accomplished by simply looking at an organization or a situation from a different point of view. Recently, we had the novel idea to assess the management of our business by applying the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics. We thought it helped us; maybe you can use it too (at your job, in your family, your life … who knows?). 

The science part: 

Entropy (or the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics) is a mathematically defined law of physics that accounts for the “flow” of energy through a thermodynamic process (I know … What? What?). Put in laymen’s terms, however, it’s pretty simple. Entropy is a cup of hot coffee getting cold: the energy that is concentrated in the hot cup, flows “out” until the cup of coffee reaches room temperature.

In science, the Law of Entropy is actually used in all sorts of applications. Ultimately (and simply), it is a law that states the following: “Order” naturally moves to disorder. To get things back in “order,” you need to put energy “in” to the system. 

In the coffee cup example, the hot cup cools down. To get it hot again, you need to “heat” it (put energy into it). But there are more examples than a coffee cup. In any system, order naturally moves to disorder. A ball at the top of a hill naturally rolls down; you have to use energy to get it back to the top. You clean your house, but it gets messy again; you have to use energy to get it clean. 

The business part: 

Okay, you say, cute. But how does this help the car wash? 

Well, by thinking about our business with this “Law” in mind, here’s what we came up with.

(1) No matter how much effort and money we spend, our business will never be perfect. The Law tells us that our business is ALWAYS moving towards disorder. Equipment is always going to wear down, break; employees are always going to forget what was discussed in the last meeting; and no matter how many signs we hang, customers are going to go the wrong way or forget they have their keys in their pockets.

It is what it is. And it’s not just the car wash. It’s any business, really; or it’s our family, or our marriage. We need to face facts: things are moving from order to disorder, whether we like it or not. 

From a business perspective, we find this really helpful. It tells us that as soon as we fix our equipment, we need to be checking it (because it’s already breaking again). It tells us that the last great meeting we had is already being forgotten. It tells us that the bathroom we just cleaned is probably dirty again. Ultimately, it tells us not to lose our temper and get frustrated (like so many managers do), because you’re actually frustrated with something you’ll never change. You might as well get angry at gravity. And that leads to the second thing we’ve learned. 

(2) We’re not saying to accept a messy business. But what we have to realize, is that to keep a business in order, it takes a tremendous amount of energy. 

We see a lot of businesses get a burst of energy, have meetings, fix a problem, solve issues. And that’s great. But those fixes are only going to last for a limited time. The Law of Entropy is at work, chewing up your organization like a wood chipper. Or, put another way: get your feet off your desk; it’s time to get to work again. 

It may seem silly, but there really is something important here. Understanding that we are in a constant battle against the force of Entropy helps us to design our systems better. More than this, it reminds us to go back and check on what we think we fixed, or the system we put in place to solve a problem. It teaches us not to get mad when we see things slipping. Instead, it shows us just how much more energy we need to put into something to make it “stick.” 

We’ll never get things perfect. We’ll never stop having to work hard to get things the way we want them. And when we do, it will only be for a little while. The disorder will come again; energy will be required. This is how our world works. 

You can apply this to a business, a relationship, or the cleanliness of your garage. It helped us a little; thought it might help you. 

Of course, the one really bright side to this Entropy Equation? No matter how many times you wash your car with us, it’s getting dirty again! 

And for that, Entropy, we love you.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Growing Nastiness Behind Online Reviews

I recently read an article in Newsweek entitled “Is the Web Driving Us Mad?”.  The article discusses new research that claims the extended use of tweets, texts, emails, and the Web can make us lonely and depressed … or worse.  It was an interesting read (you can find it, of course, by Googling the title on the Internet, ha ha), but it really got me thinking.  More specifically, it got me thinking of a related topic more pertinent to Metro Car Wash and small business in general: the growing nastiness and irrationality behind online reviews.  

Now, I want to be clear here: Metro Car Wash LOVES the Internet.  Our Company is a super user of Google products, we use Facebook, update our website weekly, even have this blog.  This is not us complaining.  But it is us making an observation, and perhaps even a cautionary warning:  think twice before (1) posting an Internet review or (2) believing the reviews that you read.  Let me explain.

First off, let’s be honest.  No one is perfect, and no business is either.  We all make mistakes.  And on any given day, a business (whether a manufacturer, a grocery store, or a restaurant) can underperform.  Maybe the business is short-staffed, maybe equipment is malfunctioning, maybe it’s just not somebody’s day.  It doesn’t really matter; the end results are usually similar: longer waits, less than friendly staff, a decrease in quality.  And none of this is okay.  Especially when you’re shelling out your hard-earned money to receive professional goods and services.  So … what’s a reasonable person supposed to do?

Speaking personally, I can assure you that Metro Car Wash wants to hear about any unsatisfactory visit or experience you have.  We aren’t perfect and we know it.  Getting negative customer feedback may not be fun, but it’s necessary and welcomed.  It helps us get better.  And my guess is, most other businesses feel this way too. 

As a matter of fact, most businesses (Metro included) go out of their way to provide easy access for comments and complaints.  The best way, of course, is to do so in person – grab a manager, ask to speak to an owner, etc.  But a lot of us, understandably, like to avoid conflict.  Perhaps “complaining” in person is just too uncomfortable.  And we get it.  Which is why most Companies provide an easy means to get in touch with them via the Internet (anonymously, if you prefer).  At Metro, for example, we include our General Manager’s email, a list of all managers (and their cell phone numbers), and if you prefer anonymity, then you can complete a SecretShopper Survey (online) that also comes with a $10 Gift Card.  If you prefer social media, there’s always an open forum on our Google+ Page, Facebook Page, or Twitter.  We’re trying to tell you: we want to hear from you.  We’re trying to tell you: we want to help resolve any issues.

It seems to me, this is a reasonable first means of dealing with a problem.  At least give us a shot at fixing things, right?  And then, if after this, we still can’t get it correct (if we ignore you, say we don’t care, call you a name and kick you in the shin, or hide behind a fichus tree), then by all means, take to the online review sites!  Go rip us up on Google Places or Yelp or Yahoo.  Let us have it on Bing or Angie’s List or the Better Business Bureau.   We totally understand.  Go for it!

But here’s the thing.  In the last few years, we’ve been noticing more and more negative reviews based on first time or single time users.  And before you say to me: “Hey, Buddy, maybe your business is going down hill!” let me tell you that we’ve already thought of that too.  I gave a lot of thought to writing this.  I wouldn’t have done it if our Secret Shopper Scores weren’t actually up significantly, if feedback from regular customers wasn’t so positive.  Again, we’re not perfect.  But what’s really disappointing, is that none of these negative reviewers ever tried to contact us first.  In almost every case, someone came in for the first time (a lot of Groupon users, if that means anything), then took to the Internet to fire a lethal bullet, telling others “not to come to Metro”.

As an owner of a small business, I can assure you: nothing feels worse than negative online reviews.  The truth is, you feel as if you’ve had your pants pulled down in front of the cheerleading squad and they’re laughing.  It’s horrible.  Especially when you read the reviews and you think: I could have easily amended this, if only I’d known.  Or: Obviously, they don’t understand what kind of service they purchased, if only I’d been able to explain myself.  But of course, now it’s too late.

And for the most part, I think it is really unfair.  I often wonder when reading these: Has this person ever had a bad day?  Have they ever made a mistake at work?  Have they ever not performed perfectly on a given day behind their desk, their counter, their computer, wherever.  And if so, how would they feel if a scathing criticism was written about them, an email sent throughout the Company or to a future employer, without even so much as a warning or a second chance?  Wouldn’t such behavior seem unnecessarily nasty?  Unnecessarily vindictive?

And yet this is exactly what a lot of Internet reviewers are doing: to restaurants, car washes, hotels, etc.  It’s almost as if the Internet has provided these people a cowardly place from which to lob bombs, an exaggerated feeling of importance as they find they have the world as their platform.  Had bad service?  I know, they think, I’ll trash them on the Internet.

But why?

Why so instantaneously angry?  Why the need to tell people never to go to Metro because we missed the tire shine on one wheel? (Yup, an actual review.  No, not happy about the fact that we missed the tire shine.  But really?  You want to tell the world not to come here?)  It really makes me wonder if these individuals are actually thinking about what they’re doing.  Giving low marks to a business is affecting that business negatively.   It’s hurting them.  If they deserve to be punished or “hurt,” I guess I get it.  But if you’ve only visited a business once, and if you’re giving one star out of five because the wait was too long, you also might be doing damage to a good business in the community, a business providing jobs, charity donations, etc.  And it’s also quite possible you simply caught them on their one bad day of the month.  How do you know they wouldn’t have bent over backwards to solve the problem?

It get’s me back to that opening paragraph: Is the Internet Driving Us Mad?

I don’t know.  But I do know it’s making it too easy to let off steam when there are actual financial futures at stake.  So, before slamming that next business on Yelp, just remember: there’s a good chance that you’ll be taken care of if you just give yourself a little time to cool down and contact the business again.

No one’s perfect.  But speaking from Metro’s perspective, we’ll do just about anything to make things right for you.  Please, come to us first if you have an issue.  We value your feedback: the good, the bad, and yes even the ugly.

DJ DripDry    

Friday, February 3, 2012

Metro's Letter to the Government

Politics, politics, politics.  Debates, debates, debates.  It’s all the news seems to cover lately (well, that and the Kardashians).  So, hey, we’ll sprinkle in a little of our own into  the Metro News.  Consider this our official letter to Washington, the Governor, or anyone else who cares to listen.

Last year, we wrote a letter to President Obama.  We thought it was nice, and we did get a form letter back (I saved it; the stationary is super cool), but in all honesty, we don’t think he really read it.  Understandable.  He’s a busy guy.  And yet, just the same … we do think we have something to say.

You see, we’re not political here at Metro.  We’re just a small, local business trying to make our way.  And for all we hear from Washington about “small businesses being the lifeblood of our Country,” it sure doesn’t feel like anyone is actually looking out for us.  Seriously.  That’s why we’re not Republicans or Democrats.  From our perspective, everyone in politics seems out of touch.  

It’s just our opinion of course.  But as an example, there was a lot of time and effort spent in Washington (last year and earlier this year) on a bill called SOPA (the Stop Online Piracy Act).  There were meetings and expensive dinners, uses of government funds, uses of good air … all aimed at protecting the Hollywood entertainment industry from the loss of a few bucks.  Now don’t get me wrong: I’m sure there’s an issue there.  But I’m also pretty sure now is not the right time.  I mean, from what I’ve seen on TMZ, the guys in Hollywood seem to be doing alright (have you seen an awards show lately?).

And OK, sure, that’s just one silly example.  I get it.  But from where we’re standing (Metro, that is), it’s just awfully frustrating to hear lip service go one way (we must help small business!) and reality go the other way (here’s another tax, Buddy, we’re sure you’ll understand).

Don’t believe me?  Well, here’s what we see.  While Republicans are arguing for tax breaks to the wealthy and Democrats are arguing for more benefits to the poor, we just got hit with a new, surprise “special assessment” tax on payroll (because Arizona ran out of money) and another increase to Minimum Wage.  I don’t know what Wall Street is doing to provide jobs here in Tucson, but Metro Car Wash employs around 70 people.  We’re struggling in a tough economy, trying to keep our prices low for our customers, keeping a lot of Tucsonans employed … and the government (that so desperately wants to help us) decides the best course of action is to keep making it a little harder on us.  Maybe they think they’re teaching us perseverance.

Look, I realize that I’m complaining now (which could be annoying), but I also don’t hear our story being told.  That bothers me.  And when I say “our” story, I really do mean all of Metro Car Wash.  Believe me, my employees don’t like it either.  They’re not dumb.  Increases in payroll taxes and increases in Minimum Wage mean less money in their pockets.  The raises that the hard-working, tenured employees were going to get?  The new employees we were going to hire?  Sorry folks, they were just eaten up by ever-increasing Minimum Wage and a newly invented payroll tax.  It is what it is.  As a matter of fact, we’ve had to cut jobs … again.

This is what I mean when I say Washington is out of touch.  I’m not sure why they think a small businessperson is the best to tax if they want to create more jobs.  I’m not sure how they think we can overcome these cost increases, when the economy is demanding we keep our prices low.  I’m not sure I think its fair (actually, I know it’s not) that these tax increases equate to pay cuts to me and my employees, but I haven’t heard boo about pay cuts on Capital Hill.  I’m not sure I understand any of it, to tell the truth, except to say this: we small businesses don’t have a voice in Washington, we won’t be benefited by tax cuts for the Wall Street crowd, no one “up there” seems to grasp the ramifications “down here,” and we think it all sort of stinks.

What I am sure of is this: we care about our employees, our community, and our local economy.  We care about delivering a quality product, keeping prices low, and keeping our customers happy.  We’re going to keep plugging away, Mr. and Mrs. Politician.  We’re not giving up.  But we’d ask you to at least do us one favor: either truly get behind what you promise, or just stop delivering the lip service.  I think it’s called “practice what you preach.”

Well, that’s my rant for they year, folks.  I feel better already!  Our next blog will be more upbeat.  I just know it (I’m thinking of bunnies, kittens or rainbows).

Until then, stay clean my friends.  Hope to see some of you soon at the Wash!

DJ DripDry

Friday, November 11, 2011

Veteran's Day

11/11/11, an auspicious number somehow.  And a date that happens to correlate with this year’s Veteran’s Day.  Whatever the reasons, I’ve been giving a lot of thought to the freedoms we enjoy here in America and thought I might as well share them with you.

This contemplation actually started last Friday when I had the privilege of attending an employee’s Naturalization Ceremony here at the Federal Court House in Tucson.  Many of you know Juanita from our Speedway location.  She’s been the topic of a blog, an Employee of the Month, a featured story in our newsletter.  She came to the U.S. from Equatorial Guinea about six years ago, got a job (at Metro), learned English, learned to drive, earned her GED, and has now earned American Citizenship.  If you can’t tell, we’re super proud of her.

I’d never been to a Naturalization Ceremony before, didn’t know what to expect, thought I’d show Juanita some support.  That was really about it - wasn’t expecting much - and I’m going to be honest with you: before attending, I’d also been quite a bit down on the ol’ U S of A.  I won’t go into details; suffice to say, as a business owner, I’ve been frustrated with politics (both sides of the aisle), taxes, regulations, rising costs, a poor economy, the list goes on and and on.  It’s easy enough to let happen (I’m only human, after all), we let things get us down.  

And here’s something I’ve learned over the years: whenever you’re down, about the best cure you can hope for, is for something not too tragic to slap you in the face, just enough to give you a good dose of reality.  You need something to remind you that things aren’t as bad as they seem; something to remind you that others may not have it as good.  For me, the 50+ new American Citizens I got the chance to meet on Friday did just that.  It was an amazing thing to see.

After swearing in the new citizens, the Judge gave these same individuals the opportunity to stand up and speak, to tell their stories, to say why American citizenship was so important to them.  It was a humbling experience to say the least.  People who had come from all over the world stood up, they had tears in their eyes, and they would say how thankful they were to be in a “free” country.  It was the theme that was repeated over and over and over: Freedom.

The freedom of speech (to not worry that what you say will get you landed in a jail cell), the freedom of religion (or no religion at all), the freedom to start a business, to take a risk, to do whatever you feel you’re best at.  Freedom.  Freedom.  Freedom.  One young lady from Cuba looked out over the audience and said: “When you’re born in America, you just have no idea what you have.  You have no idea.”  And me, in the corner, feeling smaller and smaller.


And the truth is, unfortunate as it may seem, it is only available to us by defense.  That was the other thing that was brought to light in this ceremony: how much these same freedoms are a result of our military - the military guard we have right now, and the men and women who have served in our history before them.  One man in the Ceremony said (and I quote), “I will never mind paying taxes, because I know that I’m paying for the protection of my freedom.”  That’s an awesome statement, actually.  At least it was to me.

I wish you all could have been there.  It’s an experience I won’t soon forget.  And I can tell you this: I left that court house with a fresh perspective (and certainly in a better mood).  I have always tipped my hat to our men and women in the military, but to some extent, I think it has just been good manners.  Seeing what it is these individuals are actually protecting - the value that we should be placing on our freedom - makes my “thank you” to them a lot more sincere today.

And so here is what I want to say:  Thank you.  For those of you serving right now.  For those of you who served in the past.  Thank you.  My life isn’t so bad.  As a matter of fact, it’s pretty good.  And I take it for granted too often.  Especially the fact that it wouldn’t be this way if you didn’t/hadn’t sacrificed to serve this country.  With all my sincerity, thank you.

It’s 11/11/11 today, folks.  It’s Veteran’s Day.  Enjoy the blue sky.  Enjoy your freedom.  

-DJ DripDry

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

A 52 Week Plan

On September 1, we changed our Service Menu at Metro Car Wash.  

Don’t worry, that’s not what this blog is about; it’s not a promo.  I just want to begin by saying why we did it.  We did it because we realized the following: (1) our menu was based on the same “sales presentation” car washes have been using for thirty years and (2) that presentation is confusing for the customer and not user-friendly.

If you’re interested, you can see our new menu at the following link: Metro Car Wash Services.  

Our goal was to make things simple, simple, simple.  We listened to customer feedback, did a lot of research, and then made the change.  You might think that sounds easy (hey, you only changed a menu, man!), but like most things, it was harder than it looked.  We wanted to really streamline things, so in addition to the menu change, we also invested in a new, web-based Point of Sale system.  Like any software change, this came with it’s own set of headaches (and additional hours of work).  Not only this, but we also had to change all of our signage, update our website, modify our coupons and specials, and re-train an entire staff that was VERY used to doing things the OLD way.  

Suffice to say, what looks like a simple update to a service menu was in fact a very large project.  It took time, planning, burning the midnight oil, and more boring meetings than I care to recall.  Oh, and it was worth it.  After a few opening glitches, the employees and sales staff believe it’s helping them deliver better customer service.  Most importantly, our customers (you) seem to like it too.  I’d like to call this a success.  I’d like to say we improved ourselves considerably.  Which finally gets me to the point of this blog: self-improvement.  Ah-ha!  Bet you didn’t see that one coming, did you?

At some point during this project, my wife paid me a compliment.  Not a compliment on how buff I’m looking due to my recent efforts with P90x, nor how impressive my home maintenance skills have become of late (like you, that’s what I would have guessed too), but this was about the business.  

“You guys never stop trying to improve your car wash,” she said.  “Most businesses just sort of stay the same; you guys are always pushing to do something better.”

Nice to hear.  And it also got me thinking about some advice I took nine years ago when we got into this business.  I had a friend who had built a very successful car wash chain in California.  When he heard that I’d gotten into the business, he told me this:  

“Just make sure you improve one thing a week.  Just one.  It doesn’t have to be anything major – it can be as simple as re-organizing a filing cabinet – but improve something.  At the end of the year … at the end of five years … you’ll be amazed by what your business has become.”

It was probably some of the best advice I ever took (it ranks right up there with some of my favorites from Mom and Dad … don’t lick the monkey bars in winter, pee before the movie starts, never play pool with a guy whose first name is also the name of a city).  

And we did take this advice seriously.  For the first four years, I actually kept an “Improvement Journal” for the car wash.  There were 52 weeks, and we had to have something filled out for each of them.  Some of the projects were big (new equipment, new websites, a second car wash); others were small, but when taken as whole, just as effective.  Improvements don’t happen over night, they take time.  And I think maybe that’s what's best about this advice: rather than looking at an overwhelming project, simply start by eating the elephant one bite at a time.

Each week, we check something off.  It’s not overwhelming.  And there’s always something to improve.  Weeks turn into months, months into years, and then (just like my friend predicted): we’re amazed by what our business has become.

I’ll take one quick paragraph to hit some highlights:  We were the first in Tucson to add an express lane, the first (and only) full-service wash to offer free self-serve vacuums, the first to significantly use the internet for communication and marketing (email coupons, website, Facebook, Twitter, Secret Shopper), the only car wash to fund a local scholarship (the money for which was raised by turning our facility into a Zombie Car Wash), the first to drug test employees, the first to have a community Honor Roll, Annual Pass Sale, 2-for-Tuesday special, Community Partnership Program, this blog, and more.  And all of it was accomplished one week at a time.

In truth, if nine years ago I’d seen a snapshot of what we are today, I’d have had no idea how to get here.  I wouldn’t have believed it.  And I never would have guessed that 52 improvements a year could do so much.

For what it’s worth, I think this advice works in any business and in any home.  I’m passing it along in the hopes that it helps some of you too.  It’s pretty simple.  Keep a list.  Improve something every week.  

It could be reorganizing your garage, holding a weekly customer service meeting, creating a new (realistic) budget, cutting out dessert, taking a walk two nights a week, spending an hour playing video games with your kids … it doesn’t really matter what it is, there are just two rules: (1) you’ve got to make the improvement stick and (2) you’ve got to come up with a new one next week.

Don’t be overwhelmed by it; it’s easier than you think.  This is coming from experience.  

So long, folks.  I’m off to come up with this week’s improvement for Metro.  Keep your eyes open.  You might see it the next time you stop by.

Until then, stay clean my friends …

DJ DripDry

Monday, August 1, 2011

Reflections on our Birthday

It’s our birthday! Yes it is. Yes it is.

On August 1, 2002, yours truly and business partner Pee Wee (see earlier blog) purchased the first Metro Car Wash on Oracle Road. Hard to believe 9 years have already slipped by, but then, it’s odd to think of all that has happened as well. It’s times like these when we just can’t help taking a quick inventory of the past, reflecting on the stories that got us to where we are. And to quote the late, great Jerry Garcia (it’s his birthday too, btw): What a long strange trip it’s been.

While our hair was getting thinner and our waistlines thicker, we washed cars and watched the world turn. We saw our nation go to war with Iraq (… again); we witnessed a company called Google go public and change our lives forever; we scratched our heads when Martha Stewart went to jail (Martha Stewart?) and sat numb when another Space Shuttle exploded; we braced ourselves for a Swine Flu epidemic, saw the death of the King of Pop and the birth of something called Brangelina; we got sick to our stomachs watching on as oil spilled massively into the Gulf of Mexico and wanted to cry viewing the tragedies of two different tsunamis, an earthquake in Haiti, and the flooding in New Orleans; we had to watch too many teams from Boston win titles and still never saw the Cubs win a single World Series; we witnessed Sadam Hussein hanged for crimes against humanity and witnessed the death of Osama Bin Laden; we saw the election of America’s first black president, became addicted to texting on smart phones, and witnessed the fact that novels and movies about vampires and werewolves took over the globe (who could have seen that one coming?); we got baffled watching the news that our country’s financial system had failed … that Wall Street had crumbled … that the term “bailout” could be used in dinner conversations; we watched in horror at multiple shooting rampages – something you can never come to terms with, especially when one of these incidents is in your own city, injuring one of your favorite customers.

And all of this only scratches the surface of the stories that unfolded.

In our own Metro-world, of course, times were also a changin. During the time it took our nation to go from 6 trillion dollars in debt to $13 trillion (numbers we still can’t get our head around), Metro Car Wash was also growing (though not at the same pace). We added a second location on Speedway, lots of new customers, and began to make a name for ourselves in Tucson.

In the process, we discovered that owning your own business is a lot like starting a second family. As it grows, you both struggle and celebrate, you fight and you laugh, and you always hang on to each other, because in the end, it’s all you’ve got. And just like a family (especially the colorful ones), having a car wash leaves you with plenty of your own stories. These didn’t make the national news, but I thought it might be appropriate to share a few today. We’ve always said: Metro Car Wash is one entertaining place to be.
So in case you missed some of these …

In the past nine years, my partner Pee Wee has fallen off a 30 foot ladder, been hit by a car, and found himself stuck, upside down, in a waste water reclaim pit. We’ve lost count of how many lives the dude has, but he does have an amazing ability to keep bouncing back.

As for me, an ex-accountant, I learned that the ability to go to work in shorts and tennis shoes (instead of a suit and tie) is an immeasurable luxury. Such leisure attire keeps you cooler in the summer, sure, but it also does wonders for your speed – something I didn’t realize I needed until I found myself running down the center of Oracle Road, chasing a guy on a bicycle whom I had just witnessed shoplifting from our lobby. The thief got away, but not before I came very close to getting my hand on the seat of his pants. And I’ll tell you this much: seeing a grown man run down the center of Oracle, shouting obscenities that I can’t mention here (suffice to say they’d make a pirate blush), at least sent a message to the would-be criminals around Metro; it said: Hey, we’re all just little crazy here, you might not want to try that again.

Crazy, actually, is something that seems attracted to Metro Car Wash.

Our car wash was once shut down by a police sting operation – they were cracking down on prostitution. And so why was Metro involved? Well, because after picking up a date, one of our customers decided the first thing to do was get a car wash (I wish I was kidding here, I’m not). He pulled in, followed by half of the Tucson Police Force. And his “date” (a working lady who also happened to be wearing a cast on her broken arm … I told you, crazy loves us here) decided that she wasn’t going out without a fight. What ensued at the Metro Vacuums resembled something out of a Woody Allen movie or an old episode of Laugh-In, one of those moments where you can’t do anything by just sit and stare with your mouth open, a little voice somewhere in the back of your head saying: Really? Owning a car wash is really what you want to do with your life?

On the subject of “dates,” I might also mention that we’ve discovered an underground culture that views the car wash tunnel in the same light as the Mile High Club. Not joking here either. Over the last nine years, on several occasions, we’ve had the unfortunate experience of witnessing, first-hand, couples attempting to … well … you get the picture. And let me just say this: (a) while we use a lot of soap here, the foam isn’t that thick, (b) while you may think our wash is thorough, it doesn’t take that long before you get to the rinse cycle, and (3) even if you like what you see in the mirror after your morning shower, it doesn’t mean everyone does. Enough said.

But of course, it hasn’t all been crazy either. As a matter of fact, I still wake up every morning happy to own Metro Car Wash and happy to go to work. Someone once told me: variety is the spice of life, and I think that can’t be truer than at our car wash. We really are a spicy business.

Every day we see hundreds of customers, each one bringing a little of their story into our lives. Sure, some are negative (I’ve had my life threatened because we forgot to put tire shine on all four tires); and sure, some are strange (there was one incident where an individual came back to the wash looking white as a ghost, said: “I left a brown paper bag on the patio. Did anyone turn it in?” When I said no, the individual spent an hour roaming the lot, going through the trash. When pressed, the customer said: “There was $20,000 in the bag. I didn’t want to leave it in the car; then forgot it under the patio chair.” Sad … and strange.); but for the most part, our customers are a fantastic bunch. Many of our customers have become good friends. Some have even ended up working for us. We’ve made customers cry when we’ve found jewelry under their seats that they thought they had lost. We’ve washed the cars of celebrities: professional basketball players, politicians, softball pitchers, golfers and even a movie star.

And it’s not just the customers, of course. It’s our employees too, who have added to the variety and spice of Metro. We’ve had some interesting characters over the years, for sure: budding rap stars, aspiring writers, a bull rider. But we’ve also been a stop for individuals heading for different careers, employees who have gone on to the Navy, to become nurses, and in one case a model.

The truth is, it’s these people (both customers and employees) who have inspired us to be a better business. Nothing hurts like a valid complaint; nothing feels better than a heart-felt compliment.

Over the last nine years, we’ve worked hard to constantly improve ourselves, to be both a better employer and a better service business. And as I reflect on the friends we’ve made and the stories we’ve created, I can’t help but smile. When I look in the rearview mirror, I’m pretty proud of Metro Car Wash. I don’t think we’ve done too badly. More importantly, I think we’ve only just begun.

Thanks for being a part of our lives these last nine years, folks. We’re looking forward to many more to come.

Stay clean my friends,

-DJ DripDry

Friday, June 24, 2011

Why is Everyone So Angry?

Is it just me? Or do there seem to be a lot of shorter fuses these days?

You know, I’ve always said that being in the car wash business gives us a unique opportunity to keep a pulse on the general public. We see over 600 people a day at Metro Car Wash; and while this may not be an official Gallup Poll, it does give us a fairly good sample of Tucson’s population, a gauge on the collective attitudes in the Old Pueblo.

So I gotta tell ya, folks: holy bat guano, but have we become a testy bunch!

Maybe it’s the heat. Maybe it’s the economy. Maybe it’s just all the bad news we have to read and hear everyday. But one thing’s for certain: at Metro, we’re just seeing a ton of grumpy people these days. And that stinks.

Far be it from me to judge. I’m sure there are a lot of people going through some very stressful times. And I’m also glad that, even though angry or depressed, these same individuals still want a car wash. But a recent incident just got me really thinking about these bad attitudes … enough so that my wife thought I should pass it on to you.

Let me start by saying the following: I understand completely that Metro Car Wash isn’t perfect. We make mistakes every day. We let customers down every day. I don’t like this, but it’s the truth about any business. You just have to hope that you catch your mistakes and make them right as quickly as possible. That being said, I also know we’re a good organization. We care about our customers, we work hard to deliver a quality product, and we do more than any of our competition to offer a value price and to help out in the Tucson community. Furthermore, when we do make mistakes, we’re the first to admit them and fix the problems.

So … last Saturday … we had a problem. More specifically, the Free Vacuums at our Speedway location blew up. There was a noise similar to car crash, then a mushroom cloud of dust and smoke. The reason? A bolt on the inner-motor housing came off and got sucked through the producer. Long story short, it destroyed our 20hp vacuum. It wasn’t anyone’s fault, just that dirty little bolt’s (and truthfully, it couldn’t have been very pleasant for the bolt either). The bad news: from Saturday afternoon through Monday (when we could get to a supplier), we couldn’t offer the free use of vacuums to our Express customers. That really sucked (I just couldn’t help myself there).

Now, there are a few things I’ve mentioned that I think are worth repeating. Let’s start with this: the vacuums are FREE. Several years ago, we thought it would be nice to offer the use of FREE vacuums to our customers who purchased our Exterior-only wash. We didn’t raise the price (we kept it at $3.99); we just thought it would be really cool (and something no one else was doing) to add this value option. We figured it would make people happy to be getting something for nothing. And we were right. We have an army of faithful customers who get their car washed and then prefer to vacuum their own vehicles.

So on Father’s Day weekend, I had a feeling we’d have a few complaints about not being able to use the self-serve vacuums. We did. And 90% of those same people understood. A few even said they were sorry for us – that they could imagine how costly it was going to be to fix. These same people said things like: Hey, it’s FREE. I’ll just come back on Monday. No problem. Not that big of a deal. To all of you in this group: a sincere thanks for understanding, it means the world to us.

Then there were the other 10%.

I won’t go into details. Suffice to say there was considerable shouting, there were accusations of fraud, there were threats of never returning to Metro Car Wash. In all honesty, it was brutal. The fact that it was something free (like our coffee or our wireless service or our travel trash bags), meant nothing. From their anger, you’d have thought we’d just mugged their grandmother. And if this wasn’t enough, on Tuesday we also received a letter. The complaining that one gentleman had done on Sunday wasn’t enough. He took the time to write down a full page of irate dissatisfaction. I should point out: there was never a complaint about bad wash quality, it was all about not getting the FREE vacuums.

I wish I were kidding. I’m not. In this letter, I was told that I was a terrible business, that I was misleading consumers, that I should have given everyone free car washes as compensation, or at least upgraded everyone to the Full Service. He ended the letter by reminding me that (1) it was Father’s Day, (2) he was a father, and (3) “it would have been nice to have received a little extra on my day.” That last part was a direct quote. His day. When I put the letter down, I was dumbfounded.

Why are people so angry? They purchased a car wash, they received a car wash (an amazing value for something less than $4). From the comfort of their car, their vehicle was cleaned and polished by intricately tuned equipment, rinsed with gallons of specially treated water, and finally hand-dried by employees working in the blazing sun. The staff was polite, waved, said Thank You. We apologized for the free vacuums being down, said we believed they’d be available for use in a few days (free of course) … and for this – for this lack of free suction – people completely lost their cool. My manager said it was one of the worst days he’d ever experienced, so many people yelling at him, so many furious individuals.

What’s happening with our country? As I read the gentlemen’s complaint letter I got to thinking. As he was taking the time to write a full-page attack on Metro for not having free vacuums, fires were burning down Sierra Vista, homes were being lost; at the same time he was spending his free moments telling us that we had wrecked his day, some young father had just lost his job, someone had just been informed they had cancer, parents were just told they’d lost a son in Afghanistan.

To be truthful, his letter disgusted me.

I’m no preacher folks, but here’s what I want to say: if Starbucks is out of cream for your coffee, if the yogurt shop has run out of your favorite flavor, if the restaurant is a little short-staffed, or if there’s an “out of order” sign on the gas pump … please, take a deep breath and think about how much worse things could be.

These aren’t issues; they’re minor inconveniences. That’s all. And losing your temper or raising your voice does nothing to fix things. Believe me, if it were so, we would have shouted our vacuum back into working order.

And look, I’m guilty of it too. But that customer’s letter got me thinking in a way he never intended. After reading it, I realized how much I didn’t want to be like him. Life’s too short to let the small things eat you up. There’s enough trouble in the world, with or without the vacuums humming at Metro.

Hope this gave you food for thought, Tucson. And please, stay clean and CHEER UP!

--DJ DripDry