Home Based Franchise Case Study

Here is an interesting case study of a company, which franchised mobile car wash units. It started with the humblest of beginnings indeed. I can say that with complete knowledge because this is a company I started at age 12 years old. It was not until I was nearly 32 years old that we franchised my business. This franchise was great in concept but franchisees would not follow the system enough, they deviated from the plan in most cases. The franchisees that stayed with the plan did very well, the ones who did not, did okay, but could have done better.

Since this was our first try at franchising, we made the franchise documents too lenient and therefore it was hard to enforce standards. The customers were blown away by the idea of getting their car washed anywhere at anytime by phone call or e-commerce B2C. They love us, it is better than being the Fed Ex or UPS guy. If someone has not played sports or been involved in competitive events sometime in their life; we will not sell them a franchise. We want the Olympic style attitude. Because of this the Competition hates us, but only because I am so competitive since I was involved in sports and politics myself. Also in 1991 a car wash owner tried to run me out of business by lobbying to local politicians and lodging complaints to code enforcement, EPA, and County environmental control boards. This was the new environmental age and I was learning quickly about politics and business the hard way. Most Industry leaders representing our competition are clashing with us due to our drive, electronic Blitz marketing and bright yellow HERE I AM mobile car wash trucks.

At one point I had 53 Independent contractors in 39 cities washing cars. Kind of like a mini-franchise system. It was hard work. Soon I realized I was going to have to franchise this business. So we did in 1996-97. Upgraded everything, painted trucks yellow and allowed independent contractors to transfer in. Some did, most did not. Why should they sign anything they were already making money and it was all on a hand shake. I didn't blame them.

As the franchise grew we started allowing those franchisees who bought multiple trucks to have additional areas to expand into, giving us better marketing power to sing up bigger accounts in many areas. It worked. Then came e-commerce, upgrades and we took everything we learned and kept upgrading, unfortunately soon the original franchisees did not look anything like the newer franchisees; different equipment, training, marketing, CDROMS, business plan, new web site. And we needed to divide and conquer each market sector individually. We were washing golf cart, shopping carts, wheelchairs, ski lifts, silos, buses, trucks, cars and we got into a situation were there was too much work, and a challenge to hold onto routes and consistency.

We decided to upgrade the system. Since I had always owned the trade name myself we started another company WashGuy.com to divide up the markets and franchised all our ideas to allow maximum use of all my contacts, and the associates I had gathered and their skills. Then we would franchise each brand name by itself and let all the franchisees of all the systems work together trade leads and operate in harmony washing their specialty niche. The New Car Wash Guys; www.carwashguys.com would be part of WashGuy.com, which was going to acquire the franchise Car Wash Guys International, Inc. Unfortunately Car Wash Guys International did not have the royalty stream to service the franchisees properly and grow correctly so it was closed and all the franchisees in good standing were allowed a no franchise fee entry into the new system to be fair. Those that were not near current status on royalties were terminated prior to closing.

WashGuy.com agreed to take on the burden of keeping up those franchisor requirements in the previous Car Wash Guys International agreement even though it would be a loss. It would give the new franchise system a head start with franchisee numbers and make it easier to secure group discounts on products, and entice lending institutions to go with lower rates and better terms and prevent us from ever having to use sleazy leasing companies, with exorbitant rates causing a poor ROI for team members and slower growth rate for new trucks and to add to the franchisees arsenals. I did not charge a royalty, I charge per unit, so the more trucks the more royalties to grow the franchise. The only way for me to make more is if the franchisees have so much business they need more trucks to do the work. I win only if they win. If they lose, I lose worse; indeed a great incentive to work together and communicate. I even co-authored a book in which this was my main theme; "Franchising 101" Dearborne Publications.

This was a great franchise and growing fast. Our customers are anyone one that owns a car. There are on average 1.7 cars for every man woman and child in this country and so my potential exposure to this market is 5 times that of the cable TV Industry and twice that of cellular phones. Average car wash is $10 X 50 weeks a year. So of all my markets this is the most challenging of all. It will take twenty years to conquer. What I need is a 40-60 million dollar financed competitor to go and set up the major markets with mobile car washing so I can take all those customers away with superior service and more efficient operations thus lower prices. I need this competitor to teach my future customers how to do business with me and then I will slice and dice city by city as Car Wash Guys earn our destiny.

I started washing cars because I ran out of local airports to wash at since I had a 35% market penetration at all the near by airports and needed more to wash. Plus I got my drivers license. This was when I was 16. Boy I will tell you being a franchisor is the toughest business in the World and if you want to do it, you are nuts. I work 17 hours a day 7 days a week, no days off in 15 years. I can remember one three-year period I have skipped every third night of sleep, and follow up with a ten-hour crash. You have to give up everything to be a franchisor. For many Entrepreneurs this is simply part of the game, but for most they cannot deal with it. I understand that, accept it and challenge myself since there are no market leaders of any significance in my markets. We designed and attempted to build an LPG car wash truck to help the environment and worked on an aircushions hover system with electric motor. It did not work, it seems as an entrepreneur you are always doing stuff, some works, some doesn't but you are always pushing the envelope, God Bless the entrepreneurs, I hope you enjoyed today's case study as it is a chapter of my life as well as lessons learned in franchising. Think on this.

"Lance Winslow" - If you have innovative thoughts and unique perspectives, come think with Lance; www.WorldThinkTank.net/wttbbs

In The News:

Turning the 'page' in a small business  The West Volusia Beacon
Council approves small business aid  The Northwest Florida Daily News

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