Episode 5: With Retention Express Founder Bobby Thomson

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About the Episode:

Are you thinking about ways to strengthen your car wash by addressing customer service issues? Have you been looking for solutions to lower your churn and keep members happy? Check out this episode with Retention Express CEO and founder Bobby Thomson.

Bobby shares with Lanese about the service Retention Express offers car wash owners, which focuses on addressing customer concerns through a white label call service that documents and addresses customer concerns. Listen in to hear how this kind of service can help you grow your business and maximize your valuations.

More about Bobby Thomson:

Bobby Thomson has a tremendous amount of experience including 22 years at AT&T Advertising, where he was in sales and retention leadership positions. Bobby was responsible for preserving, growing, and protecting $225M in MRR. Thomson coached and developed hundreds of sales and retention specialists in one of seven call centers for AT&T. He launched a new retention call center division for AT&T with 500,000 customers nationally.

Thomson became a consultant in the car washing space for a high growth operator and found that the churn rate was a problem for owners and operators with no proactive solution. Because of his experience with retention call centers at AT&T, that led to the creation of Retention Express! Learn more about Retention Express on https://retentionexpress.com/ and https://www.linkedin.com/in/bobby-thomson/

Check out the full transcript below:

Lanese

Welcome to Car Wash M&A, The Podcast. This is Episode Five. Today, we have our guest Bobby Thomson. He’s coming to us from Retention Express. And Bobby has a long experience prior to that with AT&T working in call centers. And we really feel that Bobby has such an amazing company that helps address some real pain points for car wash operators, and works with their customer experience programs and solutions. So without me putting words in your mouth, Bobby, tell us a little bit about your background and a specifically about Retention Express and what you’re doing for car wash owners.

Bobby

No, absolutely! I love car washing. It’s a great vertical, a great industry, great people. My background at AT&T advertising was in sales and leadership in sales for 12 years. And in a very similar model, because we’re talking about M&A here, our $2 billion division got acquired by a private equity group. And when they came in, they were really wondering why we were churning millions of dollars every month. And we didn’t have any data; we didn’t have any real insight. Because we were a legacy company. We had four different regional companies backed into one as AT&T, and none of them communicated to each other. And so when that private equity group came in, and they wanted the data to understand why people didn’t want to keep doing business with us, we had to put in a retention call center, and I got asked to lead a national retention call center to really understand why people didn’t like doing business with us, why they were leaving? What issues could we solve as a company, right? On top of that, the goal for driving a high level of customer experience is really empowering people to make a decision when people have issues at that time. We were very poor at it as a big $2 billion organization. And that was one of the key things that we saw. So we had a big team, we inbounded all customers that wanted to cancel, who had issues. And we were empowered to fix it; we were empowered to provide refunds; we were empowered to really just make a high level of customer experience, and give them an outlet and a platform of actually talking to our brand, which we all know a car washing is also very difficult. We had the same problems at AT&T. In reality, if the problem existed in a $2 billion dollar company, of course it’s going to exist in small operators or even medium or large operators within car washing. So, that background in AT&T led to, down the road, I had a role in consulting with car washing, and the light bulb went off for me. And I realized in that consulting that the car wash owner and operators are going through a high growth mode. They were not responding back to customers in a proper manner. They’re running high churn. And I’m like, “I think I’ve done this before. And I know how to solve this problem.”

Lanese

Yeah, this sounds familiar.

Bobby

Sounds very familiar! And at that point, which was a little over a year ago, I had the company Retention Express created, and we are a car wash specific company, trying to help owner and operators not only in the current state, but more importantly even on a post M&A acquisition. And what I’ve learned going through AT&T, and what I’ve learned to date of working with current private equity groups in the car washing industry, is when you go through an acquisition, there’s a lot of steps that have to happen before and after to make the customer experience at the high level. And, as we know, customers get a little bent out of shape if new names come in, new owners come in… “You’re going to raise my pricing?”

Lanese

Absolutely.

Bobby

There’s a ton of questions that members will have. It’s all about how you communicate with them. And that’s the key thing with everything we’re talking about is really communication. You’ve got to have good internal communication to solve issues; you’ve got to have good external communication to customers. And you’ve got to allow that path to open up to make them feel like you are listening as a company to their concerns good, bad, indifferent, canceling memberships or buying memberships. We sort of do it all!

Lanese

Oh, gosh, there’s so much great stuff that you just shared. A couple of things that really stood out for me is the word empowered. And that’s what your goal is to be empowered, to act on the behalf of your customers, which are these car wash chain owners, to solve their problems, which is also empowering their customers by feeling that sense of accomplishment that they had a question or concern, that they made one phone call, and it is resolved. I’ve heard you say the phrase “first call resolution,” and that that’s a really big goal, to listen to their problem and have a solution right then and there to fix it, and they leave happy. And then you’ve also closed that ticket and closed that item that it’s not rolling over and has to go to someone else. Of course, not everything will be solved this way. I’m sure that there are outliers. But what a great thing to get that resolution through empowerment.

Bobby

Yeah. And to just elaborate on what you’re talking about, we are white labeled, which means we operate underneath the car wash owner, their name. We operate underneath their brand. And the empowerment doesn’t come from me or my company. The empowerment comes from these owner operators. Because our goal, like you mentioned, is first call resolution. What we don’t want is always back and forth, back and forth. “Hey, owner, a customer called in, because they’ve got billing issues. Can you help?” He doesn’t have time to then follow up with us and then for us to follow up with the customer. We want to solve it right there on the phone with the customer. So we build a custom playbook with every owner and operator. And in the onboarding process, we will talk about what we are empowered to do. If customer calls in with X problem, how do you want us to solve it? If a customer has x billing issue, how do you want us to solve that? So we’re working within their guidelines, and then we have an escalation path with the owners and their team of how we would actually, if we need additional help outside of those parameters, we’re going to escalate issues up to them to get additional insight. That way, they’re fully involved with any complaints that we’re trying to make happy, or any long time billing issues that are just now getting recognized by the consumer. And they feel like they’re owed a whole bunch of money on a refund.

Lanese

Sounds familiar.

Bobby

We help solve and really work to a win/win solution at every level we can. And the best way to create a high level of customer experience is to create a first call resolution. People don’t have time for a $30 membership to call you back eight times. They don’t want to do that! And if you put them in that position to do it, there’s only one loser in that situation! It’s going to be your brand. Because that’s going to lead to negative reviews, it’s going to lead to…

Lanese

And they’re mad! That’s such a bad taste in their mouth.

Bobby

And they’re not going to come back, right? And we know M&A in this space is very live and very active. If there’s ever a time and industry that has to get better at treating their customers, now is the time, because there’s plenty of people who are recognizing, “Hey, we’re growing memberships at a high level!” But with that comes a big responsibility that you have to support that member model, too. So we come in, we take all that off the owner’s plate, we take it off their manager’s plate, we inbound everything to us 24/7. We open up all channels for a consumer to communicate to that brand, not only through a phone call, which was forwarded to us, but email; we open up to a live chat; we open up texting. We can do social media through private messaging, when people reach out. We have the ability to communicate that. And the beautiful thing is, we’re all about not only first call resolution, but identifying what the back door really looks like for the owner and operator. The back door is really arguably the biggest black hole of unknown, that each owner and operator really doesn’t know how big it is. And that’s one of the few things that we’ve learned very quickly is when we intake everything 24/7, we’re capturing every bit of customer interaction. And we don’t resolve anything until we’ve solved the issue. And that volume is very high, and you know, Lanese, and we know talking to owner and operators, that managers don’t have time to pick up the phone. They don’t have an hour and a half to respond back to 40 emails that want to cancel or have questions or pick up the phone in a live setting at eight o’clock in the morning to eleven o’clock in the morning to three o’clock, four o’clock, five o’clock. We inbound over… We have live agents on east coast to west coast, so we would inbound that over a 13 hour period. So we’re working a lot longer hours, probably than most owners are open. Because we’re on the east coast. We operate in five time zones from Alaska, down to Florida. And everything in between. So we have agents always working.

Lanese

And even if somebody was large enough on the car wash chain level to have a staff in house, that’s few and far between, and that still is a lot of work for someone to take on. And the reality is that most car wash owners and most car wash multi sites don’t have somebody in house. So you’re right, these are either really taking a lot of time burden on the managers or on the onsite staff who are having to absorb these complaints or issues — especially when it comes to monthly plans, and all of those types of things — that they’re absorbing that. And then that’s taking away from what they really want to do, which is process cars, focus on the in-store car wash aspect of it, but we can’t ignore that our customers, especially as the digital revolution has evolved, that they want on-demand services. They want live chat; they want responses on social media. And if you don’t do that, you’re just really leaving such an opportunity to connect with them in a way that they’re looking to connect with you.

Bobby

Correct. And you bring up a couple of valid points that you’re talking about, right? There are owner and operators that may hire somebody to do this. The issue that we found out is you may hire somebody, but you’re only doing it part time, right? They’re doing it part-time hourly. And they’re maybe doing it Monday through Friday. But car washes are not closed on the weekend.

Lanese

Absolutely not.

Bobby

They’re very active on the weekend. And if they’re if they’re open, they almost expect you to be open, too. And we know on the weekends on site, they’re super busy, their car counts go up, and they have more staff doing a lot more things. They’re definitely not going to take the time to do it. Even if you have somebody in house, you’re kind of limited on 40 hours, maybe at most. And the thing about us is we have a full team and network that we actually support that model of being open 13 hours, seven days a week. So all these tickets that come in through the weekend, they’re not building up over Friday night, Saturday, Saturday night, Sunday, and Sunday night. That volume right there has been waiting for their people on Monday, or the owners, or the managers. And I promise you that is a ton of time to solve just to get caught up from the weekend. And it really will take probably until Wednesday for them to not only catch up from the weekend, but to get caught up, if they’re lucky, from Monday and Tuesday. What happens is they’re delayed calling people back, right? They may not call them back. They’re delayed in responding by email, or they may not respond back by email, all that contributes to very poor customer experience. And guess what? That cycle happens every week. And it’s like a constant hamster wheel that they’re never getting caught up on. And that’s one of the things that we do, and I thought I was going to be off Sunday, too. When I created the company, my goal was, “Hey, we’re not going to work on Sunday,” but our volume is just too great coming in on the weekend. And we’re really helping owner and operators just keep that experience ongoing every single day and making it the first call resolution to clean up the volume.

Lanese

It’s a retail business. You’re right that holidays and the weekend are the busiest time because that’s when the car wash customer is available to go do the things that they’re doing when they’re not at work. And so you’re so right that there’s that need to have this service and not let it go on… Because the longer time that goes on, the more upset the retail car wash customers can potentially be because now they haven’t heard anything; it’s still on their list. And that’s a real pain point for them and for the car wash owners. Thinking back about meeting you in June of 2021. We were at the car wash show, the Southwest Car Wash Convention in Fort Worth, and I had given a talk on customer service. And at the end of it, you came up and asked for my notes. And while I was very flattered, it gave us an opportunity to connect and to hear about what you were then launching. And I distinctly remember hearing about that from you and just thinking, “Wow, what a great service to offer!” Because on my car wash operations experience level, I’ve been on the other side of this and been the person that’s answering the phone calls and that’s responding to customers and customer emails and a lot of the inbound things that the store levels didn’t have the time for or wasn’t their area of expertise. And coming from a communications background, that’s more in my wheelhouse. That said, it was really, really difficult to manage that and not feel like you’re behind all the time. So I recognized then that you’re onto something. And then keep going down the road, now a year into it, it’s been a really exciting launch of Amplify Ventures to continue to address these pain points that car wash operators are experiencing, or find innovative solutions to help them maximize their same store sales because maximizing those same store sales means that they’re worth more, that it’s raising their value of their business, for whatever they’re looking for in the future. And I love that, through our connection, we can align our goals and helping carwash owners maximize the value of their business, alleviate those pain points, and raise the level of customer service and customer experience that our end user consumers are expecting from us as an industry.

Bobby

Yeah, no doubt about it. There’s so much opportunity. And you’re right, going back to last June, when I was coming into the market, I’m just trying to learn everything I can. And you’re obviously very professional, you have good contacts in the industry, you’ve been on the operator side as well, too. So for me, trying to learn even more outside of working with that big consulting role… Well, how big was this problem, you know, in the space? And that show was really my introduction into car washing from a business standpoint; the market feedback at that show was very positive. And it just really kept building momentum all the way into taking our first customers in September. So in less than a year, we now operate in over 20 states, we now operate over five time zones, and we have agents built up on the west coast and east coast. And to be honest, there’s a lot of opportunity for us. And that’s where our partnership comes in, of how do we help more and more people create this high level of customer experience, but more importantly, I know you and I know Pavone and the whole team… What we also create and drive are data and insights, right? Everyone’s talking about data in a lot of different ways. We are very much a high tech call center that on every call that comes in, every email, we’re documenting why people are calling in, what their issues were, and how do we solve it. That’s really the gist of what we’re trying to accomplish, and we’re trying to do it fast, but also that feeds into a dashboard for our owner and operators. And it gives them insights, right? So in a way, it’s like we can look at kind of the healthiness of a brand or of a location, because if there’s any negative feedback coming out of the consumer’s mouth, right, we’re the voice of the customer. We relay that back to the owner and operator, so they’re aware and they have the ability to go fix issues before the issue can really compound. We’ve had some case studies that we’re tracking very deeply right now. We’ve had case studies where operators are getting 1700 calls in the first month that we take on, which means we’re taking a lot of extra issues at the very beginning. And we’ve been able to reduce that volume by 60%. And part of that as we stabilize the volume of the customers over a period of time is that they’re not having to call back in 2, 3, 4 or 5 times. And that’s part of the issue with owner and operators is when they can never catch up, it’s a constant hamster wheel of going the same thing over and over and over. And we know, if you keep doing the same thing over and over, we know what that really means. You’ve got to change something, right? That’s the definition of insanity, I think. And more importantly, the goal of every an owner and operator to increase their value within the business is to grow memberships. I haven’t talked to any owner and operator where they want less members; they all want more. And the more members that you bring on through acquisition on the front end, the more responsibility you have to serve them. But at the same time, that backdoor of churn when people want to leave… We want to make the exit as clean as possible, as easy as possible. And they leave on the highest note of the brand that they can leave on. Because you want the ability to win these people back. We know not every customer is canceling because they’ve moved…

Lanese

Right. Yeah, they’re not all moving!

Bobby

People that wreck their cars don’t even know that we can transfer memberships. Right? Our goal is to extend billable revenue. The value of a customer, you know, in general in lifetime is maybe eight months of a customer. So, we want to preserve that customer as long as possible, because that adds value back to the owner and operator. We also take the approach of when 50 to 60% of all the calls coming in are not members, but they’re retail, we take the opportunity…

Lanese

What a goldmine!

Bobby

That is a goldmine, and there’s a lot of people that go, “Hey, I’m new to the area. Can you tell me about your price plans?” We are answering those issues. We’re actually an extension of the brand. We’re going through the value proposition for what the owner and operators include within the membership. We explain clearly how the membership works. We explain clearly that it is a recurring charge. Right?

Lanese

Right! Because that’s another thing — “Nobody told me!”

Bobby

With our case studies, we’ve had operators who have had that problem within their employees. The employees were not telling customers properly of the membership details. They’re telling them it’s like a 30 day plan because they’re getting paid a commission on the very first month. And that has led into huge churn for some of these operators. And that’s data points that we understand very quickly. Because when you have 100 calls that come in, and they all tell you the same thing, there’s a coaching problem that needs to go back into the market to go, “Hey, we need to retrain these employees,” or maybe we got a few bad apples, who are just selling it the wrong way. But we need to make sure that our brand has been protected, because there’s only one loser in that situation, which is going to be the owner and operator! If you give a discount on month one, and you pay a commission, and you can’t convert that customer into a renewal at month two, if not month three, who’s losing a situation? That’s a bad deal! And we want to help address that. And we work very well with owner and operators; we communicate very well. And, you know, our collaboration of just trying to help them get a good understanding, because we’re capturing the data, and data tells a story, and is what you do with that story that you can improve your operations to get better and better. And that’s the key thing right now for owner and operators, is how do we really improve operations?

Lanese

Right! And through the process that you’re that you’re talking about with onboarding your customers, I imagine that there’s quite a few of them that don’t have this process already mapped out on their end. And so sometimes it’s really helpful to have someone that’s guiding you or pushing you to lay out the actual systems and the standards for, “Okay, these are the parameters for how we’re going to handle X, Y, Z. This is when we refund… This is when we escalate…” That maybe that’s just kind of loosely happening on a site by site basis, according to the manager’s discretion. But those are the factors, too, that really helped with scalability in the long run, is on all of these different operational levels of creating these systems and these guidelines and these SOPs that make that systemized and turnkey as you grow, and you’re there to help them have this part of it scalable.

Bobby

No doubt.

Lanese

And I think that’s a really, really valuable and an asset for all of the carwash owners. And as you’re acutely learning, opening a car wash or even buying a car wash is only a small part of the battle. The hard part is running a carwash, running it well, and keeping your customers growing memberships, reducing churn, all of those things. And that’s where you help.

Bobby

No doubt about it! And we are partners of our owner and operators. We are white labeled; we’re underneath their brand; we follow their guidelines.

Lanese

I’m going to go back to that white labeled part. And you explained it earlier. But I just want to highlight this. So your team comes in, and they represent and get to know the brand specifically, so when somebody calls in to the call center, you know what store they’re calling from, and you answer on behalf of the car wash chain owner. But the customer does not know necessarily that this is going to a call center. You’re just an extension of their brand, which I think is so amazing that you’re keeping that consistency of the brand. It is not confusing. But it’s making it better for everybody.

Bobby

Yeah, there’s no doubt about it, right? Their phone numbers get forwarded in to us. Their emails get forwarded to us. We embed chat codes on the website. We open up the texting channel. When people go to the website, or go to Google, and they’re trying to contact Bubble Bath — which is a great customer — when a call comes in, it’s “Thanks for calling Bubble Bath Car Wash. This is Bobby speaking. How can we help you?” They had no clue that we are in Atlanta. They have no clue that we’re in Reno, Nevada, no clue that we’re in Savannah, Georgia, no clue that we’re in Texas. They have no clue, right? And that’s the whole goal is we are an extension of the brand. We want to operate in brand. And we do it at every level. We have automations built into our platform; we get data points back from the customer through that that helps speed up our process. We want to know what location. Sometimes people… Every day it happens. “I want to cancel my membership.” It would be kind of nice if you’d tell us your full name. It’d be kind of nice if you tell us your license plate number or tell us your RFID code.

Lanese

Right. Do you send them a confirmation that their plan was cancelled as well?

Bobby

Yes. The key thing we haven’t really mentioned on the first call resolution is we operate in every point of sale. We operate in https://drb.com/ We operate in https://drb.com/tunnel_solutions/point-of-sale/patheon . We operate in https://www.icscarwashsystems.com/ We operate in [https://www.sonnysdirect.com/services text =Sonny’s platform.) We operate in https://micrologic.net/ We literally have customers at every one of them. So we get an employee code. We get logged in as Retention Express. And when calls come in, we do the look up, we do the billing research. We do the refunds… Anything that the owner and operator will empower us to do, we will do because we take it off their plate. And then we have escalation path beyond that point. So getting into the point of sale is critical to solving a lot of the issues that take that time. Like, we can be on a double billing question that takes 22 minutes, or ages to work with that customer correctly to explain how that double billing occurred. And walk them back over the last four months of, “Hey, your bill date is always the fifth, and then this month, you had a credit card issue… Does sound familiar? And then we didn’t get our money until the 15th, and then you billed again on the fifth.” Customers do not know that. They need someone to walk them through that. And we take the time to do it. So we’re talking in brand, right? Being an extension of it… When we get access to the point of sale, they have no clue who we are. We just tell them, “Hey, we’re in the corporate office, we handle all locations.” So Bubble Bath over San Antonio has many locations. But most of our owner and operators are multi site operators, we have some that are multi brand, multi site, multi state operators for private equity. And then we have brand new owner and operators in the marketplace, too. So we work with every owner and operator. With each one, we get direct access to either dial in, remote dial in to the terminal, to get to the point of sale, or it’s cloud based, and we get logged in and we can just cancellations. Any issues. Again, we operate with the owner and operators through an escalation path.

Lanese

Gosh, when you said it could take 22 minutes to explain the monthly plan process or the billing process, that also really resonates on an operational level, because 22 minutes on a busy day is a lifetime. So that is such a long time to pull staff away. So, you can’t do it! I mean, because that’s at the expense of all the other paying customers that are waiting, if it’s a manager or somebody that’s needed elsewhere. So that really sticks with me about that time that you’re saving the on-site staff from dealing with this, and also that it’s really… it’s not something that they typically want to be pulled away to do, nor that they’re specifically trained in. A lot of times managers are trained to be car wash managers, and they’re not necessarily experts in this form of communication or again, nor do they have the time for it.

Bobby

Yeah, I think most owner and operators want their people focused on the job at hand, right? On site, you’ve got to take care of your customers at the point of first impression. When they come into the gate, you may know they’re a member, a gate could open they come in. But when people stop, are they retail? Are they retail first time or are they retail coming back? Do they know about your membership plans? Do they not know about them? Right? All that comes into play. So, we’re the partner off site. We want to help support that membership model, help protect the churn on the back door, gather all the data and insights that the owner and operators need. And look, I’ve even done coaching sessions with managers of different brands to go, “Hey, here’s what we’re learning about your location. Here’s the good, and here’s the bad.” Whatever the improvements may or may not happen… We talk about it. In reality, if there’s really an issue, the owners are going to know very quickly because we’re going to just communicate that to them that “Hey, you may want to look into this! It may or may not be a problem. But we don’t want this to go on for 30 days.” We don’t want this go on for 15 days, because that only magnifies customer issues. And it could be as simple as, “Hey, I’m on your website, and I’m trying to buy a membership, but your link is broken.” We get one call, we communicate that to the owner and operators. And this happens quite often. Well, they get to the point of sale provider, and they get that fixed very quickly, right? If no one ever addresses that problem, how many people would not be buying a membership? Or just get kind of mad and go, “Well, if they can’t get this right, why do I want to do business with them?”

Lanese

Right! I’m trying to give you my money here.

Bobby

Totally! So, you want to make it easy for them to give you the money. You want to make it easy for them to keep giving you money over a longer period of time. And then when they do leave, you can’t get mad because they’re leaving because it’s just part of doing business. And people have all kinds of reasons. They could lose a job, they could have a family issue, they sell a car. You never know, right? You never know when those people are going to come back. Our goal is to try and get feedback out of them. They are going to cancel, right? We’re going to cancel for them. Give them all the details of the cancellation. Your membership will expire June 15. You can use the wash up till the 14th. Your credit card ending in 2345 will not be billed again. That gives them complete confidence that “Hey, I feel good that you’ve solved my problem. And I can move on to other things my life I need to worry and not have to deal with car washing.” At that point, they’re unemotional maybe to the brand except for the fact they feel good about the leaving, and they’re not emotional because you’re making it difficult for them.

Lanese

Right.

Bobby

When people create emotion, it creates tension. They may not want to come back to do business with you, especially when you have a lot of competition in these big markets, and it’s only going to get more competition, and you want to make it easy for them to come back to your brand. Because the best thing you can do is they start comparing you from a customer service standpoint, either on site or off site, from one brand to the other. And people always go back to the brand that they feel provides a high level of service. We do surveys every day with customers and the feedback that we get coming back… fast resolution, we answered their questions, we showed empathy… We get so many positive reviews coming back. And that really helps clean up the public perception in the market.

Lanese

Absolutely!

Bobby

Because negative reviews everyone hates dealing with. Every owner and operator. It’s just part of dealing with the consumer model. Everyone has the ability to get on their phone, they can write a review whenever they want. And you can’t win all the battles, right? Everyone with a 15-year-old car thinks that you ruined their clear coat in the tunnel of a car wash, right? You just can’t solve everybody. But what you don’t want is people going, “I called in three months ago to cancel, and I’m still getting billed, and you guys are frauds!” That is a real review that happens every day in the industry. And it’s because everyone is too busy. They’re not following up with customers. They’re not documenting all the reasons to try and solve issues that can fix some of these problems over a longer period of time. And for us, we manage every call, every email, in two stages. We don’t close anything until we’ve solved their problem, so there is no customer left behind. Our goal is to solve every issue, get it to a solved state, either through our empowerment, or we work directly with the owner managers through our collaboration tool for them to help out. And it could be a simple thing like, “Hey, I got my car cleaned, but I left my floor mats. Do you have my floor mats at the site?” That’s a simple customer experience thing that you can solve if you call them back. If it takes you a week to call them back, you know, they’re not overly happy, right? And they don’t want to waste time to go down to the car wash if they don’t have to, if you don’t have it! But they need to know that. So we try and quickly communicate that, get back to the customers, solve the issue, move on to the next one, because people call every day, every hour.

Lanese

And something that we’re touching on, there’s so much value in the data that you’re gathering and documenting that this is usable data to help enhance the efficiency and the operation on a very tangible level, that these are action items that can then be implemented to help alleviate some of these pain points and these issues, to grow and to increase those those same store sales. And the data part of it is really interesting, both from the information that you’re gathering, but then also what car wash owners can do with that and how they can use that data. I mean, you’re right, even having somebody’s name and their email… That you’ve captured that information. And I was asking you about the receipts because 5, 10 years ago when I was doing this, even getting the receipt of the transaction was a very clunky process that took time. And it seems like such a basic thing for other industries that have these kinks worked out. But it’s nice that the car wash industry is kind of catching up on a lot of these technology advancements that really show that our business and our industry is continuing to elevate professionally. And you can see from the interest level by outside groups. I mean, we have so many private equity companies that are interested in this space for a reason, because there’s a lot of upside to it. And with that, it seems like we have this opportunity to keep expanding on these new solutions and these new technologies that are helpful to carwash owners, and that’s what we’re doing, right? That’s what our goal is: to keep this ball going forward and offer more solutions to car wash owners.

Bobby

Yeah, there’s so much opportunity for owner and operators. We know that the multiples are really high right now. And a lot of owner operators are able to capitalize on their success today, which is great. The industry is just going to keep growing, right? And it’s going to keep evolving. And the evolution of technology has to get better. Because it’s not only for them operationally for them to understand all the data points, right? How many cars come through per day is one thing, but all the retail people…. The people who are not members, how do you convert them? What is their usage? You know, how do you get that kind of data? And then how do you market to them effectively? What platform do you market to them? All those things come into play. And, you know, we support a lot of marketing companies out there who drive acquisition. We support the owner and operators. That’s really what our goal is. And we really want the value of their business to really improve. And there’s so many ways, like you mentioned, tangibly that we can do that. Like we track all the cancellations, right? And a lot of people ask me, “Well, how do you improve retention? How do you quantify it?” Well, we get a lot of calls of selling your brand; we’re trying to create revenue. At the same time we’re trying to protect it. We’re trying to expand your revenue horizontally. We talk a lot about family plans. family plans are a great way… You typically have an advocate already, if they’re a member. Most people have a roommate or a family member or somebody else with them that they could add on a second or third car. And if you’ve got a family plan, you’ve got to promote it, right? An easy way to grow your membership base, extend your billable revenue… Most people offer a discount on second and third car. And we love promoting those discounts because we help drive a lot of revenue back to the owner and operators. So we’re not a call center; we are much more than that. And we want to create revenue at the same time we’re trying to protect it. So our documentation will show you all of our upsell opportunities that we create. And every customer that calls in, we try and take that opportunity to really promote their brand to get some more billable revenue coming in. So all of those factors come into play. And guess what? Managers on site, they’re going to maybe touch on it, press on it, if they respond back. A lot of people we know will call and abandon the call. Managers at a site are not going to take the time to call back that abandoned call. Those abandoned calls we’ve uncovered, because we do call them back, we’ve realized that there’s a lot of money in that group of the black hole that we talked about, that owner and operators don’t know how big it is. And that’s the group that we help convert into why you should do business. And that’s all part of the playbook. And these are all questions we ask them because we want to help them! We’re like another salesperson helping them out. But we’re in a very professional setting. I’ve got really good people working for me. They get trained up on the brand, and we want to be that extension for them. But they need that help. They’re doing a great job, most of them are doing phenomenal. They’re growing member counts! It’s really just as you get bigger and bigger with your memberships, you’ve got to support them differently. And the same amount of people can’t support a higher level of volume of members. They need more help to do it.

Lanese

And you talked a couple of times about the black hole, but you’re so right, because people, as a customer, the end user customer, they may have called 30 times, but they only left one message. So to the manager on site, this is a one message, one call problem. But to the customer who has the issue, they’ve called 31 times and just the one time left a message, so each time that’s escalating for them that nobody’s answering! That is a very big black hole that is crazy to think about. But it’s really interesting of how you’re able to capture that and to close that. And you’ve talked about being able to help grow sales and grow members, but then also protect the memberships and protect that backdoor as well. And that’s huge to the value of a business of really thinking through that holistic customer journey of not just what happens on site, but what happens off site, and how to marry those efforts make a synergistic approach to the whole process that a customer goes through.

Bobby

That’s correct. And part of our conversation is about M&A. And when there’s an acquisition going through, there’s so much work that has to be done before the acquisition. And then even after. My recommendation to owner and operators, right, who are doing the acquisition is you’ve got to understand the customer journey before you take over. And what do you want that journey to look like after you take over. Because in that middle, there’s a lot of gray areas, a lot of rough waters of making the transition from one brand to the other. From one pricing plan that has four or five models to one that has three, people start freaking out over it. You got to be able to communicate to your customers effectively, before really and even after, and try to lower that tension, lower that stress of the unknown, and just overcommunicate with them throughout the whole process. So there’s good marketing techniques to do that. You’ve got to have good people that can answer the call, that can answer these questions to solve it. And there’s a whole playbook, you know, that customers really need to think about of what that journey should look like before and after. Because if you’re acquiring a brand, multisite… It could have 10,000 members, right? You’re going to get an extra 500 calls day one, potentially, of that brand that has 10,000 members. How are you supporting that? It’s a lot of volume, and somebody’s got to take care of it. And you’ve got to have that in place beforehand. So we really help private equity groups and even other owner operators going through acquisition, is we put together a playbook. We want to have a good transition and to make it smooth, and really shorten the timeframe of not people getting dropped or actually elevating the experience from the prior owner and giving them, “Hey, here’s what you’re getting with us as a new owner. And here’s the service that we’re going to provide not only on site, but if you have issues, you can always reach out to us off site!”

Lanese

Right. What do you want to keep about the previous brand? What are the great things that you want to continue, but then what do you want to improve upon and make better and how can you communicate that to a customer. So maybe you are raising the prices, but hey, you’re getting all of these other things. And we’re going to make the experience better through these different efforts and channels that the customer can be educated on why that’s a good thing, and let them know the benefits to that change.

Bobby

Yeah, and here’s here’s a good tip. For scalability and to really growing your brand and your messaging, it has to be consistent, right? From one location to the other, from one employee to the other.

Lanese

Totally.

Bobby

And what happens is that messaging gets kind of lost, and people see differently location A from location B. One of the best things I’ve come across that I think we can help people up, and we have helped people or we recommended, is a you have a nice giveaway at the time, at the point of sale, that your employees are handing out messaging either on what I call a retention card, right? It’s like little business card. It could be a little bit bigger, like a postcard; it’s all branded. And it gives consumers the information of their billing, right? Hey, you bought a membership, thank you. This is recurring every 30 days. You can cancel anytime. Here’s how you can cancel online, on site, or call customer support. If you call customer support, here’s how you get a hold of them. You’re just making it very easy. And that way, your employees are sort of protected, right? If they’re very diligent to get that out to every new member, your messaging becomes the same. And then you cut down on all these unnecessary calls of people go on, I didn’t know that my billing was renewing. I didn’t know my promotional plan was going to double month two. All that should be addressed at the beginning. And that’s one of the key things that we’ve learned to help people with, and how they can help themselves is have something to give people tangibly that will back up or reinforce the messaging that you want your employees to have, that they should say every single time. But help them! Give them this document they can tangibly get to a customer. And then there’s not the customer forgetting about it after they get out of a three minute tunnel. Right? They forget that they may have been told it was recurring. They only hear what they want to hear! But it really helps if on a screen people sign off that it’s recurring revenue. Or, “Hey, Mr. Customer, do you remember the flyer we gave you at the time?” “Yes.” “All of that is addressed.” So it’s all about the proper expectations they have to set on the very front end.

Lanese

Right! Well, those are some great tips and from hearing about your idea and Retention Express from the first time, this really, really offers the car wash chain owners, it offers them something that’s so useful. And that’s what we find so interesting and so exciting about your business. And then joining this journey with you to help further educate car wash owners that this is something that may be a really helpful solution to raising those same store sales, to increasing the efficiencies, and the added benefits of all this data that they have now, too, that they can use to further elevate their brand. With that timeframe in mind, what is one thing that you’ve been most surprised about from the car wash industry? Anything you want. This is just a bonus question.

Bobby

The people are great, but the problems that we had at a $2 billion company at AT&T, our division, with all the resources and all the brainpower we had, exist everywhere. And it all comes down to customer experience. And that is a difficult job in itself. Right? In how you tackle it, people look at it as a true… Just a pure cost on their P&L. They don’t like the cost on their P&L. But in reality, if you do it right, it can make you money. And if you put enough effort and energy into it, it’ll improve your business, which is their goal, right? They want to grow the revenue; they want to grow the membership; they want to grow the customer experience. And they need to because the competition is getting bigger and bigger. So for me, it’s like the problems exist at big companies or small companies. We know the big companies have problems; we all have issues. And we all complain about AT&T probably through a lot of different ways in general as a big company, but car wash things are no different. And car wash owner and operators still need to attack and solve that issue no differently than the big corporations. Everyone struggles with it, but you’ve got to allow people to be in control. And there’s different strategies that they can do to allow the consumers to be in control, but they’ve got to be able to respond back effectively on it.

Lanese

Right! And where can people find more information about Retention Express and explore your services?

Unknown Speaker

Well, no doubt, hopefully through the Amplify team will be one great source. I know that will happen! But retentionexpress.com– you can hit a link for a demo. I’m happy to get on a call to talk through what your needs are, your current situation, where you’re trying to get to, and then kind of backfill our services of how we operate, how we can operate, and how we can help you, but retentionexpress.com. You can email me mailto:[email protected] or call me at tel:9044510461 All right?

Lanese

Nice. Well, thank you, Bobby, so much. I feel like we could chat forever. We’re kindred spirits, and we have so much to talk about. I really appreciate you sharing, and again, our goal is to help be good stewards of the car wash industry and to maximize value for car wash owners and make things simpler for them so that they continue to grow, and they can thrive, and they can love this industry, and I think that that’s what we’re all here for. And that passion is really contagious, too, that we all thrive off of each other and get new ideas and that collaboration part’s a really cool aspect of just continuing to grow the opportunities within the carwash industry. So, very happy to have you as a partner with Amplify Ventures and excited to see where we can continue to grow to help car wash owners! So listen for the next episode the last Thursday of the month, and you can find Amplify’s podcast, Car Wash M&A, The Podcast on our website at amplifywash.com/podcast. You can find me on https://www.linkedin.com/in/lanesebarnett/ or you can reach out to me at mailto:[email protected] Thanks.

Bobby

Thank you, Lanese. Appreciate everything you’re doing!

Jet Brite Car Wash

With decades of hands-on experience as operators, when it came time to sell our car wash business who we sold to was important to Sam and me. Chris [Jenks] and the team at Amplify listened to us throughout the entire process. They found the right buyer in ZIPS who would be a good steward of the brand and helped find the best path forward for us where we can continue pursuing our passion for manufacturing high-quality car wash equipment.  

Jet Brite Car Wash  
Dave Delesandro  | Founder

Quick N’ Clean

My relationship with Commercial Plus over the past 20 years has been a very professional and trustworthy relationship. The feel of trust is very important in this business, and Jeff Pavone and his staff have exhibited a level of trust that makes me continue to feel that they have my best interest front of mind. I deal with many brokers across the nation, and my best experiences and results have been achieved with Commercial Plus representation.

Quick N’ Clean
Richard Karle | Owner

Zips

It’s been a great experience working with Amplify Car Wash Advisors to bring these sites into the ZIPS portfolio. We look forward to serving Dallas area customers with an enhanced car wash experience unique to ZIPS, with the added benefit of our extensive network of stores. This year we have continued our aggressive growth track with the goal to truly shine in our efforts to be the best express car wash provider in the industry and it’s acquisitions like this that help us reach our goals.

Zips
Gene Dinkens | CEO

ModWash

It was truly a pleasure to work with the Amplify team on our most recent acquisition of three additional operating locations in our home state of Tennessee. Their team provided great support and ensured a timely and seamless closing process, and we are excited for the additional growth opportunities this relationship will produce in our near future. We know this is the first of many transactions we will successfully complete with the Amplify team as we grow from our current operating store count of 23 to well over 200 locations across 14 states in the next two years.

ModWash
Brian Thornton | COO

Busy Bee Car Wash

For years I’ve talked to a lot of brokers with the same goal; sell your car wash chain as quickly as possible. But I chose to work with Amplify because they were interested and invested in the emotional side of selling my business and truly value long-term relationships. They weren’t forcing me to take a deal just to take a deal. They listened to my concerns and goals then educated me on all my options. And that’s how I decided on the right partner for my chain specifically. I went to bed at night after I signed the papers knowing I got the best deal possible versus just having any deal put in front of me that is only about money.

Busy Bee Car Wash
Jim Mulholland | Owner

Q Car Wash

We really appreciate Jeff and his entire team at Amplify. Their expertise and deep industry knowledge helped us navigate our options and best showcase our strengths to maximize our value. Caliber is a good fit for Q Car Wash as they look to expand in North Texas.

Q Car Wash
Viran Nana | COO

Cobblestone Auto Spa

I have known both Jeff and Bill for over thirty years combined, and respect them both as experts in our professional car washing industry. Their unique and individual strengths bring very strong talent and advice to operators, sellers, and buyers with sharp knowledge, client’s best interest in mind, and an actual personal touch. They hold the expertise and performance track record to hold a very high level of respect within this rapidly-changing car wash industry.

Cobblestone Auto Spa
Tuck Bettin | CEO

Oasis Car Wash

Turning over a business you started from one shovel of dirt 25 years ago and grew to several locations is a difficult and even uncomfortable process. So, when it came time for Larry and me to sell, we chose Amplify Car Wash Advisors to guide us through the process because of their strong reputation and thought leadership in the industry. Their team was professional and did a great job walking us through each step.

Oasis Car Wash
Dallas Hawkins | Partner

Busy Bee Car Wash

Selling our business after 52 years is big deal and certainly not a decision I took lightly, turning over our family legacy was an emotional process and I appreciated that the team at Amplify respected that. They helped me understand my options and found the best deal for me.

Busy Bee Car Wash
Jim Mulholland | Owner

Ducky’s Express

I have been a multi-site developer and operator in the car wash industry for over 30 years. Four years ago, a partner’s health concern forced me to sell a portion of my portfolio, and during that process, I was introduced to Jeff Pavone of Commercial Plus. I was immediately impressed with Jeff’s knowledge of my industry and his volume of successful deal closings. In a very short period of time, Jeff found the right buyer at a very fair price, and the transaction closed shortly thereafter. I was looking for a team with honesty, integrity, and a proven track record of success, and I found all of that in Jeff.

Ducky’s Express
Richard Miller

Trademark Car Wash

These are some of the most exciting times for car wash owners. As we grew 350% in revenue in just one year, we recognized the time to partner up with a top-tier team that has mastered growth in retail and specifically the automotive industry. Amplify Car Wash Advisors had helped us acquire, raise capital, and was the perfect partner to help us reach this next chapter of the Trademark story.

Trademark Car Wash
Andrew Goldberger