We Wash Cars is a mobile on-site car detailing service in the greater Toronto area and Vancouver that runs entirely without an office.
Customers simply go online to book the services they want, based on the schedule available for their district, and the service comes to them. The company's two trucks, one in each city, have a capacity of doing 1,200 to 1,500 cars a month each, depending on the services.
Employees communicate via frequent e-mails, phone and through occasional meetings. Eliminating the expense of rent, office staff and supplies keeps overhead low and has given the small company a competitive edge.
"We run everything out of our mobile cleaning unit using the Internet hooked up to a cellphone and a laptop," owner Andy Oakes says. "That way we're able to receive orders on-site while providing service to another customer and can continue to fill our schedule throughout the day."
While some older customers miss chatting with Mr. Oakes, more like the speed and simplicity of ordering online. Since the company adopted the custom technology 18 months ago, the volume of business has increased more than 20 per cent.
"It's just the way the world's going," Mr. Oakes says. "A lot of people nowadays don't want to be talked to. They just want to get it done."
When Mr. Oakes first started the business more than 10 years ago, there was no talk of technology at all. But once he got on the Internet and began sending out e-mails to customers, he realized its potential. Mr. Oakes had a Web designer create a user-friendly website that facilitates customer ordering, booking appointments and scheduling in an integrated way. One thing he discovered was that people would pay for the services online if they felt secure, eliminating the previous headache of sending out invoices and chasing down payments.
"Our website allows us to take customer information and put it directly on the TD bank website, so our payments aren't through Pay Pal or other providers but through TD itself," says Mr. Oakes who says the technology he uses is affordable and incredibly reliable. "That was the biggest and most expensive part of the project."
Having all the services booked and prepaid online solves another big problem in the car detailing industry - cash.
"I've known a lot of car detailing businesses that have gone under because of that," Mr. Oakes says. "We also know how much product is on the truck and how much time the truck needs to do each service so we're able to track a lot more about what's being used and what's being done."
One of the biggest challenges was linking it all together so that once a service was ordered, the truck would get it in real time. Another was trying to structure a schedule that worked for the truck by dividing it into districts.
"You don't want to do a car downtown, then go to North York and back downtown," Mr. Oakes says. "You're wasting time, fuel and it's bad for the environment. That's why we try to build a schedule that keeps the truck in an area for a certain amount of time, say, the downtown core on Monday and Tuesday."
Because it's an automated system, no one is actually talking to the customers, but by having them go into a structured website, they have to order within a certain time period.
"You want the website to manipulate the customer into a schedule that accommodates you," Mr. Oakes says. "You want to accommodate your customer, but you also want the schedule to make sense for your business. That way you can control how many cars you're doing in a district, how much travelling the truck is doing and still be able to provide the service."
According to Mr. Oakes, another advantage to the website is "no missed calls."
Plus, customers can also book from anywhere in the world, so they can go online from Tibet or India, book their car wash, pay for it and come back to a clean car. Having access to their customers' information online also helps the company keep in touch on a regular basis. Inspired by how dental offices send out reminders based on a computer program that cycles patients' names, Mr. Oakes does the same with his customers about seasonal cleanups and regular car washes.
What he sees for the future is continued development for the business with the edge he's gained through technology.
"My trucks can work 24 hours a day, seven days a week, as long as the demand is there," Mr. Oakes says. "I know other companies with three trucks on the road but the trucks aren't always busy so they're paying out labour while their people are waiting for another job. That's what we're trying to eliminate. The less I waste, the more I can spend on labour and marketing."