Six Lessons School Leaders Can Learn from the Car Wash

I have walked by the Caribbean Car Wash almost every day for the past several months. On one of my many walks I noticed that the car wash had closed and a for sale sign was set up in front along the road.

What happened?

When I moved to Florida in 2001, this same car wash was thriving and bustling with a steady stream of customers.

However, times changed while the car wash remained the same.

A new car wash opened down the road. This car wash featured shiny new equipment and an innovative format to entice customers. For one price, the customer could drive their car through the wash and then park in the gated lot to use the additional cleaning equipment. This included the use of drying towels, vacuums and a mat cleaner.

In addition, this new car wash offers a monthly price package for as many car washes that a customer wants. If I wanted, I could get my car cleaned every day for one flat monthly price.

At the same time, the Caribbean Car Wash looked like it had had better days. The sign out front didn’t work properly. The letter “C” was missing from “Car Wash.” The weeds had grown up. The first impression was significantly lacking. The price packages hadn’t change. The owners were still living in the glory of days gone by with no improvement. The price and the experience just wasn’t competitive anymore.

I now get my cars washed at the new car wash down the road. It’s unfortunate since the other one is closer to my home.

Have you ever thought about why some schools thrive and others fail? What can we learn from the story of the Caribbean Car Wash?

Six lessons School Leaders Can Learn from the Caribbean Car Wash

1—Don’t stand still. The Caribbean Car Wash stood still for the past decade-plus and didn’t change. Everything was the same with no improvements or enhancements. Your school can’t stand still. You must embrace change and enhance what you offer. What worked years ago may not work this year or in the next decade.

2—First impressions count. The outside of the Caribbean Car Wash deteriorated over time. The paint faded, signage failed, and weeds grew. The first impression and curb appeal suffered. Your school’s first impression is critical to attract parents to enroll. What do parents see when they drive up to your campus? Is your first impression inviting and attractive, or is it a distraction and detriment to your school?

3—Always compete. There will always be new competition just like the Caribbean Car Wash experienced. You can’t overlook your local competition—both public and private schools. You must pay attention and adjust your school’s services and experiences accordingly so that you can continue to remain competitive. If you don’t remain competitive, then your competition will take over your market share.

4—Price and packaging matters. For as long as I can remember, the Caribbean Car Wash offered the same pricing package. However, when the new competition showed up down the road, their pricing package was much better while seemingly offering a better experience. The way you price your school’s tuition matters. What do your parents receive for the price that they pay? Is your price worth the value of what you are offering?

5—The experience makes a difference. Having compared both car washes, the experience at the new competitor was definitely better. I could stay in my car and ride through the wash. Then, I could complete my wash in the way that I choose. What is the experience like at your school for your students and parents? Does your school experience stand out? What happens in the classroom, on the field or on the stage at your school will determine whether or not your school will thrive in the future.

6—Innovate and improve. The last lesson is obvious. In any business, it is critical to continue to innovate and improve. The Caribbean Car Wash failed to innovate or improve in any way. Inevitably, competition will emerge and will offer a better experience. If you don’t innovate and improve at your school, then you will fall behind. And then, you will inevitably face the reality of your school’s demise and eventual closure.

Look around you and you will see stories of businesses that failed to move ahead. Several years ago I wrote a similar blog post asking leaders if their school could become the next Service Merchandise. Remember Service Merchandise? Kmart? Blockbuster Video? Toys R Us? And the list could go on. I hope that you will take action to prevent your school from fading into non-existence.

As you lead your school, keep these lessons in front of you. Don’t become part of the next generation of school closures.

This relates well to the topic of my recent live show — 12 Growth Mindsets During the Enrollment Crisis. If you missed this show, you will want to watch my interview with Dr. Olaf Jorgensen, Jennifer Glasser and Mary Jo Heindel from Almaden Country Day School as they discuss these 12 Growth Mindsets. By applying these growth mindsets, your school and your enrollment can thrive.