Enrolments: Six lessons school Heads can learn from the car wash

I used to walk by the Caribbean Car Wash almost every day. On one of my many walks I noticed that it had closed and a ‘For Sale’ sign had been set up in front of it. 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 one 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 additional cleaning equipment, including drying towels, vacuums and a mat cleaner.

In addition, this new car wash offered 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 seen better days. The sign out front didn’t work properly. The letter C was missing from ‘Car Wash’. Weeds had grown up. The first impression was distinctly 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 weren’t competitive anymore.

I now use 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 Caribbean Car Wash?

  1. Don’t stand still. The Caribbean Car Wash stood still for more than a decade. 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 into 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. Your school’s first impression is critical to attract parents to enrol. 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. 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, 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, the new competition showed up with a much better pricing package and a seemingly better experience. The way you price your school’s tuition matters. What do your parents receive for the price 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 significantly better. I could stay in my car and ride through the wash. Then, I could complete my wash in the way that I chose. 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. Competition will emerge and will offer a better experience. If you don’t innovate and improve at your school, you will fall behind. You will then inevitably face the reality of your school’s demise and eventual closure.


As you lead your school, keep these lessons in front of you. Take action now to prevent your school fading into non-existence and becoming part of the next generation of school closures.

Dr Rick Newberry is the President of Enrollment Catalyst. Based in the USA, his goal is to provide school leaders with effective marketing and enrolment strategies, as well as staff accountability, direction, and results needed to grow their enrolment. enrollmentcatalyst.com

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