It’s always interesting to discover where inspiration is found. At Jacksons, we’re inspired right now. We’re working hard every day to improve our business on multiple levels; we’re in the middle of a “business makeover.” And the impetus behind this inspiration?

Yes, Tolstoy and his novel Anna Karenina.

More specifically, our inspiration was derived after reading Guns, Germs and Steel, where the author Jared Diamond introduced us to the “Anna Karenina Principle.”

Tolstoy began his novel like this: “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

The Anna Karenina Principle, based on this line, essentially says the following: To have a happy family, everything has to be just about perfect. There must be love and respect, kids must be obedient, there needs to be a good economic income, health can’t be an issue, etc. But if just one small thing is missing – just one item off that list –happiness is at risk. In other words, it doesn’t take much to mess things up!

Diamond used this principle to describe a biological event. Jacksons Car Wash decided to adopt the Anna Karenina Principle in a different manner. We said: All great car washes are alike; every bad car wash is bad in its own way.

What do we mean by this? We decided that for a car wash to be great, it must be succeeding in all of the following areas:

(1) a quality product must be delivered,  (2) the product has to be delivered in a short time, (3) the product has to be accompanied by exceptional customer service, (4) the facility has to be clean and inviting, (5) the employee atmosphere has to be fun and positive, and (6) all of the above must be accomplished while complying with laws and managing costs.

If a car wash falls short in any one of these categories, it can hurt the entire business. To repeat what was said earlier: it doesn’t take much to mess things up! By dropping the ball in just one area, customers see an issue or problem and the car wash is no longer great. It’s a daunting task when you think about it. It ain’t easy to be great!

But at the same time, thinking about our business in this manner really gave us direction. We started with this list and created a plan. We began addressing the areas where we were falling short. Of course no one is perfect and every business knows there is room for improvement. But by simply taking the time to identify “what has to be in place to be great,” we discovered a much clearer path to our end goal.

That path, by the way, isn’t an easy one. Another thing the Anna Karenina Principle did for us was to show us just how far we were from the Company we wanted to be. It provided a measuring device that we can repeatedly match ourselves
against. Tolstoy gave us a gauge by which we can constantly check our progress as we push ourselves towards greatness. It may not be scientific, it may not be earth shattering, but this simple principle has helped us a bunch. We thought maybe it could help you too.

In your own business, what are the things that must be in place to make you great? How is your performance in each of those factors?

At Jacksons, we seriously want to be great. To be great, we need to be firing on all cylinders. That’s what Tolstoy was telling us. As for you, the customer, feel free to tell us if you think we’re making the old guy happy.