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Business Operations / Starting a carwash

Profile in success: Cornering the market

May 06, 2011
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Location, location, location has long been the commercial real estate mantra. Experts have recommended building budding businesses in a bustling metropolis or a busy suburb to ensure the best opportunity for growth and success. Yet, there are exceptions to every rule.

Mark Mikesell, co-owner of Country Corner Car, RV & Pet Wash, found his exception in Idaho Falls, ID. With a population of 60,000, Idaho Falls may barely be a blip on the radar screen to some, but this small town has been a business bounty for Mikesell and his family. That is because the family has worked for decades to fulfill the needs of their customers. And their selection of successful businesses show that the family has never been afraid to grow, change and adapt.

Mikesell’s grandfather laid the foundation for this success when he opened the family’s first c-store in 1967. A few years later, Mikesell worked with his father and sister, Allison Proctor, to open a Laundromat in 1973. They opened their first carwash in 1990, another c-store in 1991 and a 103-unit self storage complex in 2003.

When it came to building these businesses, location definitely played a big part. Mikesell said the carwash, the two c-stores and the self storage complex are all located at the same intersection. In fact, the family chose to build the carwash and the second c-store right next door to each other. “It’s a high traffic area,” he said.

Creating the Country Corner

In 2008, the family decided to demolish and rebuild the current location of the Country Corner Car, RV & Pet Wash. “We tore it down and started from scratch with all new equipment,” Mikesell said, “everything from the ground up.”

But, before the family rebuilt the carwash, Mikesell said they did a lot of research. They toured carwashes, researched carwashes on the Internet and tried to learn all they could about carwash equipment. In the end, it took them almost three years to make a final decision on the updated carwash’s equipment.

The years of research have paid off in the completed location. The 24-hour carwash was built using the Royal Building System, and it has a gable roof. The carwash features three self-serve bays, one oversized self-serve RV bay and two in-bay automatics. The location also includes two pet washes.

“It has all state-of-the-art equipment,” Mikesell said. “There are credit card payments on everything — the vacuums, the self-serve bays, the dog washes. At every point of sale there’s credit card acceptance.” Mikesell said the in-bay automatics are the most popular wash choice at the carwash. The automatics bring in the most money, followed by the self-serve bays, then the pet washes.

Mikesell said the weather in Idaho Falls has definitely helped the carwash succeed. During the cold Idaho winters, the roads are sprayed with salt to help keep them clear of snow and ice. Customers come in to wash their cars hoping to reduce the damage these salts can cause.

The pet washes have proved to be unique in the Idaho Falls market. “No other carwashes in the Idaho Falls area have them,” Mikesell said. “They have been a part of the carwash’s success.” He said the pet washes account for about 15 percent of the carwash’s total business.

Still growing

What’s most impressive about the family’s group of business is that the group is still growing — even in this trying economy. In fact, Mikesell and his sister currently have a new carwash under construction that comes with a hefty price tag — $2.5 million.

But this expensive carwash won’t be a carbon copy of the original’s success. “Our second location is going to be a lot different than the one that we have now,” Mikesell said.

“We have a self-serve carwash now,” Mikesell continued. “We’re building a 185-foot exterior express tunnel with 18 free vacuums. One self-serve automatic … and then we’ll have two pet washes there.”

Mikesell said the family went with a tunnel design for the new carwash because of the speed it offers when washing cars. The tunnel will allow the new location a higher volume of cars washed and a better return on the family’s investment.

Sure, the first carwash was originally built to boost the bottom line of the c-store. “We just felt it would be a good extra profit center,” he said. “The service station business, the gas station business, in this part of the country is a very tough market to be in.”

But their newest carwash was built to be the star of the show. “There’s two other tunnel carwashes in the city, but nothing that’s big,” he said. “It’s just something that the community needs.”

Mikesell said he and his family knew that the Idaho Falls area really needed a new carwash. Their decision to move forward with building that new carwash was made easier when rumors of another carwash company moving into Idaho Falls began to circulate.

“We were going to wait a couple years longer before we did,” Mikesell said. “It kind of pushed us ahead of schedule to build the second one.”

Once again, location was a very important part of the site selection process. While the new carwash will be across town from the family’s other businesses, Mikesell said the new site was chosen because of traffic flow. The carwash is located on the Yellow Stone Highway, and the average daily traffic count through the intersection is 90,000 cars.

Help from his friends

Even though Mikesell and his family knew the area needed a new carwash, it still wasn’t easy to find financing for such a massive project. He finally secured a loan with the help of a vice president of commercial lending at the local bank. “We had a financial institution, and the vice president of commercial lending was very instrumental in getting us approved,” Mikesell said. “He did go the extra mile to help us get this done.”

“I feel that he had enough foresight to really get to know something about the industry rather than just simply glancing it over and saying no,” he said. “And it was still very tough to get it done, but at the end of the day he did get it done for us.”

Mikesell had help from another industry friend as well. “Another very important [factor] in getting these [businesses] built is your equipment supplier.” Mikesell said his equipment supplier, Wade Souza with Auto Mate LLC, held his hand from the beginning of the project to the end. “He helped me make very good decisions on building techniques, design and equipment,” he said.

Looking forward

“Well, it’s taken us two years to get it up and get started and going,” Mikesell said. He hopes to open the new location at the end of June or in early July. “Just as quick as we can get it open, we’ll get it open.”

As for the family building any future locations? “Well, we’ll just have to see. If this one works out as good as we hope that it will, we’ll just take another look at it and make the decision at that time.”

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