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Business Operations

A tale of two washes

March 08, 2011
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Almost all of the great success stories contain themes of failure and tenacity. It’s important to learn from mistakes, to not give up and to move ahead with resolve and vigor. Babe Ruth had almost twice as many strikeouts than homeruns. Jerry Seinfeld was booed the first time he went on stage and Henry Ford went broke five times before finding success in the auto industry.

What do these three people have in common? They kept at it, plugging away, trying new things and not throwing in the towel. Or, as Frank Sinatra once said, “There is something to be said for keeping at a thing, isn’t there?”

So, with that said, we would like to share with you two success stories of self-serve/in-bay automatic carwashes that have survived, in spite of the tough economic climate that has dogged many small business over the past few years.

Brilliance Auto Wash
Jody Driver owns a double-bay, all-glass, high-end, spotless, and eco-friendly in-bay automatic in Smyrna, DE, called Brilliance Auto Wash. He also has another location in Elkton, MD, and said he had been working in the corporate world, but had always had an interest opening up a carwash and liked the idea of working for himself.

“I went from the corporate world to being a trash-emptying carwash guy, but that’s okay by me,” Driver elaborated. “I’m not ashamed by it at all. In fact, I’ve never been happier.”

Driver said his carwashes, which use equipment from Belanger, Howard Industries, J.E. Adams, Digicapture, and PurClean, are spotless.

“I’m a neat freak. And I figure people will see that if it’s clean on the outside, it will make your car clean, too,” he explained. He’s on site every day and does all of the cleaning himself, and takes out and picks up the trash, does all of the mechanical work, and said being hands-on is extremely important. “I am 100 percent invested in this,” Driver stated. “I will make sure it succeeds.”

Self-serves and IBAs are often unattended, and Driver, who said about 65 percent of his customers are women, said it’s important to make sure his sites are safe and secure. “I want mothers to feel like they can come here, get a great carwash, that’s convenient and safe for them,” he explained. “That’s important to me.” Driver said there is one phone number listed for both of his carwashes and that number dials directly to his cell phone, which is always on hand. “I want to be over the top in this regard,” he revealed. “If there is any sort of problem at the carwash, a customer can reach me directly and I will return every call.”

Be good, be successful
Driver is a family man. He likes that he can adjust his schedule and go to his kids’ games and be there for them. He is also able to use remote management to keep an eye on his washes at all times.

As Driver explained, being happy at home helps him in his line of work in that his positive attitude shines through to his customers and with his efforts to run a successful business. “I’m home every day and I’ve been able to go on every school field trip and grateful that my job allows me to do that,” he said. “I’m 1,000 times happier than I was in corporate America.”

Along with his family, Mother Earth is important to Driver. His washes reclaim 95 percent of the water used, they recycle anything they can, and said they try to do everything they can to not hurt the environment.

Watch your pennies
Driver said he keeps a close eye on his books to make sure every penny is accounted for, but said if he’s ever looking to save money, he will not cut back on the quality of his washes.

“We also don’t look at doing massive upgrades,” he offered. “We stay even keel and continuosly provide a high-quality wash at a clean facility. I really like to focus on the customer and I believe if you focus on them, they’ll stick with you, even in tough economic times.”

Wash Wizard Car Wash #1
It’s pretty fundamental, really, said Brian Cook, co-owner of Wash Wizard Car Wash #1, which has three self-serve/IBA locations in South Carolina. “We just make sure every day that the carwashes work and that they’re clean.”

Using Jim Coleman, MacNeil, SoBrite, GE, American Changers, Vend Master and Rugged CCTV equipment, Cook owns the three locations along with Casey McKinley.

Together the partners make sure each location, from the grounds to the walls of the wash, are neat and presentable. Next, they make sure the carwash is working. They do does this by going onto each carwash property and examining it from the perspective of a customer.

“Then, of course, I talk to actual customers to see what they liked about our carwash, what they didn’t like and listen to what they have to say,” Cook elaborated. “We want them to know, ‘We are here for you and we’re going to take care of you and your car.’”

Staying on top of things
Cook said it’s also important to stay on top of a preventative maintenance schedule and to fix anything that’s broken that day. They make sure there is no garbage on the grounds and they keep a dry erase board up at the carwash outlining anything — big or small — that needs to be addressed that day; whether it has to do with the landscaping, dirt on a wall, or a piece of equipment.

“We stay on top of everything and let our staff know to check and see what has to be done,” said Cook. We’re lucky in that we have a good manager (and good employees) who take pride in their jobs and their work. We have had employees who don’t seem to understand the job we want them to do. Good staff members are key.”

It’s also important to check out the competition and learn from their mistakes. Cook said he was visiting a self-serve wash near his home and found it to be dirty and out of soap. “I tried to contact them to let them know, but couldn’t find a website that was functioning or a way to contact them. That’s another thing we’re good at: We are accessible to our customers.”

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