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Starting a carwash

How to Start a Carwash: How one Las Vegas owner found success

Owner Freddy Smith reveals his success story and advises new owners.

November 14, 2013
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“Fabulous” Freddy Smith grew up around his family’s grocery business in Salt Lake City, Utah. His family sold the business and moved to Las Vegas, where Smith had a short lived career in real estate.

“I didn’t really like real estate because I grew up in the grocery business. I liked the dealing with lots of people and lots of transactions — the retail atmosphere,” Smith recalled.

Smith said his decision to get into the carwash business was made after a bad experience at a Las Vegas carwash. He knew he could do better — if he liked the business. So before opening, what would be the first, Fabulous Freddy’s, a friend back in Utah, who just so happened to own a carwash, showed him the ropes. He worked, and learned, at the carwash for about three months.

“I loved it,” he said.

Freddy continued to research, visiting carwashes and convenience stores, to get a better handle on the industry which he would eventually make fabulous.

“I wanted to make ours different and special,” Smith said, discussing how he came up with the Fabulous business model. “So I came up with the [fabulous] concept.”

How to start a carwash Tip #1: Try new things

The first Fabulous Freddy’s opened in 1999 and was relatively simple compared to the centers they run these days.

(It was actually the last week of 1998 but Smith doesn’t like to count those first seven days. “We were a mess,” Smith said through a laugh.)

It hosted a carwash, gas station and convenience store/restaurant, called the Car Wash Café. The original Car Wash Café was phased out and replaced with a taco shop. The taco shop remains at the flagship Fabulous Freddy’s location. 

Now, with eight locations in Nevada and Utah, most Fabulous Freddy locations are one-stop shops. They still feature carwashes (conveyors), gas pumps and full convenience stores, but also include quick lube stations, full-service gas (at regular prices), window chip repair, yogurt shops and full-service restaurants. Only one of the locations does not have a restaurant or lube shop, due to the building only being on one acre of land.

When he initially decided to add quick lube to his centers, he went with Jiffy Lube. Now the quick lube shops are all operated under the Fabulous Freddy’s banner — except for the initial Jiffy Lube, which Smith still has an agreement. 

How to start a carwash Tip #2: Offer top quality service

Smith says that although Fabulous Freddy’s offers such a wide array of amenities, it is the service that sets the chain apart from the competition. Every Fabulous Freddy’s employee is required to call the customers “fabulous,” tell them to have a “fabulous day,” and even call the products “fabulous.”

“We really brand ourselves with that as the theme as much as we can,” Smith said. “Now if we don’t call [customers] ‘fabulous’ they sometimes get frustrated.”

Although each employee is trained to stick to the Fabulous theme — not all are trained to work at every Fabulous business. They are hired and trained for different positions in each of the different centers. Each center has its own trainer (so you won’t have one guy cooking your lunch one day and changing your oil the next).

How to start a carwash Tip #3: Cross-marketing prowess

Having so many profit centers at each location allows for Smith to cross promote each business. Smith says he was one of the first locations in his market to offer a carwash discount with gas purchases. Now Fabulous Freddy’s offers buy-together discounts on gas, oil changes, convenience store products and restaurant items. Smith has also embraced social media in his marketing efforts. In addition to marketing their promotions in-store, Fabulous Freddy’s has a text messaging and email club, which provide customers exclusive deals who sign up for the services. They use Twitter and Facebook “heavily” and have also just launched a mobile app – although they have yet to roll out the app on a mass scale. Smith says they are still working out the bugs and hopes it will be ready for large scale use later this month.

Smith explains that the app will allow users to track their loyalty points and make some purchases. There is also a game in which you control a car through a street full of hazards. The further you travel, the higher your score. You receive additional points for maneuvering your car into a Fabulous Freddy’s location.

How to start a carwash Tip #4: Hire the best managers

With eight centers Smith, unsurprisingly, needs some help managing the brand, the centers and the employees.

“We have the best managers in the world,” Smith said.

Each site has a general manager, who oversees the whole of each operation. Those managers answer directly to Smith.

“I don’t believe in regional managers,” Smith explains. “At least, we’re not on that level where we need to do that.

While he might not believe in regional managers Smith does have “a guy” who is exclusively in charge of the carwashes and another guy who is in charge of the lube centers. These individuals focus on operating those technically-based centers and are in charge of buying products and keeping those sectors running smoothly.

“I just have great people,” he said.

How to start a carwash Tip #5: Make sure you're having fun

After 15 years in the business Smith admits he has become “addicted” to the industry. He is still very hands on.

“I am in the stores every day,” Smith said. “I’m not one of those typical CEO’s who sits behind a desk … I try to delegate as much paperwork and office stuff as possible.”

His passion is to be at the locations creating promotions, working with his management team and getting to know his employees.

“We have a lot of fun,” Smith chuckles.

He admits Fabulous Freddy’s is not necessarily an easy company to work for (“we’re a little goofy”). He says it’s not always easy to get nearly 600 people to call customers, products and themselves ‘fabulous.’

He has one marketing strategy that many people would call unique and likely a hard sell for some of the more meek employees.

“If we see someone come in with a competitor’s cup, I tell my employees to grab it, chuck it, throw it away and give them a free refill in our Fabulous cup,” Smith said.

He tells his employees instead of asking how their visit was, to tell them they had a fabulous visit. He says it’s not an issue because he knows their visit was fabulous. He admits that he isn’t perfect and Fabulous Freddy’s isn’t perfect but he has faith in his employees, from top to bottom, to keep Freddy’s fabulous.

“The biggest compliment I get is how friendly our people are,” Smith said. “You can go anywhere and get a carwash … You can talk about how you’re better – which we do believe that – but, like I said, we have the best people in the world.”

Smith readily admits that his way of doing business might create a “quirky culture” but it’s become an integral part to his lasting, and thriving, business model.

Smith explains that when he thinks about the fabulous future the first goal he always has is “to get better every day”- which seems to be working.

Earlier this year Smith opened another location. He says they had their best year in 2012.

“If we stay on that trend we’ll stay fabulous and we’ll keep growing.” Smith said. “You ask me what I do for fun – this is it … Some people think I’m insane but it’s a pretty good gig.”    

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