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How to start a carwash: Read one owner's story of success

Station Auto Wash (Ryan and Tom Magazzine)

January 18, 2014
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Station Auto Washes are not your typical carwashes. With Victorian-era touches, including turrets, gabled windows and bollards that look like lamp posts from the 1800s, the wash also has a rail station theme reminiscent of a William Makepeace Thackeray novel.

"When we first went to the town of Leesburg with our plans to open a carwash, we knew we had to build one that would fit in with the history of the area," explained Ryan Magazzine, who co-owns the carwash along with his father, Tom. "We came up with the Victorian carwash theme because of the nearby Washington and Old Dominion Railroad which was built in the 1850s. It took us years and years to get approval from the town, but they are very, very pleased with it."

How to start a carwash Tip #1: Start with a dream

Since he was a child, Ryan was always into cars. "I have always enjoyed cars," he said, "I had the class car in high school and I washed my car once a week and really enjoyed it. I knew I wanted to do something around cars when I grew up." Once he graduated from college, Ryan and his father formed Magazzine LLC.

In 1999 they purchased a self-serve in Purcellville, VA, which included three self-serve bays and a touch-free in-bay automatic. Ryan knew he was in the right business from the onset. "I really enjoyed the car wash business and found that I could make a living in an industry I truly loved," he said. "We ran that location for three years and sold it for a profit so that we could build our 'dream' project 12 miles down the road, which is our current Leesburg Station Auto Wash."

The Leesburg location is a full-service wash with a 165-foot tunnel featuring AVW equipment. They offer exterior washes only and give away a complimentary towel dry at the exit as well as interior cleaning services. Detailing services, including three different wax services that include a spray wax, a DA orbital applied buff wax, as well as a three-step clay bar, compound, and sealant applied wax, are also offered along with interior shampoos, leather cleaning/conditioning, ozone odor removal, wheel polish, and headlight restoration.

Then, in November 2012, in an interesting turn of events, they were able to buy back their first carwash in Purcellville. "We demolished the aging store and built a brand new state-of-the-art double 65-foot exterior express carwash on the same pad site as where we started in the business in 1999."

The Purcellville Station Auto Wash is a double-tunnel wash with a complimentary towel dry at the exit. "We have dual wash conveyor belts in our Purcellville location, which allows for easier loading of the cars and the ability to wash lowered cars and vehicles with oversized tires that would not normally fit in a standard conveyor," said Ryan.

Their detail shop we offers three wax services as well as five “do it yourself” cleaning stations. "We charge $5 for 12 minutes of time and the customers have use of vacuum drops, air purge, all purpose cleaner, glass cleaner, premium quality microfiber towels and a choice of 10 fragrances. The customers love the new concept and feel it gives great value. The customers can do their own full service cleaning themselves with the tools provided," Ryan said.

How to start a carwash Tip #2: Work with those you can trust

Along with his father, who desings and builds the carwashes, Ryan's wife and mother are also involved. My wife, Beata, does the accounting and billing for the two stores. My mother, Judy, assists in decorating and design."

As for Ryan, he is responsible for the day in and day out operations of the two stores. "I enjoy the business very much and I enjoy what we do," he said. "Each day, I feel proud to have built this business with my father from scratch and still look forward to coming to work each and every day. The business has its challenges with employees and keeping the customers happy, but, all in all, I love the business and washing cars. To this day I still help out the crew when busy and enjoy being involved with every aspect of the car wash business. I have worked every job on site so I know what it takes to get the job done."

Ryan said his enjoyment is helped by the fact that he has always had a passion for cars. "I also enjoy the process of taking a dirty car and making it clean. I get a great deal of satisfaction and pride when I see customers happy with their visit to one of my stores."

How to start a carwash Tip #3: Choosing the right equipment

Even though both washes have a "Victorian" theme, they both have modern equipment and machinery.

"At both of our stores we use heated spot-free reverse osmosis water to mix with our chemicals. We feel this gives us an advantage to our competitors and provides superior cleaning and shine by making the chemicals more active and effective on the cars we wash," Ryan said.

Ryan said they also reclaim the water used at both locations to use on high-pressure rinse applications and to clean wheels. "We do no prepping of the cars at either location in the wash tunnel entrances. With the proper chemistry and equipment layout we are able to give superior quality online and maximize volume with no prepping."

How to start a carwash Tip #4: Take pride and set goals

Being prideful in their work and their image is critical to their success, Ryan said. "We take pride in keeping the facility maintained properly and customer service is critical to providing the best experience possible to our customers," he said. "We added the detailing services in Leesburg to continue to meet the needs of our customers. We have been able to maintain a very strong average ticket sale through providing quality service to our customers."

As for the future, Ryan said his goals fare to maintain the success they have had and to continue growing. "We are always looking at new services and locations, which could further expand our brand. We have been able to show employees from within a growth path, which makes me proud. We have assembled an amazing staff and without them I would not be able to have the success we have had, I am very thankful for the people that work hard for me each and every day. I also want to continue to grow our customer base. We have two washes in the western Loudoun County markets and the goal is to have a new customer try us once. If we get the opportunity one time, I feel we can capture that customer and make them a regular customer that will come back time and time again."

How to start a carwash Tip #5: Listen to others

"My advice for a new operator is to do extensive research on the carwash business," Ryan suggested. "Before my family built the Leesburg store we visited over 100 carwashes all over the country, gathered ideas, and spoke to owners to learn the do and don’ts of the business. Choosing the right location and building a successful model is very important for any new operator."

In his opinion, quality of service is one of the most important aspects of the carwash business. "If you do a quality job customers will come back. Too many operators focus on the cost side of the business and not the revenue side. In order to be successful carwash an operator needs to stand out, be better than the competitors around them, and provide a great overall experience and value," said Ryan.

Being a seven-day-a-week business with over 60 employees total can be very challenging, Ryan admitted, and the weather is always a major factor in the scheduling, but, most of all the biggest challenge he finds is in finding good help. "I have found that we can never stop hiring and recruiting. The people we have on board are so critical to the business that hiring is a non-stop effort that we always work on every day. I tell my managers that we need to find the best 60 people we can and develop them constantly."

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