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When Danny Marz opened The Pit Stop Car Wash in 2013, he couldn’t help but wonder what to do with the empty space 200 feet away from the building. On the advice of his architect, he turned that little area into a coffee shop, called The Pit Stop Coffee Shop & More. The decision has been a wise one for Marz, who said the business is already appraised at $100,000 more than when he purchased it.
Carwashes and coffee go together well, which is the reason that some many washes have at least some coffee component to their business. The National Coffee Association USA, said in its 2013 Drinking Trends Report that coffee sales have jumped 5 percent in United States. While the coffee market is expanding, people now desire more choices and variation in the coffee products they purchase.
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Many carwashes use coffee as a loss leader, which may be a good choice for some washes, however, Ieva Grimm, senior director of industry education for the National Association of Convenience Stores, said that customers are willing to spend at a carwash for a good cup of coffee. “The reality is that [the customer] will pay when it is done well, and there’s the right selection instead of coffee being treated as an afterthought,” said Grimm.
The Pit Stop, which is located in Tooele, Utah, has a unique situation, where it has some customers that come for the coffee or a specialty drinks, and other customers that come to get their car cleaned in the 110 foot tunnel express wash. Marz estimates that 50 percent of his customers use both services, which means the café is bringing in a lot of business, he said.
iShine Car Wash & Detail in Boca Raton, Florida, also offers a high quality coffee experience, but they have a different business model than Pit Stop. “We [provided coffee and specialty drinks] to make the experience at our wash comfortable and enjoyable. We do not charge for our coffee,” said Manager Rodrigo Mondelo.
While the two washes are different in how they integrate coffee into their business model, they are the same in the way that they make sure that coffee isn’t just something that they have, but an experience that the wash owner will enjoy. “iShine really believes in pampering our customers while we pamper their cars,” Mondelo said.
It’s not just about a great cup of Joe, but about the presentation at your wash as well. “If you’re going to be in the coffee business, it’s got to be clean,” said Grimm. Her rule of thumb is that if the place does not look clean enough to eat in, that the customers are not going to be willing to buy into a quality experience when it comes to coffee.
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In an industry like carwashing, keeping things clean is about more than just a nice presentation, according to Grimm. If you can’t keep the area where the coffee is clean, then customers are going to question your ability to clean their cars as well, even if you have the best wash in town.
Sometimes, in order to see what you’re doing wrong, you have to see your wash the way that your customers do, and not the way an owner or manager would, said Grimm. “Step back and really look at it."
Grimm told the story of one store that worked hard to provide customers with a great variety of coffee, but failed in delivering a pleasant customer experience by storing chemical supplies right by the coffee machine. If that owner were to take a step back, and look at the “customer experience” from the point of view of a customer, they would have realized that despite offering a great variety of service, they weren’t doing it in a way that people could enjoy it.
Marz realized that the space he had was perfect for a small café, but he knew it wasn’t big enough to provide a full sit down experience, which is why they only have a drive-thru. He was able to envision the café in a way that was customer friendly, and that is a contributing factor to the Pit Stop’s success.
Reverse osmosis water is something that many carwashes already have, and Marz said that advertising and using this water in his coffee and specialty drinks is something that his customers appreciate.
Even more creatively, Pit Stop sells something they call the Cuban Revolver, which has six shots of espresso in it. “We sell a lot of them,” Marz said.
iShine offers all different kinds of drinks that people aren’t used to seeing at carwashes, like lattes and espresso, and then gives it to them at an unbelievable price: free. They see it as a way to “show our customers that we appreciate their business and want them to enjoy the iShine experience,” said Mondelo.
People are willing to pay a premium price, as long as you’re willing to offer a premium service, according to Grimm. In fact, offering a product for a low cost or for free, can sometimes harm you, she said, by lowering the implied value of the item. “The reality is every market is different,” said Grimm, so you'll need to find out what works for you.
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It is all about the individual place, and how it operates. A wash like iShine doesn’t lose value by offering coffee and other beverages for free because they offer it as part of an experience to indulge their customers. However, having a cheap pot of coffee that is rarely switched throughout the day is an example of how free service doesn’t always impress a customer with the price, but is turning them off with the quality, according to Grimm.
The key is to understand what your customers want, and to be able to give it to them in a way that is unique. It doesn’t have to be world class coffee, and it doesn’t have to be free, but it does have to be presented cleanly, and in a way that shows you’re doing more than just offering coffee because that is what carwashes are supposed to do.
Coffee and carwashes can create a winning formula, and it’s the job of a good carwash owner or operator to figure out that combination to increase your sales. “The biggest advantage is in the carwash environment you have a person there, and they’re waiting,” said Grimm. “You have an idle customer looking," and there's one question she said they're always asking: "How are you going to entertain me?” What's your answer?