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Kustom Klean Car Wash

Small town carwash owner/operator Frank Harris shares his tips for success in a town of 10,000 people.

August 01, 2014
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1.       What is the full name and location of your wash?

Kustom Klean Car Wash, located on 516 Friendship Lane in Fredericksburg, Texas.

2.       What is your title?

Owner/operator.

3.       When did your first wash open?

May 2013.

4.       What type of carwash is it?

Flex model.

5.       Number of employees?

Eight full time and two part time. We’ve [also] been able to maintain an average 18 percent labor rate (the cost of labor relative to the gross revenue).

6.       When and why did you get started in the carwashing industry? 

My first exposure was  between 1988-90 when I was a line salesman for Car Wash Express in San Antonio. I remained friends with John Nikolaou, who was the general manager there at the time and later went on to own Water Works Car Wash in San Antonio. Then 23 years later he was gracious enough to mentor me through my current role as owner and operator.

7.       What do you like most about running a carwash?

As owner and operator, I’ve learned to expect anything that may be thrown my way, from faulty equipment, irritated customers to labor cost control. I enjoy the daily satisfaction of making quick, minute-to-minute decisions that culminate in successful operating days.

8.       What advice do you have for other owners who are just starting out? 

My advice to those just starting out is to do your homework and know the market before you develop your business model. Be able to keep your business relevant by recognizing shifts in the market and adjusting accordingly once your business has been established. Focus on making yourself different from competitors. This might sound crazy but I’ve discovered that sometimes it’s better to be the one on the outside looking in to get the best view from the consumer’s perspective. We are also big on the phrase: “Do it better, always in all ways.” Overall, believe in your product, establish and maintain high standards for everyone involved, and always acknowledge the positives in all your employees.

9.       What is the greatest obstacle you have encountered with the carwash? How did you overcome that obstacle?

Without hesitation, the $3 carwash has been a huge obstacle. The main problem is that this “$3 wash" has spread rapidly through the industry, but is cost prohibitive for small markets. Once consumers have had exposure to this rate, they assume the cost of washing cars is inexpensive and that all carwash services are worth $3. Personally, I think as an industry we need to work on value, instead of price. If the $3 carwash had a sign that said “We do it better” instead of “$3 car wash,” it gives the consumer a broader picture. However, value is perceived in several different ways. A clean facility with nice, big bathrooms, friendly professional staff, and a manicured landscape has [added] value. We also hold great value in the consistent cleanliness of our cars. The combination of all these things makes for a superior carwash experience that should be compensated for appropriately. Those are the things we have worked on and have received positive feedback [for] from our customer base.

10.   Do you have a lot of competition? 

 We do not have direct competition. The three in-bay automatic carwashes in the area don’t provide the balance of our flex service model.

11.   Do you enjoy the business? Why or why not?

I have over 25 years of diverse business experience. I have enjoyed them all. The fundamentals of running a business are all essentially the same; challenging and exhausting but it’s what drives me to do the work I do.

12.   Do you have any funny stories to share that took place at the business?

The first week we were open, the prepper went to the full service line and missed a car heading to the loading area. The equipment to the wash was off but [the customer] still proceeded to load herself and make her way through the tunnel. Afterwards, she left her car at the full service island and made her way to the waiting room. My supervisor realized what had happened and rewashed her car without informing her to save her embarrassment. Later that evening, she was having dinner at the local private golf club with a large group and commented: “That new [wash] is horrible! I went through it today and the water barely trickled out, but strangely the car was very clean.”

13.   What are your goals with the carwash? 

I tell my employees our continuing goal is not to be the best in Fredericksburg, but to be the best overall experience the customer has ever had. As long as we can make that happen, we will continue to grow. Around here we like to say “Treat every car as a customer.”

The Details

Carwash: Kustom Klean Car Wash

Type: Flexwash

Owner: Frank Harris

Number of locations: 1

Number of employees: 10

Year opened: 2013

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