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Business Operations

Conveyor Industry Leaders Review

October 11, 2010
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One of Professional Carwashing & Detailing’s key roles in the carwash industry is to help our readers develop business best practices to succeed and excel. Our editors routinely visit successful carwashes, speak with innovative manufacturers and interview association leaders to keep ahead of the trends and explore new ideas.

But perhaps the best way PC&D helps our readers improve is by surveying the industry to find those operators who truly have reached the top, and then to dissect and explore the business ideas that helped them reach that level.

For five years, PC&D has done just that in our annual Industry Leaders Review for three segments of the car care industry (conveyor, self-serve and lube). In 2008, PC&D will expand these sections to include the detail and in-bay automatic segments of our industry.

The conveyor carwash operators included in this year’s Industry Leaders Review were chosen after they responded to a nationwide survey conducted by PC&D magazine. They represent the best of the best in several ways; from impressive car counts to extraordinarily high revenues per car to multiple full-serve locations.

If you would like to make sure your wash is included in next year’s survey, please e-mail Editor Kate Carr at

Diamond Auto Spa
An inexpensive wash + clever marketing + convenience = 1,035 cars in a day.

It looks like chaos,” explains Travis Johnson, one part of the family-owned Diamond Auto Spa carwash. “The cars are wrapped around the block, and we have to hire someone just to direct traffic.”

Johnson is referring to the carwash’s busiest day in 2007, when 1,035 dirty cars went through the conveyor and emerged squeaky clean.

Diamond Auto Spa, sitting on two acres in Winchester, VA, opened in January 2006 and has been climbing the charts ever since. The flex-serve business with a detail center on-site is owned and operated by brothers Travis and Brock Johnson, and their father, Wendell Johnson. It appraises at $8,500,000.

The Johnson family is able to narrow down the reasons for the carwash’s success to three points:
  1. The carwash is affordable;
  2. The carwash is convenient; and
  3. The family has invested in clever marketing tactics.
Less expense, more volume
To boost volume, the Johnsons decided they would start their carwash packages at a price far below their competitors. The most popular package, “The Works,” includes everything the carwash offers for $28. The Johnsons say other carwashes in the area charge between $40 and $50 for similar services.

Playing a major role in the decision to price their carwash so inexpensively was the demographics of the carwash’s market. The average family’s income cannot afford a $40 wash, according to the Johnsons, so they have decided to sell it affordably and increase volume.

Convenience wins
Another factor contributing to the carwash’s success is the flex-serve format. According to Travis Johnson, customers are not always comfortable getting out of their cars for strangers in his market area, but the Johnsons wanted to give their customers a “full-serve” experience. The flex-serve format allows the carwash to offer the customer a wide-range of services with the convenience of an express wash.

The Johnsons said the most popular detailing package is the express interior detail, because the customer can have his car back in 15 minutes. By offering customers a wide-range of options and a fast-service component, they have been able to attract and build a large customer base.

Clever marketing
The Johnsons believe in making customers return. While they may thrive on busy days that turn up 1,035 customers, they know their business also needs to survive on days when half as many people show up.

Their practices to get customers to return include a 24-hour rain policy (free wash if there is rainfall within 24 hours), a free carwash on the customer’s birthday, and a frequent wash discount plan.

The Great American Car Wash
Survey your customers for success.

After being in business for nearly 15 years, Clark Porter has finally found a technique to balance the profit at his carwash year round. Not only has Porter steadied his income, he’s also increased the ticket average at The Great American Car Wash in Severna Park, MD, to a whopping $30.16.

How, you ask? Well, according to Porter, the answer isn’t advertising or even pricing — it’s surveying.

Survey for success
“Most owners think their customers want what they want, but I don’t,” Porter explained. “I want to give what the majority wants.” Porter surveys his customers to learn what they want. Then he arranges his services around that feedback.

For instance, after surveying his customers, Porter realized they wanted a choice of three full service packages. He chose prices and package components based upon survey responses. Today, he offers three full-serve packages ranging from $16.95 to $26.95, and three exterior-only packages ranging from $12.95 to $16.95.

When he first opened the full-serve carwash back in 1993, Porter tried traditional advertising, but was discouraged by the low-level of feedback and results. Today, he said the carwash relies on word-of-mouth advertising for new customers.

Offer more
Another way Porter increased his revenue per car? He offers his customers as much as he can. The $1.6 million carwash includes a detail center on site that provides services from small to large. “Having the detail center balances out the money brought in during the summer months with the volume in the winter months,” Porter explained.

A 750-square-foot lobby also helps increase the ticket average. Porter sells automotive-related items, snacks and drinks.

Since the customer gets what the customer wants, along with an extremely competitive range of prices, Porter has found his carwash not only washes a high volume of cars, but customers are also willing to spend more money and do his advertising for him.

The Car Pool Chain
Good management enables growth.

For over 30 years, the Car Pool carwash chain has been serving the people of Richmond, VA and the surrounding area with eight locations and a staff of 325. The chain’s success is driven primarily on its iconic regional brand, but the company also strives to continuously expand and experiment, and also blend new executive management to secure the business for the future.

How it started, how it spread
The first Car Pool carwash was opened on Chamerlayne Ave. in Richmond, VA, and still runs today. The carwash chain has been able to grow on a platform of consistency: all of their locations are set up with vacuum canopies at the entrance and wipe down staging areas before the exit. They also have lobbies and outside seating for customers. A customer can expect the same service at every Car Pool location.

On the other hand, experimentation has also fueled growth. Six of Car Pool’s eight locations are full-service, but management decided to include one flex-serve and one exterior-only to see how those platforms can contribute to expansion.

CEO Paul Carr is on the field daily and COO Tyree Brown has been with the company for twenty years and knows the carwash industry well — but it is a staff as a whole that contributes to the chain’s success, Carr said. “The company has 325 employees and with that many people at so many different locations what makes it possible to have a number of locations is a good core staff,” he explained.

“The key to what keeps everything working is the management you have at each carwash,” Carr said. “They are the people that know what needs to be changed, and keep the Car Pool name clean and spreading.”

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