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On the next few pages, you’ll find some of the most impressive washes in the industry today. Whether they’ve been washing cars for years, found a unique way to tackle employee turnovers, or created a system for getting more cars through the tunnel, these operators are innovators of the industry and willing to share their secrets for success and deserve Blue Ribbon recognition.
The lists and profiles were generated from responses received from a nationwide survey conducted by Professional Carwashing & Detailing® magazine. If you would like to make sure your wash is included in next year’s survey, please e-mail Editor Kate Carr at firstname.lastname@example.org.
At a glance
Name: Andreas Andreopoulos
Carwash: Central Car Wash
Location: Pawtucket, RI
List titles: #1 Age of carwash (55 years), #9 Tunnel length (150 feet)
What’s old is new again
With constant updates, half-century-old carwash keeps on turning them out.
There have been add-ons, updates and a longer look to the tunnel, but buried within the building on Pawtucket’s Central Avenue is a half-century-old carwash.
“I remember a couple years ago this guy, he was in his 80s, comes by and said, ‘You know, I started this wash,’” said current owner Andreas Andreopoulos.
Central Car Wash made two of this year’s Top 10 lists — with a 150-foot-long tunnel and as the oldest conveyor carwash of those who responded to this year’s survey.
The wash dates back at least 55 years when it was just a tunnel of about 100 feet. Over the years, the wash saw some changes, the most dramatic in the early 1990s when it’s former owners built stalls on the side of the tunnel and turned the wash into a self-serve location.
“But they were just investors,” said Andreopoulos. “They thought all they had to do was sit back and the money would roll in.”
It didn’t, and creditors forced the place to close down.
On auction day in 1997, a large crowd gathered around the landmark carwash, one of the oldest in an old New England town.
“But in all that crowd, there were maybe six or seven people interested in bidding,” Andreopoulos said. At that time, Andreopoulos was in a partnership and owned another carwash.
“It took me eight months to get (Central) the way I wanted. I gutted out the inside of the building,” he explained. The former tunnel was reopened with new conveyor and computer equipment.
He said he’s also extended the tunnel a couple of times to give customers a place to get out of the car and out of the weather. “And, it’s a nice place for my employees to work. If they’re outside, they’re all bundled up and can’t move,” he said.
Getting into the carwash biz
His partnership “went through a divorce,” as Andreopoulos calls it, and Central became his split of the settlement about four years ago.
A native of Greece, Andreopoulos immigrated to this country more than 35 years ago with his American-born wife. He worked his way up from a first job in a brewery into the real estate business, but sky-high interest rates in the late ‘70s convinced him there had to be a better way to make a living.
Andreopoulos moved into the carwashing business.
He has taken lessons from an earlier career in the Greek Merchant Marines where “you don’t want to get caught in the middle of the ocean without the spare parts.”
So, on his carwash, Andreopoulos has learned to do most of the repairs on his equipment himself and has an extensive supply of parts. “If I break down, maybe I’m shut down for 15 minutes,” he explained. “You know, those breakdowns always come on a late Friday or Saturday morning. I can’t wait until Monday when the repairman can get here.”
Another lesson he said he’s learned is to slow down a bit. “In the past, I was more aggressive. I tried to do 800 (cars) a day. But on those five or six busy days, I’d have disappointed customers because their cars weren’t clean enough. You’d lose them as customers. And I was going home exhausted, physically and mentally.”
He said in those days he didn’t have automatic equipment and the carwash had a simple chain drive. “We were putting cars through two feet apart. Everybody was jumping. The employees had to work on the cars while the car is in motion.
“Now, we do 500-600 cars (a day). Everybody gets a good wash and I’m happier,” he said.
This year, however, isn’t quite as happy. “Business is down a lot,’’ he said, blaming both high gas prices and an unusually rainy summer in New England.
“I have records for 25 years. It wasn’t ever as bad as this,” he said. Business, just from April through October, was off up to 30 percent, he said.
“We’ve had bad weather summers before,” he said. That’s why he believes high gas prices have hurt the most.
“Washing the car isn’t a necessity. It’s an impulse,” he said. “When there was money left over, it got spent here. But now, filling the tank takes all that $50.”
At a glance
Name: Don Nix
Carwash: Carnett’s (franchised location)
Location: Marietta, GA
List titles: #2 Top revenue per car, ($33.00), #4 Carwash customers that also detail (30%), #5 Full-time employees at one location (45)
It’s all in the details
Franchised operator finds success by raising ticket totals with detailing services.
Don Nix, owner of the franchised Carnett’s location in Marietta, GA, has the secret recipe for keeping happy, productive employees at your carwash for years and years: You take two parts respect, mix with a few cups of reward and compensation, sprinkle on some steady work and stir.
Throw this concoction in the oven at 350° for seven years and you get a $33 average ticket per car. Make a few batches, and you’re in business.
Nix, a former accountant who turned to carwashing after investigating several types of franchised businesses, said it helps if you also take an aggressive approach to selling your services and go above and beyond for customers.
“There’s a very fine line between being pushy and asking for enough of the customer’s business,” Nix said. You can’t grow your business and ticket average if you’re overzealous, he added. You need to find that fine line between being too aggressive with your customer and actually taking care of their carwash needs.
When it comes down to it, it all depends upon how you treat your employees, Nix said. If you treat them well, they’ll treat the customer well. If the customer is treated well, they’ll come back and back again. Employees fuel the successful business.
“I believe in sharing the bounty. Treat your employees as an investment, not as a commodity,” Nix advised carwash operators. To share his bounty, Nix put in place a remuneration system that is hourly-pay based, but also provides incentives for nearly every part of the business. Greeters, preppers, cashiers and managers are all rewarded for their hard work. “We treat people incredibly well and they work incredibly hard for us. They’re very good at what they do,” Nix said.
With 45 employees, Nix must know a thing or two about effective labor management. He admits his labor costs are a bit more than local competitors’, but said it is also the reason he has been so successful.
Another morsel of advice to keep employees happy? Grab a towel and get your shirt dirty alongside them. Nix said he is an owner that’s out there beside his workers, doing towels, doing whatever and setting a pace and an example for his staff.
“Everybody shares in the work load and everyone is treated fairly and equally,” Nix said. “It’s a very worker-friendly atmosphere at our wash.”
An à la carte miracle
Getting back to Nix’s impressive ticket average, he points to his à la carte-driven menu system. Each car is “micro-managed,” so that customers can pick out the services needed and be on their way.
This flexibility allows a customer with kids to choose to have their backseat vacuumed, but not their front, depending upon their need. It means customers only pay for what they want, and don’t feel harassed into buying a large package.
Nix admits it can be confusing for a first time customer. “They come in they say, ‘I want to have my car detailed,’ well, that’s like saying you want to be tall. It’s really not a definition. We have to micromanage each car and we have to determine what it is the customer is looking for. By being à la carte, it doesn’t force a square peg into a round hole.”
This sort of menu also pushes his greeter staff to be extremely knowledgeable. This means their training process is a bit longer than other full-serve carwashes, Nix said. “But building that relationship with the customer and letting them see how we can meet their particular need and price without having to bring a manager out here is priceless.”
The à la carte menu also drives repeat business because of the increased interaction between greeters and customers. Customers at Nix’s Carnetts carwash build strong relationships with his employees, and in turn develop a good relationship with the carwash.
The carwash also offers several packages that do group together detailing services at a discounted price, but Nix insisted the à la carte system was more popular with customers.
An eye opening moment
The real clincher came about two years ago, when Nix realized the carwash had a very loyal customer base with a lot of confidence in its abilities. “We weren’t asking those customers for enough of their business,” Nix said.
The carwash is in an upper-middle class area of Atlanta (another reason for its high ticket average), and Nix realized that when he asked his greeter staff to be a bit more aggressive in their selling technique, the customers were happy — not scared.
“We do our presentations in very respectful way. If a customer says no at any time, we cease and desist and just do what they ask,” Nix said. “But by making observations regarding a customer’s car and making suggestive sells, the customers are saying yes more and more and more and that is driving up the ticket average.”
In the end, Nix has learned in his seven and a half years of owning the carwash that it all comes down to the people. Your people are your employees and your customers. Treat those people well, and they’ll treat you well.
At a glance
Name: Tom Rando
Carwash: Randy’s Car Wash
Location: Watertown, MA
List titles: #5 Cars in one day (1,400 cars), #6 Cars washed at one site in 2005 (120,000), #7 Tunnel length (160 feet), #10 Most locations (4 sites)
Rain or shine
After 42 years in the carwash business, Tom Rando has learned how to put on a smile, even in the rain.
Tom Rando has been washing cars for 42 years. Right now, he’s washing cars at four exterior locations, 364 days a year (the washes close on Christmas), from 7:30 a.m. until 9 p.m.
At one extremely busy location, he’s washing 120,000 a year, and up to 1,400 a day. He’s washing them morning, noon and night, rain or shine. And no matter what, he’s washing them with a smile on his face.
That’s because after 42 years, Rando knows what it takes to get a clean car. And because Rando has some good help on his side.
Sons-in-law Ron Bousquet and John Dunn handle day-to-day operations at the four Randy’s Car Wash sites, while Rando oversees the entire chain from his business office. And while he adamantly denies that he sent his daughters out to recruit carwash talent, it certainly didn’t hurt that those gals had a good eye for carwash businessmen. Only three short months ago, Bousquet was awarded the Northeast Regional Carwash Convention’s Most Distinguished Person award for his contributions to the carwashing industry. Bousquet is also serving on the board of directors for the International Carwash Association.
A tradition of excellence
In 1964, Rando opened his first self-serve carwash. It only took him two years to realize the potential of his Boston-area market was still untapped. In 1966, he introduced his customers to Massachusetts’ first tunnel carwash, focusing on exterior-only washes.
Today, Rando has improved upon that idea of an exterior-only carwash, refusing to group his with the popular express exterior carwashes popping up all over the country. His washes start at a base price of $9 and have an average ticket of $12. He offers a few express detailing services, but prefers to stay away from any extensive detailing — especially in the winter season when New England’s cars are dirty from road salt and hungry for a professional carwash.
On those winter days, and sometimes in the middle of May during pollen season, Rando has seen his sites do 1,000 to 1,200 cars. In the winter of 2005, he was extremely pleased to learn his Melford, MA, location had done 1,400 cars — until Bousquet reminded him the Randy’s Car Wash record was 1,845. A feat accomplished somewhere in the late 1980’s, Rando said.
Keep on smiling
This past year has been hard on many carwash owners for a combination of reasons — gas prices, weather, the economy — and Randy’s Car Wash is no exception. Stuck between a lackluster winter in 2005 and a surprise flood in the spring of 2006, the carwashes in New England took a hard hit. But sometimes, Rando said, all you can do is brace yourself and keep on washing.
“The weather really hurt us this year,” he said. “We had no winter, and then the pollen season was wiped out by all of this rain. We had 25 inches of rain. I’ve been washing cars for 42 years, and I have never seen that much rain.”
Instead of focusing on the weather patterns he couldn’t change, Rando focused on improving his business. He encouraged staff to build on their relationships with repeat customers. “I think the secret is good service, especially in slower times like now,” he said. “Be talking to the customers, greeting them. Our full-timers are pretty good that way.”
No matter what the weather did, Rando made sure all of his full-time staff had a full-time job. He didn’t cut back on hours to save money with labor costs.
“Our policy is to keep the full-timers, no matter what. Rain or shine, they’re there,” Rando said. Rando also provides full-time staff with a 401k policy and health insurance. In return, Rando said he gets staff loyalty. Everyone on his staff has been there more than five years, and some are going on twenty or more.
A veteran’s secret
So you want Rando’s advice to new owners and operators? Advice that is 42 years in the making? Okay, it’s simple, tried and true, but it’s the truth, he says.
“I’ve always been a hands-on-type operator. Even my sons-in-laws are. Ron has been with me for 33 years. It’s always been a close operation, there’s always been someone around. I don’t really believe in running a business with managers-only. You need to be there daily or at least most of the time,” Rando said.
That, and you need a good location and equipment. “I’ve seen an awful lot of failures because of bad or poorly maintained equipment,” he said. For his part, Rando runs Hanna equipment in every part of his conveyor except for the dryers. As far as location is concerned, his sites are mostly on corner lots off main streets. “You need good access. And you need to be prepared to be at your carwash and be working on it every single day,” he said. Rain or shine.