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Multi-profit Centers

Getting a charge out of your carwash

October 11, 2010
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Multi-profit centers are nothing new to the carwash industry, but new types of them are sprouting up all the time. Pet washes, laundromats, fast lubes, dry cleaners, self-storage facilities, coffee shops, c-stores, gas pumps and ice vending are becoming common, but some other carwashes are going taking a completely different route.

For instance, in Iowa City, IA, Doug and Laura Warner took full-service to the next level with their carwash, the Twin Image Spa Salon, by joining it up with their other business venture, an upscale beauty salon. Their new business allows customers to pamper themselves and their cars at the same time.

In Cupertino, CA, the owner of the Homestead Lanes Bowling Center is building a carwash on the property’s parking lot. Owner Greg Malley told The San Jose Mercury News in a January 31 story, “The new bowling center about two miles away eats into our revenue. I see adding a carwash as a solution to our problem and a service to the community.”

Mike Ceritano also knows the benefits of making a carwash a multi-profit center. Although he sort of went a bit off the beaten path.

Where do we go from here?
The year was 2004 and Ceritano had just left the corporate world as a marketing executive for Chrysler America and decided to open up Alexander’s (named for his son) Auto Wash and Detailing Center which also houses a Mobil gas station. The facility, which sees 10,000 cars per month on average, is located in Lake Orion, MI, a popular recreational area for boaters, campers and outdoorsmen. Last January, Ceritano added Auto One, a windshield installation business. But Ceritano wanted his multi-profit center to multiply even more.

“I then began an exhaustive two-year search for a franchise opportunity that would complement the other parts of my business, be efficient and add value to the Alexander’s name,” he says. “I thought about adding a fast food restaurant or mini-mart... But the grocery business has tight margins and lots of competition in my area, and the restaurant business can be tricky dealing with perishables and health codes — I just didn’t want to be in that business.”

A battery center is born
Ceritano then began researching other automotive-related franchise opportunities, such as fast lubes and tires. But, he says, “Both businesses were saturated in town, and didn’t offer Alexander’s a point of difference. That’s when I discovered Interstate All Battery Center’s (IABC) unique franchising opportunity.”

IABC is a store that offers more than 13,000 types of batteries from laptops to hearing aids to cameras to cars and guarantees 15-minute car battery installations out of its auto install bays. There are 100 IABC franchise-owned stores in 33 states, Canada and Puerto Rico.

The store, which opened in July of this year, also helps with Certiano’s commitment to the environment. “My IABC store has a recycling drop off point for all batteries and we plan to work with local and national facilities to recycle and discard batteries in the most environmentally-friendly manner possible,” he says.

The secret is to cross-promote
In order to sell the services of all of the profit centers, cross-promotional initiatives are key, Ceritano says, and will offer a free battery test with every carwash.

“In Northern Michigan, a fully charged car battery is a must in cold weather and I am able to provide a vital service — and a solution to a common car-owner problem — while they get their cars washed,” he says. “And since IABC gives a 15-minute auto battery replacement guarantee, it doesn’t inconvenience the carwash customer. And for customers who come in for an auto battery replacement, I’ll offer a discount or free carwash.”

Ceritano said that his best customers with kids. “One of our best customer segments,” he says, “is mothers with a couple of children in tow, I envision them picking up batteries for all the kids’ electronic toys and music players and having a new watch or car remote battery installed (the average household has approximately 21 battery-operated devices) while browsing and waiting for their cars to be washed and detailed.”

Employee-based benefits
Ceritano says a major benefit to having a multi-profit center is that employees have more opportunities to climb the ladder, leaving him with peace of mind.

“…Having the different businesses also helps me keep my people because I’m able to offer them an opportunity to work their way up the ladder at Alexander’s,” Ceritano says. One of Ceritano’s employees, who has been with him for four years is now training to a manager in the IABC store. “He’s excited about it, motivated to make more money and learn a new skill,” Ceritano says. “It helps me keep my employees when they know they can work their way up the ladder at Alexander’s. Employee retention is so important, because without longtime, trusted employees, I can’t go home at night and enjoy time with my family.”

The challenges and drawback
One of the biggest challenges, according to Ceritano, is making people aware that there are really four distinct different brands on the property which all provide a different service or product. “But if you’ve chosen a good mix,” he says, “they actually help each other rather than hurt each other. Once people get it, they appreciate that you have a lot to offer them.”

One drawback Ceritano says, is bringing a whole other dimension to an already established carwash, which means you and your employees may have to learn new skill sets. “You might need a different type of manager or employee with different skill sets and you have to find the right people — and you have to learn new skills, too. But it also offers opportunity for my people who have worked hard other places to succeed in new positions if they choose.”


Debra Gorgos is the managing editor of Professional Carwashing & Detailing magazine. She can be reached at dgorgos@carwash.com

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