Casting a carwash vote
Owner Daniel Foor lets customers choose a candidate using his in-bay automatic washes.
The U.S. political process has kicked into high gear once again. Frenzy and fervor will soon reach another four-year high as U.S. citizens prepare to cast their vote on Election Day. While talking heads and pundits endlessly rehash the pros and cons of each candidate, plenty of Americans will proudly chip in their own arguments for and against the potential presidents as well.
But, before the polls even open on Nov. 6, 2012, there will be a number of carwash customers in Madison and Middleton, WI, that have already placed their votes. Sure, none of them will have entered the official booth and bubbled in a verified ballot. Instead, they will have made their voice heard using a clean but unconventional tool: An in-bay automatic carwash.
Wash the vote
According to Owner Daniel J. Foor, Magic Wash Car Washes began their carwash polls in 2004. Since then, the wash locations have performed local and national election polling by placing banners for the candidates over their two in-bay entrances. Thus, washers have “cast their vote” by simply selecting the bay of the politician that they support.
“It’s all great fun; we post the results daily out on our street signs as well as on our website, www.washnvote.com,” Foor said. This year’s recall vote for Wisconsin governor proved to be especially good for business, mainly because people on both sides of the election were so polarized. In the end, the Madison Magic Wash location totals correctly picked that Gov. Scott Walker would win, while the Middleton location had challenger Tom Barrett winning.
In 2008, Magic Wash customers picked Barack Obama to win by 5.8 percent and, nationally, he won the election by 5.6 percent, Foor stated. This result earned Magic Wash great local exposure in newspapers and on TV. “Nationally, I did some radio interviews and did a remote interview on CNBC,” Foor recalled. “The newspaper article was picked up by the AP and was reprinted in different cities and around the world.”
The boost in business and the exposure from previous elections has Foor excited about the 2012 presidential race. The showdown between President Obama and Mitt Romney is “going to be great,” and Foor said he cannot wait until the candidate banners debut at the beginning of October.
Yesterday, today and tomorrow
Foor got his start in the car care industry when the carwash he personally used was put up for sale. “At the time I was in the coin-op laundry business and thought to myself, washing cars or clothes can’t be a big difference, so I bought the place.” In 1997, he purchased the ten-bay self-serve carwash in Middleton. During a renovation, two touchless in-bay automatics replaced two self-serve washes, leaving the eight existing self-serve bays.
In 2003, Magic Wash opened a second location in Madison with two touchless in-bay automatics and six self-serve bays. At that time, the in-bay washing trend was more touchless than friction, Foor noted. Now that friction technology has advanced, Foor plans to include both a touchless and a friction wash in future locations.
Magic Wash sets itself apart from the competition by using a two-step pre-soak treatment before the in-bay wash cycle. Then, at the end of the wash, the locations offer tri-foam wax, a clear-coat finish and a spot-free rinse before drying. Also, their self-serve bays have 12-feet of clearance, foam bushes and tri-foam wax treatment.The washes’ newest equipment additions to the self-serve bays are dryers. “Last year we installed self-serve air dryers in the bays, and our customers love them,” Foor said.
Future Magic Wash plans call for another renovation to the Middleton location. The renovation will be a complete overhaul that will allow the location to clean cars, clothes and even canines. The existing eight self-serve bays will be torn down and replaced with two car/truck/RV wash bays, two pet washes and a 2,400-square-foot coin laundry.
Foor explained that the renovation was necessary to keep up with his growing competition. “When I purchased the ten-bay [wash], there was only one other carwash in town, and now, with all the new c-stores, we have nine carwashes in our trade area,” he said. While Magic Wash will remain the only self-serve wash in the area, the renovations will let the business stay competitive with updated washes and newly added profit centers.
An undercar wash and rocker panel blasters are cleaning options that Magic Wash must offer their customers. In Wisconsin, these services are important due to the salt-covered roads caused by severe winters. “Our winter season is the busiest time,” Foor revealed. “Here, like anywhere that gets snow, people want to get the salt off their cars as soon as the roads are dry. And when it gets really cold, Magic Wash stays open when others close.”
Even when the temperature drops to a frigid 10 or 15 below zero, customers know that the Magic Wash locations will stay open. Foor said he is often asked if people wash their cars when it gets that cold, and the answer is definitely “yes.” Typically, the roads are dry and there is no slush. Also, the fear of car locks freezing is small since hardly anyone uses a key to open their car door — most customers just hit a remote button.
How do Magic Wash locations prepare to operate in such bitter cold? Actually, the wash employees start getting ready for winter in early October. Foor starts with the self-serve bays. First, he will check the weep miser to make sure it is programmed correctly. Next, he takes an ice cube and puts it on the thermostat bulb to make sure its reading. With the system on, and after the filters are cleaned, he adjusts the flow to all the wash wands.
The automatic and self-serve bays all have floor heat as well, so Foor will fire up the heaters and make sure the system is full and the pressure is correct. “There are lot of other things we do,” Foor continued. “One of them is speeding up how fast we open and close the automatic bay doors to hold in as much heat as we can.”
One way that Magic Wash keeps winter customers coming back is through the use of their washcard program. Foor said the program has worked well for his washes, and it allows the locations to get a step up on the competition by offering a loyalty program to regular customers. In addition, the washcards have helped the washes build their fleet accounts to over 75 active businesses.
“Once a customer has a washcard and registers it online on our website, they get a monthly email that tells them the activity for the month as well as their prepaid balance. From there they add to their prepaid balance via a credit card purchase,” Foor stated. “We can also run different specials at any time just by changing the website.”
Magic Wash will be upgrading the washcard system this fall with the Middleton renovation. Then, the self-serve bays will be upgraded to accept quarters, dollar coins, paper money, debit cards, credit cards and washcards. This update will eliminate the need for an on-site bill changer. The pet washes and the larger washers and dryers in the new Laundromat will also accept all these forms of payment. “I think this is the way of the future, I see it with my five kids. The next generation doesn’t carry cash,” Foor said.
When it comes to cutting edge ideas, Foor tries to attend The Car Wash Show put on by the International Carwash Association (ICA) every year. He looks at the show as an opportunity to discover new profit possibilities. “If you bring back one good idea each year that makes you a profit, it’s worth it.” In addition to the ICA, Magic Wash is a member of the Heartland Carwash Association. These groups have helped Magic Wash get insurance coverage, and both offer education about the carwash business.
Finally, Foor stressed the importance of belonging to any local chambers of commerce. “I think this is a must for any small business owner to … be involved with other businesses in your trade market,” he explained.
Carwash: Magic Wash Car Wash
Type: In-bay automatics/self-serve bays
Owners: Daniel J. Foor
Number of employees: 7
Number of locations: 2
Year opened: 2003
Location: Madison, WI