Professional Carwashing & Detailing

No, you can’t rent my customers

Read how one carwash chain found success in offering windshield repair services.

March 24, 2014

In 2005, Dow Jones — yes that’s his real name — started a carwash chain in Salt Lake City called FireHouse Carwash and Detail. The idea was simple, create a carwash experience that customers had never seen before and couldn’t live without. “It’s more than satisfaction, it’s customer delight,” was the company motto and just about everything we did was based around making sure that customers left delighted by focusing on speed, quality and the customer interaction. I could go into much more detail about the brand, mission, vision and successes, but we all know a company motto or slogan is only as good as the first wash.

As we entered our second year of operation and started construction on the second of five locations, customer loyalty grew and other businesses often wanted to work with us. We believed in synergy and community partnerships at FireHouse, but wanted to control the experience customers had with each visit. Now here is the predicament: We had to make sure every service we added to our mix included value to our client and the company, while enhancing the customer experience.  In order to add ancillary services like rock chip repair, paintless dent removal or even window replacement, we either had to integrate vertically or create partnerships with companies that shared our same views on customer delight.

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After our second location opened, nearly half a dozen windshield repair companies approached us offering to pay us a monthly rent to sell windshield repair at our washes. Immediately our reaction was, “No, you can’t rent my customers.”  We worked too hard to provide a positive experience for our customers to have an outsider come in and risk messing that up. The promise of additional profit was intriguing, so we looked a little deeper into the windshield repair business and the opportunity was real. For instance, some of the benefits include:

  • Insurance companies pay on average $57 for a windshield repair and they are happy to waive the deductable because a repaired rock chip prevents the need for a replacement. In turn, mitigating the risk of a rust damage claim later because of a poor replacement.
  • The repair takes 10 minutes and can often be performed while other cleaning services are underway.
  • Customers need windshield repair because one in every seven cars on the road has windshield damage and 100 percent of chips will crack, whether it’s in two hours or two years after impact.
  • It fit into the flow of our wash and added value to the customer. It was great to hear a customer say, “Wait, you’re meaning to tell me you can fix that chip today without any extra time out of my day, it will save me time and money in the future and my insurance company covers the repair?” Our answer: Yes, we can.

Now we’re in the glass business

The light came on and the buzz began that the FireHouse carwash was in the glass business. We partnered with a local replacement company; we repaired the chip damage onsite and sent the glass replacement to our partner, who paid us a commission. Now we could service all the glass needs of our clients and became a destination for glass service as well. Why not? We wanted to see our customers as often as possible and they loved using one place they already trusted.

We decided to hire a regional glass manager and integrated glass technicians for each location. The trick was to make sure each technician was integrated and perceived as part of the company. The customer has to see them as an asset and extension of the brand rather than a “harvester” or “poacher” for other services. When someone pulled up on site our glass technicians were FireHouse employees with special badges and the knowledge to answer all questions about the wash and packages before our service writers could advise them.

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After four years of integration and creative cross promotions our glass department was responsible for yearly revenue of $460,000 with about a 60 percent profit margin. We became a destination for auto glass repair; we would have profitable repair days even when it was raining or snowing and the wash business was slow.

As an operator, you might be asking yourself if windshield repair is right for you. Maybe you’ve already decided rock chip repair isn’t a service you want to offer because you’ve tried it in the past, had a bad experience, or a customer has told you how much they hated to be bugged by the “glass guys” at a competing wash. In one article I won’t be able to explain all the ins and outs of windshield repair, but I can hopefully give you some insight into current trends and opportunities.

1. Is it a good fit?

Decide whether windshield repair fits for you and your customer: Average capture rate for windshield repair at a full or flex service carwash is between 4-5 percent. Using a daily car count of 200 cars and an average price of $50, that’s nearly $500 extra a day or around $12,500 a month.

2. Good for high quality

Purchase quality equipment with integrated training. Focus on your core competency at the wash and your glass techs will have all tools they need to succeed. Just like the tunnel equipment, the price for systems can vary, as does quality and support, so be sure to team up with a windshield repair equipment company with all the tools you need to scale and recertify your technicians. Most equipment providers will include information about insurance processing, but there are some recent advances in technology that allow a technician to capture signatures and bill the insurance company right from their phone, tablet or carwash point of sale, avoiding the extra overhead and processing costs.

3. Stay committed

Whether you have a full time technician or just a sign on the wand off bay to “text for a repair," commit to your customer through education, marketing, consistency and even a free wash with repair if you’d like. Who wouldn’t give up a dollar of wash costs for a $50 dollar sale? Commit to your staff through incentives, competitions and accountability. If you can help the sales force have a mindset of, “If I don’t offer chip repair service, I’m doing the customer a disservice because all chips break,” it will be easier to help them seek for breaks and offer the service.

Windshield repair worked for FireHouse Carwash and can work in just about any carwash environment with a little guidance and focus on helping the customer. Professional Carwash & Detailing magazine will have follow up articles on this topic with more description on the repair process, sales integration and insurance processing, but start looking today for rock chips driving through your wash. Picture a $50 bill on the windshield each time you see an unrepaired chip leave the lot. It’s not hard. We did it. You can, and there are resources out there to help you build a stronger brand and add profit to your bottom line.

Joshua McCooey is chief operating officer of Glass Mechanix Solutions. Born in Upstate New York, Josh attended Westminster College and built the FireHouse Carwash chain while completing his Bachelors in Business Administration degree. In 2011 he, along with his partners, started the OmegaEDI software company and later joined forces with Glass Mechanix to help small business owners make educated decisions about windshield repair. He currently serves on the board for the International Detail Association and donates his time to the Birch Creek Service Ranch where he was a camper and councilor for eight years and spends his free time with his two children and wife.