It's your busiest day during the busiest time of the year. Customer cars are backed up into the street, and the pressure is on. The dryers roar and the brushes spin as the conveyor pulls in vehicle after vehicle at top speed. Empty vacuum spaces are sparse, and customers crowd into the lobby and vending areas. In baseball terms, it's the top of the ninth, the bases are loaded, and you're on the mound hoping to close out a World Series win.
Owners and operators all know that there is plenty of pressure in the carwash industry. Weather, competition and the economy are all problems that have had businesses looking to their bullpens for years. But, how does the most stressful and hectic day running a carwash equate to pitching in a World Series?
There is one carwash owner in Tulsa, OK, that can give a definitive answer to that question. Mark Redman, owner of Triple Play Express Car Wash, was a pitcher for the 2003 Florida Marlins team that went on to win the World Series. After years of success in the major leagues, Redman recently made the decision to enter the carwash market.
Triple Play Express Car Wash is a newcomer to the market, having just opened in September of 2011. The express wash features a unique tunnel design with a curved ceiling and walls made mostly of glass. Redman said he ended up choosing this unique design because he was not interested in owning the typical tunnel.
"When I started thinking about building a wash, I asked my wife what she would like to go through," Redman recalled. "She thought something bright with natural light, so I Google searched and found some different ideas."
What struck Redman the most when he found drawings of this tunnel was how clean the design was. He felt the preponderance of windows and the clear acrylic roof would communicate the concept of "clean" to customers and let potential patrons know that the business was not trying to hide anything.
"I like to be unique and different. I set my standards high," Redman said. "That's why I chose the … building for my wash. Top of the line."
Triple Play's tunnel offers a number of additional profit services, including tri-color foam, under body flush, Rain X and tire gloss, Redman said. Also, the use of free vacuums is included with the purchase of every express wash.
The express wash with free vacuums format was selected after Redman observed that people now choose inexpensive and quick services. He also cited the weather extremes in Oklahoma as another factor. The state has its share of extremely cold and extremely hot days that would discourage customers from using a full-service wash.
"People prefer to not get out of their cars and would rather have a good, quick wash than a 20 to 30 minute full-service wash," Redman explained. "That's why I went with the express service carwash."
The property utilizes a dual-lane point-of-sale (POS) system, one manned and one unmanned. This setup accommodates customers who prefer to pay using an automated system as well as customers who like "good, old-fashioned" customer service. "We thought, 'Why not offer both?' It's been a hit here," Redman stated.
The labor costs at Triple Play are also limited by the automation of the express format wash. The modern building design is set up so one person can run the operation, but Redman prefers to have at least two employees on-site. The wash typically has a cashier at the window plus a manager roaming the premises making sure the experience exceeds customer expectations.
Another feature of Triple Play's tunnel is a dual-belt design conveyor, used here instead of the typical chain-driven model. Wash speed is one big advantage that this belt conveyor offers. At maximum capacity, the tunnel can run 150 cars per hour while still producing clean, shiny and dry vehicles. This speed allows Triple Play to process vehicles faster than the typical chain and roller conveyors.
Redman said traditional conveyors can damage cars, and he stated that he would never take one of his cars to a tunnel without a belt conveyor. "I have some high-end cars that sit 2 to 3 inches off the ground," he said. "Your typical chain roller would do a number on the ground effects of those cars."
Also, in Oklahoma, a good portion of the customer base has large, lifted trucks with wide tires, Redman revealed. Triple Play's dual-belt conveyor means it is the only tunnel wash in Tulsa that can get these large trucks on a track.
Redman noted that his love for cars first sparked his interest in entering the carwash market. "I've owned some nice cars though the years, but never had the perfect carwash to wash them," he said. "I'm pretty picky when it comes to my cars being clean."
Triple Play was born when Redman set out to build the perfect carwash. While he initially thought it would be nice to have a carwash built in his backyard, this plan was quickly abandoned after he realized his neighbors would not share his enthusiasm. Instead, he made the decision to open the carwash as a business.
When it came time to name his business, Redman felt the three-word slogan of his wash vendor, "Clean, Shiny, Dry," was a service triple play. He was inspired to name his business Triple Play and "borrow" the vendor's three-word slogan. "Triple plays in baseball don't happen often and are unique," he said.
Triple Play's location was selected with the help of Redman's friends. He formed a group of people to help find the site, and they worked together as a small team. Once the location was selected, construction moved forward smoothly — until it was time to pour concrete. Here, record snowfall delayed the concrete pouring and postponed the early construction of the wash.
"But once we got into the spring, things took off," Redman remembered. "The building framing went up in 12 days. It was neat to watch the wash grow."
Redman credits his vendor with helping him during the construction and opening process. Representatives from the company went "out of their way" to help Redman or Triple Play's manager when needed. They also made several trips to the location and "treat the carwash like it's their own."
Though the carwash is still a first-year player, Triple Play's business so far has been brisk. The curb appeal of the unique building alone has attracted many customers. "We've had people tell us they drove from miles away to try the new carwash," Redman said. "Others say their kids want to come and beg their parents to bring them."
The wash's capture rate is well over 2 percent even though it has only been open for about seven months. The business has not advertised or offered any discounting, but Redman said plans are definitely in the works. "We are still growing. We consistently do 90-plus cars an hour over the weekend all day long."
When asked if he has noticed any similarities between playing baseball and carwashing so far, Redman joked, "Yes, you can't please everyone by your performance."