What's in your wash?
Welcome to Star Wash, www.starwashonline.com, located in Fort Smith, Arkansas! The carwash is owned and operated by Chad White, Director of Operations, and his father-in-law, Cleve Branson. Star Wash’s grand opening was October 1, 2006.
Chad and Cleve originate from the residential and building sector. About two years ago, they both noticed that the industry was becoming saturated, prompting investigation into other markets.
Their search led them to the carwashing business, introduced to them by friend Keith Gibson who developed the first Rapido Rabbit franchise in Oklahoma City. From planning and designing to opening day, the process was roughly two years.
When asked if getting into the carwashing industry was easy or difficult, Chad said it was “surprisingly easy.” The most difficult part of the process was arranging the financing.
Star Wash sits on a standalone lot, roughly one acre in size with 200’ road frontage. The carwash sits between a bank and dentist office.
Because Chad and Cleve wanted to operate the wash with as few employees as possible, Star Wash operates one express exterior tunnel, 135’ in length, and employs five part-time employees. Two members of staff are usually on-site every day.
Star Wash offers $6, $8, $10, and $12 washes, with 45 percent of customers choosing the $12 option. Vacuum services are also offered at 75-cents for four minutes. Chad believes that customers choose the top wash because the “building is so nice” and, “because Tommy’s carwash equipment puts out such a superior carwash.”
During the building design stage, much attention was given to aesthetics. The color scheme was carefully chosen and an arched, clear, polycarbonate roof was added, leading to a light infused carwash with a modern feeling.
Star Wash has seen incredible sales growth since its debut: 20 percent increase in sales from the first to the third month and 30 percent increase in the third month. Despite January’s 12 straight days of rain, the carwash experienced 5 percent growth over December’s numbers.
Chad said the carwash owes its growth to advertising: handing out 2,000 free express washes one week prior to opening day. During the first month of business, the carwash ran radio and television ads. Grand opening proceeds were donated to the local children’s shelter. Every month since then, the carwash has been advertising on the radio and in local Entertainment Fort Smith magazine. The carwash is also advertised on a billboard about two blocks away from the site.
Star Wash utilizes an auto teller and a unique pay window, similar to a drive-through window. As customers enter the driveway of the carwash, the road splits. The driveway on the left brings customers to the pay window, while the driveway on the right brings customers to the auto teller.
Customer flow is controlled by gate arms at both pay lanes. “We wanted to put a little more personal touch into the carwash,” said Chad.
Cash or credit cards are accepted at the auto sentry or the drive through window. Chad has found that the payment process is 75 percent faster at the payment window, stating he can ring up three customers per one customer the auto sentry processes.
Chad said Star Wash utilizes Tommy equipment and chemicals over others because “it’s a family run business, just like the wash. The owners are easy to get in touch with and are very friendly,” said Chad, adding, “Tommy parts are easy to fix and find replacement parts.”
“Because there are a limited number of carwashes in town, we’re basically the only one of its size and capabilities. Some local residents have never seen a carwash like ours,” said Chad. He has literally had to explain the wash step-by-step to customers who have never seen his type of carwash.
Plans for the future include additional carwashes. “We have had many compliments on our building design and layout from industry leaders,” said Chad, adding, “and that makes us very proud of our product.”