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Profile in Success: Leader of the pack

March 16, 2011
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When Jim Rooney wanted to separate his express exterior carwash from similar businesses that were cropping up across his market, he did the unthinkable: He raised his prices.

“We wanted to help separate ourselves from the competition,” Rooney explained. 3 Minute Magic Carwash had originally opened as a $3 express wash with free vacuums, and although it was the first of its kind in his marketplace, the concept caught on quickly and Rooney found his business surrounded by several other $3 express exterior washes.

“We realized we were being associated with all the other $3 carwashes, and a lot of people thought we owned them,” Rooney said. “We found ourselves being clumped into a $3 group, so we raised our prices and changed things up a bit. We feel that’s helped distinguish us, separate us from the masses, and allows us to show the real value of our brand.”

Getting started
Rooney’s confidence doesn’t come solely from the experience of having the first express exterior in his marketplace, but from also having a long history in vehicle manufacturing and professional detailing. Before opening his first few automatic carwashes in 2003, Rooney spent several years working for Chrysler Corporation, and several more years building a national detailing business. “Going from the corporate side of the car business to the professional detailing side of the show business was an exciting change, and then finding myself moving to professional car washing was really a natural extension of that,” Rooney recalled. “It was sort of a backwards approach to things, but it sure was fun. I’m very, very happy on the carwash side. It’s definitely the most fun I’ve had in my career.”

Rooney opened his first carwash in 2003 at the height of the in-bay automatic craze, but soon sold them and transitioned his business to the express exterior format that was gaining interest around the country.

“It’s a big, big difference from the in-bay automatics,” Rooney said, adding that he sees more excitement and passion surrounding the express exterior format. “I wasn’t prepared for this kind of reaction from the public or from our employees. Now that we’re in it I can’t imagine doing anything other than this.”

Operations today
Now with three tunnels — two weigh in at 125 feet, while the newest location measures 145’ — Rooney tries to keep the format and structure similar between his washes, only making minor adjustments for “smarter, better and more fun” facilities and operations.

One such improvement is the blacked out final section of his newest tunnel, which features black paint on the walls, floors, ceiling and equipment. He draws attention to the mirrors lining the walls, which are surrounded by red LED lights, as the customer rolls through the blowers.

“I really feel that car washing is a sight, sound and sensory experience,” Rooney said. “Everybody in the business today is able to wash and dry a car about the same. It’s all those other tipping points that you’re looking for to make the experience more memorable.”

Standing out from the crowd
It’s hard to pin point a single component that makes 3 Minute Magic Carwash unique, but Rooney mentions several areas where he feels his express exterior stands out in a crowded market.

For instance:

  • Price (as previously mentioned, the starting price at 3 Minute Magic is $5, whereas the majority of his competitors are at $3;
  • Customer experience and speed of service;
  • Quality of facility, service, wash, and equipment;
  • Layout, design and building materials.

“I think these speak quietly, and sometimes loudly, to our customers. For example, as they’re driving by the facility they can look at it quickly and get a good sense of the operations from the road,” Rooney explained. “They know it’s going to be a safe experience. They know it will be a value experience. And when they come in they’re delighted.”

Rooney said some of his customers venture out to other washes from time to time, but “they love to come back and give us their opinion on the comparison,” he said. “It just validates many of the things that we’re doing.”

Keeping the momentum
Rooney is in the process of growing 3 Minute Magic in a big way — as of press time, there was one site newly opened and another three in progress. Although he acknowledged that some operators have had success in adding complimentary services to the express exterior carwash, he prefers to focus on the current format.

“I don’t think the format is going to change much in the foreseeable future. I think this part of our industry [the express exterior] is here to stay and we’re not going to change it too much,” Rooney explained. “We don’t want to dilute our core focus by adding too many other services. We’d rather specialize in carwashing and detailing with the goal of becoming world class.”

Connecting to the community
If there are two other areas in which Rooney stands out as an operator, it is his focus on his employees and his community. With a combined staff of just over 50 for his businesses, Rooney understands the importance of positivity in management. He encourages his staff to suggest improvements to the wash, and regularly asks for their feedback.

He is equally as passionate about his community, particularly the youth. A visit to the 3 Minute website shows a number of ways in which charities and other local groups can host fundraisers at the washes through coupon sales, as well as how his wash independently donates to such organizations.

“I think staying connected with the youth and local community on many different levels is probably our biggest key to success, we support a wide number of sports activities, educational needs and local charities” Rooney stated. These connections not only help reinforce the company’s commitment to their community, but also present a number of opportunities to turn new drivers into future loyal customers. As Rooney explained, it gives the wash that top of mind awareness with a young and growing customer base that is vital to his success.

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