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Multi-profit Centers

Profile in Success: Miles The Auto Spa

October 11, 2010
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If ever there was a carwash operator willing to go the distance, it’s Miles Johnson. Even his name implies a commitment to staying the course, putting in the time and distance necessary to reach the finish line.

For Johnson, that finish line was a luxurious carwash and custom auto supply store in the suburbs of Nashville. As a new operator, Johnson worked tirelessly to make MILES The Auto Spa a destination for upscale clientele.

Luxury as a business model
For starters, the 8,300-sq.-ft. facility features plenty of options. With three carwash lanes, a clothing/gift boutique, an automobile accessory shop, three indoor detailing bays which can be viewed by customers from the café or waiting area, and a custom garage makeover/organization business, Johnson has created a plethora of selling opportunities.

According to Johnson, the idea for combining all of these services was to tailor the menu towards his market area, a high per-capita income and growth-rate area just outside of Nashville, TN. For instance, Retail Therapy, the clothing/gift boutique, represents about 10 percent of the revenues. “My friend and business partner Michelle Roberson operates the business,” Johnson stated in an earlier interview with The Nashville Post. “It’s a big hit. Our female clientele, which represents about 50 percent of Miles The Auto Spa business, would revolt if we eliminated Retail Therapy.” He continued, “Our concept was to create a luxury experience in a not-so-luxurious business. That was the first difference. The next was our focus on execution.”

Working with a large staff
Execution includes hiring and managing a large staff, according to Johnson, who didn’t cut any corners when it came to running his full-service carwash. “[The carwash] requires a more robust staff. However, it’s also a higher revenue model on a per-car basis,” he stated. “We will have 30 employees on staff at any one time, usually a third of which are part-time. We’re open seven days a week as well, so the staff has to be large enough to accommodate those hours.”

Johnson knows his staff is the key to achieving high-revenues, and he focuses management on customer service and quality assurance in the final product. “Our success depends on high retention and referral rates of a solid core customer base,” he explained. “[W]e have a readily accessible owner/management team. And, we encourage customer feedback.”

Johnson said his staff is trained to walk the customer to the car and ask for a review before she leaves the premises. “If we can get them comfortable in that process, they are happy when they leave and usually find little to be concerned with later,” he said.

Subscribing to the notion of steady revenues
To better manage his labor and his resources, Johnson decided to move toward a subscription-based pricing model in 2009 that featured several unlimited wash plans. “My take is that most carwashes are scattered in terms of pricing,” Johnson said, citing examples of “managers’ specials, early bird specials, multiple plans, SUV upcharges, etc.”

Instead, Johnson has elected to differentiate his business by using four carwash plans and three detail services. “We believe in bundling packages into simple, easy-to-understand services. I think most customers want a good value, a clean car and great customer service,” he explained.

“Our business is largely dependent on weather conditions,” Johnson explained. “A successful subscription model effectively removes weather from the equation and creates a stable, recurring revenue stream.”

The program began with a ‘soft’ opening in July and began by adding about 25 customers per month. In November, Johnson lowered his pricing, started marketing the program and doubled his customer enrollment in two months.

Connecting to the community
Beyond his forward-thinking pricing and marketing programs, Johnson is also establishing connections to charity and his community. Most recently, he is working to partner with a to-be-determined organization to make his business location a drop-off point for various supplies for the victims of the Haiti earthquake.

Johnson is also taking advantage of the “social media phenomenon.” In addition to conventional marketing, like cable TV, radio and print advertising, MILES The Auto Spa has a Facebook and Twitter page and uses those mediums to connect to a wider market.

And finally, Johnson has taken steps to be a good environmental steward in order to strengthen the bond to his community and promote an image of responsibility within the carwash industry. “We estimate our water usage to be 60-70 percent less than if a car was washed at home in a driveway,” Johnson said. “Also, more of the products we use, than not, are biodegradable and nontoxic. The industry is getting their hands around this. We have embraced being as green a business as possible from the beginning.”

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