Not everyone is cut out to take on a fixer-upper. Sometimes, it can be difficult to see past the decay and ruins of a building and imagine what it can become. However, with a combined total of nearly 70 years in the retail and residential construction industries, Dave and Barbara Edwards are no strangers to fixing up buildings, and they weren’t afraid to take on such a project in the form of a carwash.
In 2015, a couple miles outside the town of Hamlin, Pennsylvania, a 20-year-old, rundown, self-serve carwash sat for sale. But, as Dave Edwards, partner and fix-it guy at The CAR WASH on Hamlin Hwy. & DOG WASH Too, puts it, “The bones were good.”
So, the Edwards decided to purchase the wash and embarked on a mission to rejuvenate it. They cleaned up the lot, put on a fresh coat of paint and invested in new equipment throughout the business.
Then, on Aug. 21, 2015, the couple opened the bays to the community, and The CAR WASH on Hamlin Hwy. was born.
A challenging market
One of the factors Edwards considers unique about his and his wife’s carwash is also, at the same time, an ever-present challenge: delivering a positive retail guest experience at a self-serve carwash site in a rural region. Although The CAR WASH on Hamlin Hwy. sits two miles outside of town, the highway from which it takes its name is well-travelled. How well-travelled it is just depends on the time of year.
“Our market relies on a year-round population of about 20,000,” Edwards notes. “Yet, in the summer months, the area expands to nearly 80,000 [with] tourism and recreational lake homes.”
With such a widespread base of customers who aren’t always in town, the Edwards have found that using social media, primarily Facebook, has been the best way they engage their customer base, aside from visiting them while they are on-site. The carwash currently has over 700 followers.
“We are constantly utilizing Facebook to share new products [and] show customers washing and cleaning vehicles. Our business is engaged socially with our guests — our friends,” Edwards explains.
The carwash’s Facebook page not only sports these photos and product demos, but it clearly relays the types of services customers can expect from the carwash, and it also displays events, such as the dog wash fundraiser that has been held once a month this year since March in support of the nearby Dessin Animal Shelter.
Edwards feels that many customers love the “Americana feeling” of washing and vacuuming their own vehicles, so The CAR WASH on Hamlin Hwy. has made numerous capital investments to enhance its customer experience.
“To meet the satisfaction of all, we know we have to deliver a quality product every day, any day,” Edwards affirms.
At the most basic level, the Edwards invest in quality soaps, waxes and products and keep their equipment well-maintained to provide both a quality and consistent experience every time. Of course, the other factor in the customer experience equation for The CAR WASH on Hamlin Hwy. is being presentable.
“Clean bays, clean driveways, clean yard, clean vacuums, clean trash cans … everything about us is clean,” Edwards proclaims.
However, the biggest way this carwash contributes to the customer experience is simply in the bevy of services that it offers.
A wash for all
When the Edwards first restored the carwash, they had three self-serve bays, a self-detailing bay and a touchless in-bay automatic. But since then, the couple has continued to make investments to better cater to their customers’ needs.
“We listen to our guests’ suggestions,” Edwards states. “We think out-of-the-box, like offering two types of vacuum nozzles at each vacuum station: standard ‘wide claw’ or crevasse tool.”
As such, in December 2016, they added a dog wash, utilizing a former office at the carwash. They decided to market the dog wash just as aggressively as the carwash itself by tacking it onto the name.
Edwards explains, “‘& DOG WASH Too’ is catchy. [It will] catch a potential customer off guard while driving down the highway; they will remember it, [and] they will come back to use it.”
More recently, The CAR WASH on Hamlin Hwy. decided to take advantage of the fact that it’s only five miles from Lake Wallenpaupack by refitting one of the bays into a boat wash, complete with plenty of clearance and low pressure marine wash soap. According to Edwards, Pennsylvania law states that boats must be washed before they are transferred from one lake to another in order to prevent contamination.
“We wanted boaters to feel comfortable washing at our self-serve carwash bays,” Edwards said. “This allows us to market in different ways in order to drive traffic to our site.”
The Edwards also used the wash’s rural location to add another unique feature: a visitor information kiosk. The carwash partnered with The Chamber of the North Poconos and commissioned local artists to paint a map of the lake on one of the walls of the carwash. Racks of brochures hang alongside the map.
“Being two miles outside of town on the main highway leading to the lake, just about the time you’re feeling lost, you’re passing our site,” Edwards explains. “So, it only made sense to partner with the local chamber of commerce to install a ‘visitor information’ wall site at the previously unused portion of our building. It draws people in to grab a brochure. And, hey, as long as you’re here, might as well get a carwash. It’s a win-win.”
Bennett’s Detailing Shop
If you thought there couldn’t be any additional services The CAR WASH on Hamlin Hwy. could fit on-site, you would be wrong. Bennett’s Detailing Shop is an independently-owned business leasing a former mechanic’s garage on the lot.
“Randy Bennett is a spirited young entrepreneur who is recognized in the community for doing flawless auto detailing,” Edwards states. “It was only obvious that we complement our carwash business with a quality detailer.”
After watching Bennett work for two and a half years under fluorescent lights in a shop with faded white walls and stained concrete floors, Edwards decided in early 2018 that it was time to make the detail shop into a spirited retail presence.
Edwards and Bennett visited several detailing shops, only to discover that most of them operated in an uninviting space that Edwards described as appearing to be “the stepchild of sorts to an overall carwash facility.”
So, Edwards and Bennett sat down to discuss Bennett’s current sales, equipment, operations and goals with a mind to double his annual sales. They came to realize that an ideal theme for the detailing shop would be “monster garage” or “man cave.” They then looked at the interiors of some auto dealership garages and planned out an automotive-driven interior.
“We asked ourselves, can we take any of the design products currently available in the market today for souped up residential or showroom garages to hold up in a higher traffic environment?” Edwards relates. After studying the products for a time, they found that they indeed could.
They ended up revamping the interior so that form and function worked together, utilizing much of the equipment as part of the display. For instance, they kept pipes and conduit exposed to contribute to an industrial feel, yet each pipe provides a function in the shop. The overhead central vacuum system has extremely colorful hoses and fittings. Four-foot LED strip lighting lines the walls at different heights and angles to prevent shadowing, and the polished aluminum diamond plate wainscoting unintentionally provided light reflection that assists in the detailing.
In addition, they used the popular mechanic motif of the big red box of tools to incorporate a counter system that not only provides storage for detailing supplies and tools but also serves as a customer service and payment counter.
For customers with shorter wait times, such as those stopping in for an express carpet shampoo or an interior service, they also created a small waiting area inspired by parking lot tailgating, and the waiting room includes USB port charging stations and a flat screen TV that loops car-themed shows.
All in all, Edwards is pleased to say that since he and his wife revamped the carwash, year over year, it has seen an 11 percent increase in transactions and a 27 percent increase in revenue. These last few years, the Edwards appear to have established a pattern of always coming up with unique, new ways to attract customers to their site. While they’re bound to continue enhancing The CAR WASH on Hamlin Hwy., they also now have a second location under contract.
Having successfully made their way through their first few years as carwash “newbies,” this couple’s prospects seem bright for any future endeavors they take.