For Marc-1 Car Wash owner Marcus Kittrell, express is the backbone of his business. Kittrell began washing cars as a high school sophomore in 1981 at a full-service carwash. In 1986 he and his father-in-law built his first coin-operated, self-serve carwash, called Marc-1 Car Wash, in Pelham, Alabama. Since then, Kittrell has built four more locations throughout Central and Southern Alabama and has expanded into the express conveyor market.
Kittrell explains the self-serve model was appealing to him in the 1980s and 1990s because of its low labor cost and the ability to own a few locations while maintaining a full-time job. The express exterior wash “combines the cleaning of a full-service wash and still gives the customer an option of vacuuming and light detailing their own car like at the self-service carwash,” he adds.
“We still have the original self-serve carwash in Pelham that we built in 1986, and we converted that to a gated self-serve,” says Kittrell. “And we have our sights set on two to three more future sites.”
People make the difference
According to Kittrell, one thing that sets Marc-1 apart from other washes is its people.
“I know it’s cliché to say this, but it really is our people,” he explains. “We have tremendous people, and we have a lot of young kids that work for us that we try to groom into really productive workers for us.”
Good employees and attractive locations have helped Marc-1 thrive in the self-serve and express markets. “We feel we have really strong locations. We have good, visible locations,” Kittrell notes.
Location is important for attracting a steady stream of business. Customers need to feel safe and welcome at a carwash facility, and a convenient site with attractive structures and reliable equipment can help establish your business.
Employees can also make customers feel welcome at a business. Friendly, knowledgeable and personable workers let customers know you are grateful for their business.
“We believe in a very strong customer service business model,” Kittrell shares. “So we really strive for that and try to go over and beyond on the customer service side.”
Making technology personal
Marc-1’s commitment to trying new things also helps it stands out.
Carwashes often use signage and remodeling along with new services and technology to keep the business looking fresh and up-to-date to attract customers. Facility improvements keep customers interested. Marc-1 is no exception to this practice.
Kittrell states that his business constantly adds new elements to stand out from its competitors.
“[It’s] very rare you go without two or three months at any of our locations that you don’t see something new that we’re trying, whether it be a certain wash package, whether it be a piece of equipment, whether it be a certain chemical,” he explains.
“This past year we added all LED lights and color lights inside our tunnels to give all our packages a really cool-looking look as they go through,” continues Kittrell. “So we’re always trying something.”
Staying on top of the latest technology is another way Marc-1 keeps its edge, states Kittrell.
“We have state-of-the-art ICS controllers, everything is Web-based,” he says. “We can change washes or change timing from anywhere in the country if we need to.”
Marc-1 also uses technology to involve its customers in the business. The wash uses radio-frequency identification, or RFID, to allow patrons to have a more complete wash experience through its loyalty program, called Speed Pass.
“We started our loyalty program about a year ago, and we finally in the past few months have gotten all our locations tied in together with our RFID, where our customers purchase it at one location and actually use it at another location,” shares Kittrell. “So for instance if you buy a club wash in Pelham, you can actually use it [at the Prattville location].”
Reward the customer
Without customers, obviously, no carwash could exist. Marc-1 shows its appreciation for patrons with Black Friday and holiday specials, offering buy one, get one free or half off gift cards.
Kittrell shares these types of promotions help customers wash economically. The wash does a lot of giveaways, some of which are done in support of local charities like ball teams. Marc-1 participates in Grace For Vets on Veterans Day, along with hundreds of other washes across three countries, to thank veterans and military service members with free carwashes.
Learning from other operators
For Kittrell, being a part of the carwash community has been the biggest change in his life. “It has definitely made me a better operator,” he notes.
Kittrell is a past president of the Southeastern Carwash Association, and he served on its board for 10 years. He encourages operators to get involved with their associations, from regional all the way up to the International Car Wash Association.
Through his association involvement, Kittrell says he has made lasting relationships.
“I’m really close friends with just about all my competitors and would do anything to help them,” he explains. “If they needed a part that I had, I’d give it to them in a heartbeat to help them stay open or get open, and they would do the same for me.”
Connections like these in addition to the educational and professional opportunities associations present make membership worthwhile.
“Be involved in your association, go to the meetings, ask questions and learn,” Kittrell urges. “And you’ll become a really good operator.”