Family ties: A carwash chain nurtured by its customers

Family ties: A carwash chain nurtured by its customers

How one family-owned carwash launched a thriving chain centered on its customers.

For any successful carwash, instilling an enduring customer base is essential to maintain flourishing operations. And, as the wants and needs of consumers evolve, businesses must acclimate in order to stay competitive in today’s fast-paced, demanding market.

Keeping the customer in mind is a central business concept for Quality Car Wash. The family-owned, third-generation company strives to provide quality service with a smile for every patron visiting its six locations in Michigan.

Building a solid foundation to success

Starting in 1969, Quality Car Wash has bought and sold properties throughout Western Michigan as the areas progress and change. The business recently celebrated the launch of its sixth location last December — years after purchasing the property. “We actually bought the piece of property for this location about 18 years ago. And, it never really was the right time to build — you know, economy changes, things like that,” recalls Mandi Brower, chief operating officer for Quality Car Wash. “And finally, we just got to the point where we were like, ‘We have to build, and we have to do something new.’”

The company evaluated different areas around the city as potential options for the new location. However, Quality Car Wash soon came to the realization that its existing 18-year-old property was the perfect site.

“Three or four years ago we really started to work on the designs, the layout and all of our thought processes that go into opening a new location — efficiencies, everything that we know from the industry and from existing locations,” explains Brower. “And, during that time, we also purchased a couple other locations that we were working on building and growing; so we learned some things in that process as well. And it just kind of evolved, and we opened last December.”

With several years of anticipation, combined with quality service, cleanliness, consumer awareness and innovation Quality Car Wash’s customers have come to expect, the latest location has already achieved substantial success.

“Our existing customer base could not wait [for the new location] to open. It was really exciting for [the wash] to take off,” shares Brower, adding that the business teamed up with Tim Hortons, a Canadian fast-casual restaurant chain known for its coffee and doughnuts. The restaurant chain is fairly new to the area, which also helped to bring a lot of excitement over the launch within the community.

Multiple opportunities to profit

The new Quality Car Wash site also features a convenience store and gas station. However, having these multi-profit centers on-site is not an original component specific to the carwash’s latest location. The company has developed and grown this concept throughout its 40 years in business, notes Brower, and customers have come to expect these additional services from the Quality Car Wash brand.

“I don’t know that it is the right mix for other operators across the country, but for our market that is what we wanted to do,” explains Brower. “It gives us consistency in labor, and it gives us consistency in cash flow.”

A steady cash flow and a solid workforce are not the only benefits, however. Having the fast-casual restaurant, gas and c-store on-site helps to maintain overall efficient operations, even during the slower days of the year. “What happens if you have a rainy week? What happens if you are a stand-alone carwash? There is nothing coming in. You want to send employees home. You still have bills that need to be paid,” continues Brower. “Well, we have food service. We have grocery. We have fuel. And it all adds to that contributing cash flow and keeps everything consistent for your customers.”

Yet even with the ample success from the additional profit centers, Brower asserts the latest site is so successful because of the business’ focus on the carwash, which is a 130-foot express tunnel optimized to produce 180 clean cars per hour and features the latest technology from its sister company Tommy Car Wash Systems. “There are a lot of operators out there whose main focus is the gas and the c-store. And some of that may be because of major oil companies and things like that,” says Brower. “We have always made our carwashes the focus, and put time and energy into them.”

Powered by the people

A strong team dynamic and established roots in the community also help to steer Quality Car Wash down the path of prosperity. The company’s innate family ties fuel its push toward sustaining a lucrative business powered by the people.

“We really have high standards, and we have high expectations of our team,” says Brower. “We are in the service industry; and if you don’t like working with people, I wouldn’t recommend being in the service industry because we are powered by the people; we are powered by the customers. Our business and our sustainability are nurtured by our customers. But internally, we are powered by our people as well; and our people make such a difference. That’s what we feel sets us apart from other carwashes. We can create that customer experience that others can’t.”

Installing innovative carwash technology, from the site’s controller to its detergent pod system, is essential for effective operations, which in turn leads to a better customer experience. The aesthetics — the brightness, cleanliness, style — of the wash are also crucial, remarks Brower, adding that it is the same reason companies like McDonalds will tear down sites and rebuild them back up with new features, technology and a fresh new look. “For example, when there is a carwash on one side and another on the other side,” explains Brower, “customers are going to go to the location that looks nicer, cleaner and brighter. So you want to make sure you have that appearance. Even though we are in a dirty business, we have to continue cleaning. So I think one of the advantages definitely is the attention we pay to the aesthetics of the site.”

In addition to creating the optimal customer experience at its locations, Quality Car Wash has adopted a companywide culture to prevail in a competitive market. A few years ago, the carwash implemented a “we own it” culture to contend with potential growing pains after expanding from three locations to six locations in a short period of time. “We wanted to adopt a culture that our team would understand and could unify our locations as we were spreading out,” states Brower.

The “we own it” motto is a compilation of Quality Car Wash’s key values: “W” stands for wash quality; “E” stands for exceptional customer service; “O” stands for outstanding team members; “W” stands for winning attitude; “N” stands for never-ending pursuit of excellence; “I” stands for immediate call to action; and “T” stands for training.

“It is kind of a culture we adapted that may work for some but might not work for others,” shares Brower. “But it’s really being involved and being that people business; and making a difference in your community is always important. We have done that for a long time by doing fundraisers, being involved in events, giving back to the community and just by having that presence in being involved is what makes a big difference as well.”

Instilling a strong company culture and creating an alluring experience for its customers are just a couple of ways Quality Car Wash works to effectively serve the people. The business also aims to establish a positive presence in the community. The carwash features a mission of the month for which the team picks a fundraiser and then places a coin box by the register; any money raised, including all the customers’ change that goes into the box, is donated to the selected charity/cause each month. Quality Car Wash also hosts on-site fundraisers with various organizations/groups at which a percentage of the wash proceeds raised during the event is donated to the organizations.

The key to success

Wash quality is vital for any carwash, in addition to having a clean and bright site, notes Brower. However establishing a sense of family into every service and every person associated with the business is also critical.

“Our success is the people — the people at the cashier windows; the people our employees interact with — and making it a great day for them as well as trying to use a customer’s name whenever possible. We really try to push that,” says Brower. “Get to know the customers’ names; use their names; tell them thank you by their names. It really engages them and lets them know that, to us, they are special and not just another customer going through the wash.”

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