How to start a carwash: Read one owner's story of success - Professional Carwashing & Detailing

How to start a carwash: Read one owner’s story of success

The fun offerings at Cruz Thru Express Car Wash all began with thinking outside of the box.

There the express tunnels sit. Empty, echoing washes that look like soapy, soggy ghost towns. More often than many in the carwash industry want to admit, unattended and uninviting express tunnels lull customers with a bland and lonely wash experience. In a competitive market, a lively tunnel with engaged employees and interesting offerings makes it easy for customers to choose one wash over another.

The Cruz Thru Express Car Wash in California is one example. The owners and employees work together to think up creative, new ideas that will bring business to their tunnel. Cruz Thru’s Panama Lane location in Bakersfield heats things up with a bath of hot, red lava for cars, and certain packages even offer customers photo ops and lollipops. Cruz Thru combines these unique offerings with exceptional customer service to give customers a reason to return to the wash again and again.

Creativity unleashed

The funky offerings at Cruz Thru Express Car Wash all began with the chain’s creative team, according to Brian Guiniling, special projects director. This team was formed and given the task of creating a unique, engaging carwash experience for customers. Three ideas that this team came up with are:

  • Photoshoots;
  • Hot Lava Bath; and
  • Lollipops.

“PhotoShoot, our fully automated, custom designed system that takes a picture of a customer as they ride [through] the tunnel, then processes the image with a background that we can change, was initially just a half joke made by [owner] Frank Hobin,” Guiniling explained. Within 36 hours of that first joke, Guiniling had a mock-up version of the photo system operating in a store. It didn’t take long to convince the wash’s owners that the photos were a great idea. Now, PhotoShoot is available in four of the chain’s locations. The photo backgrounds are changed every Tuesday and Friday, and backgrounds are never repeated.

The next unique offering was the Hot Lava Bath. The Hot Lava Bath is an exterior protectant that pours from a volcano shaped dispenser. It covers the car in a red, heated treatment that adds to the overall shine of the vehicle. Finally, Cruz Thru decided to include the Ultimate Lollipop for customers. When all three of these offerings were combined, Cruz Thru’s most unique carwash package was born. “We market the Hot Lava Bath, the lollipop for the kids, an underbody wash and a PhotoShoot digital image into a carwash package that we feel is more of an experience then just your average express wash package,” Guiniling said. In addition, Cruz Thru offers three other express wash packages and prices range from $5 to $13.

PhotoShoot sharing

One way customers can share the unique Cruz Thru experience with their friends and family is by downloading their PhotoShoot digital images. “One goal we wanted to accomplish with PhotoShoot was to use it on social websites — when you view your PhotoShoot image online, you’ll have the option to send your image to Facebook or Twitter,” Guiniling said. The pictures can also be downloaded and emailed.

Cruz Thru employees saw how excited customers are when they share an image online, so the business expanded the idea further by offering contests for washes on the Cruz Thru Facebook page. There are also entries into sweepstakes when a customer tweets on Twitter.

“Quite often, it’s fun to track which PhotoShoot images get uploaded to Facebook and Twitter or which ones get sent to friends and family in an email,” Guiniling said. “It’s real easy to tell who’s familiar with the where the camera is placed and when the photo is being taken — you can tell they have either been [through] before or have heard about it because they are the ones with the biggest smiles and are waving at the camera!”

Engaged employees

But there’s more to Cruz Thru than quirky tunnel offerings. The carwash is also very picky about the employees it hires, according to Guiniling. Less than 1 percent of all applicants are hired by the chain. The HR department goes through each application and schedules potential hires for an in-person interview. During this interview, the applicant’s previous work history and their willingness to accept the Cruz Thru culture is evaluated.

“We’ve found that just because you’ve worked at a carwash in the past doesn’t necessarily make you the best fit for our company — we can train an employee to wash cars, but we can’t teach someone how to smile and be positive,” Guiniling said.

After being hired, every applicant goes through an orientation that can last up to two days. New employees are immersed into the Cruz Thru culture, and they learn how they are expected to treat co-workers, how to interact with customers and what’s expected of them when they’re at work.

Next, employees go through a training session on how the point of sale system works, what packages the wash sells and even what each soap, protectant and brush does in the carwash tunnel. They are also taught how to fix simple breakdowns that can happen when the wash is open for business.

Finally, employees go through field training where new hires are job shadowed by a trainer or manager while they perform their duties, and they are guided when they get confused or nervous.

“We believe in the importance of our employees; they are the face of the company, and [through] their hard work and attention to detail we are able to present our customers with the best customer service we believe you’ll receive anywhere,” Guiniling said. “Creating a lifetime guest is crucial to the success of our business, and sometimes an interaction with a customer as simple as a smile or eye contact can be the difference in whether a guest will return again or not.”

Unique point of sale

Guiniling said that Cruz Thru washes have been pioneers in the development of automated membership lanes, and the chain has developed their own custom point of sale (POS) system as well. In addition, the chain has innovated by creating several custom pieces of equipment that are now used at all Cruz Thru locations.

The need for the automated membership lanes started when two of Cruz Thru’s owners, Raymond Roselle and Terry Houchin, owned a full service carwash in Bakersfield 10 years ago. They saw the need to easily track fleet vehicles, and this led to the design of a system that utilized handheld barcode readers and barcode stickers. The stickers were attached to a windshield, and they would sync with a database of fleet customers. Soon, they offered the barcode sticker to any customer who wanted an unlimited wash membership.

“The system was developed all in-house and worked great for a full serve car wash, however, when we moved into the express wash sector, we saw the need to have multiple lanes at our location, one of which would be a fully-automated membership only lane,” Guiniling said.

Originally this was achieved by using a system that would recognize a vehicle’s license plate when it pulled into the lane. If they were a valid member, a gate would open and the guest could move right into the carwash. Guiniling said this system had some drawbacks, so the wash converted to RFID technology. The automated membership lane also accepts prepaid wash cards that can be reloaded once all washes have been used.

Cruz Thru’s POS system was also designed in-house, from the ground up, to move guests through the wash quickly, according to Guiniling. The POS system instantly uploads all sales to the Internet where Cruz Thru users can see car counts and sales on desktop computers, iPhones or iPads.

“The beauty of our POS is that, since a lot of our guests want to purchase memberships, we had to be able to activate a new account as quick as possible,” Guinling said. “We’re proud to say that we can activate a new account in under 10 seconds.”

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