You’ve probably heard the phrase, “Your image is your brand.” It applies not only to companies but to people as well. And, since the invention of the automobile, a person’s image has largely been tied to his or her car. Part of this image has to do with the cost, make and model of the vehicle, certainly. However, no matter what type of car a person owns, just as much can be said in how well it is taken care of. But, while the average onlooker doesn’t see what’s under the hood, he or she does notice the exterior. Just as an image is worth a thousand words, so too is the cleanliness of that vehicle’s surface.
For that reason, carwashes like Images Auto Spa take pride in helping their customers put forward their best images — through their cars. After all, the motto of this wash is, “When your car shines, so do you.”
Remaking its image
Jeff Bonynge, president of Images Auto Spa, entered the carwash industry in 1980 when he joined the family business — a small tunnel that had two self-serve bays, six vacuum stations and a full detailing shop — in Eustis, Florida. Over the next decade, the Bonynge family built two additional full-serves in Leesburg and Orlando, Florida. Come 1995, Bonynge decided to go independent and purchased the Orlando location to make his own brand.
When Bonynge first bought the Orlando location, it primarily served the Orlando Naval Training Center (NTC) and surrounding environs, and most of the customer base was made up of retirees. Even back then, Bonynge knew that conveying the right image to customers was key. Seeing that the location was in great need of a facelift, Bonynge revamped it with a tropical theme.
However, in 1998, the NTC closed, leading to some hard years for the carwash as a large part of its customer base disappeared. Over time, however, an upper-middle class community replaced the NTC, and with the change in demographics, Bonynge saw need for another change in image.
That’s when he decided to upgrade the “carwash” to an “auto spa,” renaming the business Images Auto Spa and changing the look once again, this time going for a chic, hangout appearance enhanced by overhead shade sails crisscrossing the lot. The change worked in attracting the new, higher-end clientele, and the full-serve wash has been pulling in medium to high volumes ever since.
Forever full service
While Bonynge has owned as many as four carwashes in central Florida over the years, he and his wife, Mayra, currently own and operate two Images Auto Spa locations, each of which is a full service store with detailing. In an age where express washes have become the go-to model for investors, Bonynge is staying true to his full-serve roots.
“I feel our operation is unique, as we are old-school full service. We offer a complete menu of wash and detailing services,” Bonynge says.
In recent years, express carwashes have been the talk of the industry. After all, modern trends have shown that customers are interested in fast service, and most times, they don’t want to be bothered with getting out of their cars. That being said, Bonynge has seen the rise of interest in express carwashes — on the operators’ front — as a boon for the company. Since growth has been primarily in express tunnels, Bonynge feels that Images Auto Spa stands out against the crowd by offering something that express washes cannot.
“We are truly a full service wash and detail facility,” he explains. “As much as 50% of revenue comes through our detail offerings. We offer express and restoration detailing, including paint correction and ceramic coating services.”
Bonynge has also been able to use this selling point to his advantage as recently as the coronavirus pandemic. While many full-serves across the country were forced to change into express-only operations in order to stay open, for Images Auto Spa, that luckily didn’t need to be the case. According to Bonynge, the pandemic only reduced demand for the company’s services during the Stay-At-Home orders, but Images Auto Spa continued to offer full service washes and detailing services.
“We provided personal protective gear, such as gloves, masks and glasses, to members of staff that accepted the challenge — not all did,” Bonynge says. “Business did reduce to roughly 15% of normal volumes, but deeper cleaning services like shampooing were requested by customers. We began using antibacterial cleaning products … to assure we were disinfecting the interior surfaces.”
One of the sticking points for full-serves has always been the amount of time it takes to get a car cleaned thoroughly. Bonynge understands this and has made speed a key principle of the wash.
“Our belief is that time is everything, so rapid/timely delivery is key for customer loyalty. Consistent quality control and a timely delivery is a must for long-term success,” he states.
One way in which Images Auto Spa makes the detailing process more efficient is by using CCTV and a sign-in-and-out app. With the app, the customer verifies a complete understanding of the services to be provided and can sign to accept both the price and, eventually, the finished vehicle. The staff also uploads a photo of the vehicle at arrival and can include other photos during the process. In this way, the communication between staff and customers becomes more in tune.
Another way the carwash has cut down on both time and labor is by installing pay stations, eliminating the need for cashiers. Not only has it helped with staffing, Bonynge notes, but it has also led to higher profits.
As for the staff itself, while turnover is traditionally another problem for the carwash industry, Images Auto Spa came up with a solution that has seen results: hosting internal training programs in which the staff must participate.
“Turnover is a constant problem that consistent/advanced training of staff to retain and replace has been a big help. Our processes provide us with a cross-trained staff that allows us the plug-and-play option, so we can be at our best at all times,” Bonynge proclaims.
In recent years, part of the pride of the professional carwash industry has been moving consumers away from driveway washing and into professional carwashing. Detailers too enjoy this trend, as consumers have adopted the “do it for me” mindset.
To that end, opening a detailing supply shop for do-it-yourselfers seems pretty anathema to the professional carwashing business model, but that’s precisely what Bonynge did. He partnered with the Detail Garage franchise, which has seen an explosion of growth in recent years, and opened up two stores, which are attached to his carwashes. To top it all off, Bonynge doesn’t see these stores as taking away from his carwashes’ potential profits. Rather, he has seen benefits from their operation.
“With mobile detailing rapidly growing in our market area, we chose to join [Detail Garage]. By providing products and education, we increased our market share and established a network of detailers relying on us for information and products,” Bonynge states. “We now have two stores and work with Detail Garage, Sonax, RUPES, Gtechniq and [others] so that we can provide the best tools and solutions available. It has made us the local experts.”
Part of opening these stores has also resulted in creating training programs for both novice as well as professional detailers.
“These programs have certainly helped our sales in the stores but also provide a great source for staffing for our wash and detail facilities,” Bonynge adds.
In the end, by taking an unconventional route with these stores, Images Auto Spa has set itself apart as a go-to facility for all things carwashing and detailing — whether customers want it done for them or to do it themselves.
While do-it-yourselfers tend to be either ultra-car-conscious or money-conscious, Bonynge asserts that there is always a market for quality, professional carwashing and detailing.
“Once you have established your team, don’t be afraid to ask for the money,” Bonynge concludes. “People will pay for quality if you can deliver; don’t be afraid to ask for what the services are worth.”