Compared to many in the carwash market, Anna Gacevich, owner of Wiki Wiki Car Wash in Charlotte, NC, is a rookie. She had no experience or background in the carwashing industry when she decided to build an express-format wash that opened in May of 2011. Yet she still made the bold decision to dive headfirst into the male-dominated car care business during a down economy. Her guts and determination can be admired by many other owners and operators, but Gacevich's big plunge was no short-sighted cannonball off a blind cliff. In fact, when others realize how much planning and thought went into the creation of Wiki Wiki Car Wash, Gacevich and her contacts will be eligible for extra style points.
Gacevich set Wiki Wiki up for success through research and planning, but why did she choose the carwash market? "I was searching for a recession-resistant, value-oriented business, and I believe the express carwash model is very exciting," she explained. "I like that carwashing cannot be outsourced overseas, and the express model implements the latest technology while reducing labor costs."
She continued, "Initially, I was a bit nervous starting a new business in such a male-dominated industry and during a recession. Now I cannot wait to start work on my second location for Wiki Wiki."
Traveling for equipment
Gacevich said she selected the best express carwash equipment available for the tunnel. One example is the wash's unique buffing and drying system, which was installed in the tunnel after the dryer blowers. Thousands of chamois fingers spin and buff the vehicle simulating hand drying. "This process removes 90 percent of the water from a vehicle and makes our customers smile when they see their vehicle leave the tunnel without any water dripping down the windshield," she said.
When choosing an equipment manufacturer, Gacevich took the time to learn about the different options available. Before making the final decision, she even visited the manufacturer's production facility and was impressed with its employees and the equipment they produced. Further, she spoke with other carwash owners, and many of them praised the company's after-sale support.
Gacevich repeated this process when choosing automated cashiers. This allowed her to see firsthand the selected company's emphasis on technical support, and she said the support offered made them a "market standout."
The wash also outsources all of the chemical titration. This agreement guarantees that the wash is consistently applying the correct products, in the correct amount, to each and every vehicle. "This combination of correct chemistry and equipment produces an amazingly clean and shiny car," Gacevich said.
Finding and building
Gacevich advised to look for three things when analyzing sites for a potential express carwash:
- What is the traffic count on the road, and does the site have easy access?
- What are the population and demographics within three miles of the site?
- Does the purchase price fit within the business model?
During the planning phase, Gacevich noted that Mecklenburg County was very easy to work with. The site chosen was already zoned for a carwash, and it was located within an economic redevelopment zone as well. "Just don't ask me about the cost and need for a covered bike rack for customers at a carwash," she said.
Once the site was ready, the construction process went smoothly from the beginning, according to Gacevich. The equipment supplier completed installation on time, and they made sure all of the equipment was functioning properly. The president of the equipment supplier was even on-site to make sure the installation was worry-free.
"My only delay in opening was getting Duke Power to install a transformer and provide power to the site. This delay cost me the month of April during the height of pollen season in North Carolina," Gacevich recalled.
Conservation and costs
Wiki Wiki currently utilizes technology to conserve water and electricity. It includes a water reclaim system that recycles at least 85 percent of the water used in the tunnel. Gacevich stated that this system cuts the wash's monthly water bill in half.
When it comes to electricity, Wiki Wiki uses variable frequency drives (VFDs) instead of hydraulic power packs to drive the tunnel equipment as they require less electricity to operate. And, as soon as the technology improves and becomes cost effective, Gacevich also aims to own the first carwash in the nation to have solar panels covering the top of the tunnel building and canopies.
While the savings are substantial, Gacevich said she values conservation for purely selfish reasons. "I want my future grandchildren to have the chance to grow up like I did on the family farm in Alabama, hunting, fishing and loving the land around me."
Marketing hits … and misses
Since opening in May, Wiki Wiki has tried a number of marketing offers. Gacevich explained that some have been successful, and others … well, not so much. "The most effective marketing for us has been as simple as giving way free washes, and seeing these customers completely blown away with the quality of our wash experience. We see these customers return, and many join our unlimited monthly plan."
The most successful giveaway promotion so far has been the business's grand opening celebration. Over 2,000 cars were washed in a weekend, and the free washes created a buzz in the surrounding community. Gacevich remembered that people were texting and tweeting to their friends to come to Wiki Wiki, and this publicity created many fans for the new wash.
The most disappointing marketing offer has been the wash's charity fundraising program. Gacevich wanted to implement a system that did not require anyone to sell or buy tickets. Instead, a customer gets a code to enter at the automated kiosks, and Wiki Wiki gives 30 percent of the sale to the charity. "I found people need the social pressure of having someone, especially a child, personally ask for the sell," Gacevich said.
Wiki Wiki also plans to get up to speed with social media marketing. "My team is currently developing an integrated social media program that will push people to our website. This seems to be the most cost effective way to touch our customers and reach out to new customers," Gacevich said. "Since the express carwash concept is new to Charlotte, there is a tremendous opportunity to educate and create raving fans for Wiki Wiki."
Wiki wiki what?
Okay, but what about the name? Gacevich said Wiki Wiki means "quick quick" or "very quick" in Hawaiian, and the express bus in Hawaii is even called the "wiki wiki." Gacevich graduated from the University of Hawaii while her husband was serving in the Navy, so they have a special fondness for all things Hawaiian. The couple's teenage son thought it would be the perfect name for the new business venture after the family returned from a vacation to the islands.
Her husband's Navy background was one of the reasons why she was proud to participate in Grace for Vets last November. "I learned about Grace for Vets from reading PC&D magazine. Since I was a military wife during my husband's service in the Navy, I have a great appreciation for the sacrifices that military personnel make in order to keep our liberty secure. Giving a free carwash is such a small way for me to say, 'Thank you for your service.' But it means a great deal to all the veterans I spoke with that day."