The more you play to your locality, the better off your business will be. While names and branding are one part of incorporating where your carwash is going to put its roots, another aspect of playing to the locality is actually understanding the dynamic of that region.
Take Richmond, Virginia, for example. According to Max Koehler, owner/operator of WashYourWayRVA, this city has long been underserved in terms of professional carwashing. In addition, most of the carwashes in the city are of the full service variety.
As such, the local populace is already trained to equate a carwash with full service, meaning that type of carwash will long be welcome there. And yet, sometimes customers don’t know what they want until you give it to them.
To that end, offering options to cater to a wider audience is another strength in today’s business world. It was upon this ideal that Koehler founded his company.
Start your own way
Like many operators, Koehler has had a lifelong passion for washing/detailing cars and boats. He got his introduction to the industry during college, when he worked at and later managed an Autobell Car Wash location in North Carolina.
“Being trained as a manager, you definitely … learn a lot about running a production carwash facility, including management and operational philosophies. I was so impressed by how Autobell operated that I knew my hometown of Richmond, Virginia, could use a wash similar to that,” Koehler explains.
At the time, Koehler recalls, Richmond was a unique metropolis in that it did not boast many carwashes (in fact, he believes the city still needs more today). As a result, a few years after graduating from college, he built and operated a full service carwash in the city for an investor. In fact, it was the first new full-serve wash to be built there in nearly 15 years.
While Koehler eventually left to pursue other opportunities, he kept his finger on the pulse of the carwash industry, always wondering in the back of his mind what he would do if given the chance to build his own wash. In this way, he was able to take a significant amount of time to refine his ideas and layout. Thus, when the stars finally did align, he turned his dreams into a reality with WashYourWayRVA in 2017.
Have it your way
According to Koehler, Richmond has long been dominated by a full service chain that has had very little competition. However, a few years ago, an express wash moved into town, which gave Koehler the idea to let customers ride through the tunnel in their vehicles instead of making them get out. To that end, he went the flex-serve route with WashYourWayRVA.
The carwash bills itself as “Richmond’s only flex-serve wash.” In addition to the 72-foot tunnel (with a 110-foot conveyor), the site hosts eight complimentary self-serve vacuums with oversized parking spaces as well as a fully-covered full service finish area.
“I wanted to do a flex service, since I look at the carwash as a factory or production facility, and the only way to maximize its value is to offer both express exterior washes as well as full service features and give the customer a variety of choices to meet their needs, rather than only offering them exterior-only washes or expensive full service packages,” Koehler states.
Not only does WashYourWayRVA offer both types of washes, but it also offers unlimited plans for both types — the only carwash in town to do so, Koehler notes. Another differentiator to these plans is that they include complimentary upgrades. For instance, WashYourWayRVA’s best-selling unlimited plan is its $24.99 basic exterior (a $7 wash) that includes a full service package upgrade once per month.
For those not willing to go the membership route but still looking to add a little value, WashYourWayRVA also provides a no-cost loyalty program customers can join. It offers such benefits as $5 off the customer’s first Full Service Supreme wash when joining, a free Full Service Supreme wash after purchasing nine washes of any kind, a rain check, a complimentary birthday wash and access to other offers and discounts.
In addition, the carwash offers ticket books primarily for corporate and fleet usage.
People take it all the way
Now, Koehler is the first to admit his tunnel is a little shorter than most, so his carwash relies on chemistry to produce a quality product. Furthermore, water reclaim and treatment are a major part of the equation. And while the carwash itself does a fantastic job, Koehler believes it’s the crew that sets his carwash apart.
WashYourWayRVA mainly staffs high-school and college students, for many of whom this is their first job. This allows the wash to train them from scratch and set them up to be as successful in their positions as they can be, so long as they are still willing to learn. Most of those who go off to college come home on their breaks to work, so Koehler likes to think WashYourWayRVA has created an environment to which they want to return.
“Even with a couple of very rainy years right out of the gate, and now COVID, most of my crew has hung in there with us and remained. I’m very proud of them,” he proclaims.
WashYourWayRVA trains each member thoroughly for his or her position, and this includes greeting and interacting with customers, which is critical to the wash’s operations.
“We remind them on a continual basis how often we get complimented on them,” Koehler explains. “Even as the industry is taking a hard slant towards express exterior washes — we are seeing more here as well — and relying on automation, I chose not to use automated pay stations, as I wanted our customers to be greeted by a friendly, knowledgeable associate when they first come in, especially since our menu can be overwhelming at first. Our customers very much appreciate the personal service and associates who recognize them when they return.”
It is these sorts of local-level differences that a business owner must notice in order to stay at the top of customers’ minds when they’re looking for a particular service. To that end, Koehler offers the following advice.
“I think it’s important to know your market. I knew that we had to bring a friendly, service-oriented experience to an area that is accustomed to exemplary service. I am aware that convenience and automation is fueling the express-exterior boom, but given the reception from our customers, I’m confident that full service options will not go away and that your people can either make — or break — you.”