When a company’s been in business for 90 years, you know it’s had to change with the times. The Radiant brand was founded in Tampa, Florida, in 1931, and it began its life as an oil company, distributing fuel to traditional, individually owned and operated gas stations. In the 1970s and ’80s, the company expanded into the convenience store (c-store) business, which paved its way for delving further into the food service industry in the 1990s. Today, the Radiant brand is a third-generation family-owned business.
While the company has since left the c-store industry, the brand’s experiences with automotive and food service eventually led to the creation of a new entity: Radiant Express Car Wash.
Shifting the focus
Tim Switzer, president of Radiant Express Car Wash, came on board with the Radiant brand in 2001, where he started on the finance and accounting side of the business before moving over to operations about seven years later. There, he began to oversee all operating entities — everything from a large portfolio of c-stores to over 25 quick service restaurants to a trucking company — and their supporting corporate groups.
So, what led him to get Radiant into the carwash industry? According to Switzer, Radiant operated many in-bay automatic (IBA) washes during its years in the c-store industry, but they were just an add-on to everything else the company marketed (food, fuel, etc.). While the company did keep the washes clean and running, they were not an offering Radiant focused on. Nevertheless, Switzer notes, the company had some sites that did pretty well, considering what they offered. Still, it would be some time yet before the group made its transition.
“Long before the express model really took off (at least in our region), we had a fuel customer that built a full express tunnel, and we watched him have a lot of success with it,” Switzer recalls. “Looking back, I think that’s when the light bulb went off for our group, and we got excited about what we saw happening in the express wash industry.”
When Radiant finally exited the c-store industry, it gave Switzer the time to focus on learning more about the express wash concept and to create the Radiant Express Car Wash entity.
Radiant Express is based in Central Florida and currently has two locations, the first of which is in Auburndale and the second (which just opened recently) in Poinciana. Radiant Express may be new to this side of the carwash industry, but it’s jumping aboard the growth train, currently having a total of 10 sites in various stages of development with plans to open five of them by the end of 2021.
In fact, to help plan for the best sites possible, Radiant Express utilizes an online platform that the company originally used to help pick sites in the fast food business. “As you grow the database of existing and performing locations, it gets better and better at predicting not only where there’s a void to fill but also at predicting revenues and volumes based off all the data fed into the database,” Switzer explains. While the dataset for the express wash model is not as large or mature as those for fast food and other retail offerings, Switzer admits, he notes that the company is starting to see some reliable feedback in both the void analysis and its site-specific predictions.
Of course, Florida has seen a run of express exterior carwashes popping up in recent years, and so one would think that by now, everyone would know what that model is all about.
Not so, Switzer says. “I still run into people every day that are not users of our industry and some that don’t know anything about it. It’s fun to fill them in on what’s happening and what’s available to them (and then see them try it out, get hooked and become a member).”
Of course, Switzer understands that the express model is burgeoning, but rather than being alarmed by it, he is excited to see operators who take pride in their wash product and service join the fold. “The industry is wide open with opportunity, and as more and more great operators enter the industry, the more express customers we can attract.”
That said, a business still needs to set itself apart from the competition, and in Switzer’s opinion, it’s Radiant Express’ devotion to its guests, team members and community that makes the carwash unique.
“There is not one member of our team from myself on down that won’t stop to clean out a vacuum, load a car, wave at our guests or help somebody in need in our community. It is, and always has been, a part of our organization’s DNA. We are careful about who we hire and put in front of our guests, and we are equally as careful that we are a good fit for whom we hire. We are not for everybody, and everybody is not for us,” Switzer affirms.
However, guests are not the only ones Radiant Express seeks to give a good experience. Switzer notes that the company is passionate about pushing its team members to grow within the organization, so that they have opportunities in careers they may not have ever believed they would have. “We measure our success by measuring the success of our team members,” he adds.
One way in which the company helps employees to succeed is through online training. Pulling from Radiant’s experience with the food service industry, the carwash uses a specific software that restaurants typically use for training. Team members are able to download an app onto their phones, which allows them to watch videos filmed in-house containing the company’s welcome message, orientation and safety/training protocols. In addition, while team members are on shift, they are able to post shift duties to the app and mark them complete as they are finished. The software also allows the company to post schedules and lets employees trade shifts.
“For us, it’s an easy transition from the food and convenience worlds regarding the customer experience,” Switzer explains. “Our site-level team members have the ability and trust to make decisions on the fly to exceed our guest’s expectations and to make every visit one that makes them want to come back.”
In addition to friendly staff that greets everyone on-site with a smile and a wave, Radiant Express is also looking into several digital marketing options that would allow it to communicate to customers through texts.
“Our philosophy and culture of people first is our priority every day and for each guest’s visit. Our team’s dedication to that culture is clear when you are on one of our sites. We enjoy what we do and we enjoy our guests’ happiness with our product and service. We do not cut corners in any direction, and we believe that we will always win with the right people on our team. We create loyalty by always doing the right thing,” Switzer concludes. “In short, we are a people-centric operation, and we have fun. We truly enjoy being an employer of choice and we truly enjoy wowing our guests.”