Starting a business is often about having a fresh idea. Whether it’s a service or product, you want to share that idea with others. In today’s world of rapid development and change, it seems there’s always a revolutionary new gadget or service being touted.
But most business owners aren’t in the market to be revolutionary. In many cases, there is already great demand for existing products and services. However, the job of a new business is to figure out a way to change or enhance that service just enough that it becomes innovative and successful.
So what about carwashes? A carwash is a carwash, isn’t it? Customers know what to expect when they come to get their cars cleaned — or, do they?
TradeMark Car Wash has operated a location in Allen, Texas, since 2004. Recently, the company opened a new $5 million facility in Plano, Texas, and its plan is to offer a new carwash experience — to the point where, for the customer, it’s no longer all about the carwash.
Coming full circle
TradeMark Car Wash Owner and Oper-ator Tom Miller has been working in the professional carwashing and detailing industry for over three decades. After starting out doing custom paint work for cars, Miller became the manager of Octopus Car Wash in Albuquerque, New Mexico, in 1982. After seven years there, he moved on to become general manager of Oasis Car Wash in Plano, Texas — the future site, as it turned out, of the new TradeMark Car Wash location.
Later, he became president and COO of a separate Oasis Car Wash location and then left to finally open his own carwashes. He is now the president of The Car Wash Companies, whose brands include TradeMark Car Wash, a full service model with locations in Allen and Plano, and Tommy Terrific’s Car Wash, an exterior-only model with two locations in Dallas.
According to Lanese Barnett, director of marketing for The Car Wash Companies, Miller had a vision when he planned this new carwash. With design influences from some of his favorite places, such as Joule Hotel in Dallas, and with a strong sense of the elements that work in the carwash business, he planned to create a carwash that was sleek and modern and had the services to match.
“My boss, Tom Miller … has a passion for the industry and enjoys the challenge of enhancing and growing our brands through thoughtful expansion,” Barnett says.
Taking care of customers
The result of this expansion is a luxury carwash where not only the cars, but also the customers are pampered.
The experience begins when the greeter outside welcomes the customer. The customer then heads inside to the cashier and, after checking out, proceeds to the lobby, although perhaps lounge would be a better word.
A 40-foot wrap-around bar sits center stage in the lobby where a customer can come to sit and relax, watching one of seven flat screen TVs and having a complimentary glass of beer or wine. Locally-commissioned artwork festoons the walls with a gallery-like effect, and the counter seating includes electrical outlets, USB ports, under-counter bag hooks and complimentary high-speed Wi-Fi.
“[The] lobby provides a perfect platform for us to interact with customers in a new way, forging relationships that foster loyalty,” Barnett says. “The complimentary beer and wine have been a big hit, as you can imagine, and is really reshaping customer perception of what being at the carwash feels like. It was really important to [Tom] that we serve beer and wine. It’s something that’s just not done in our industry and he wanted to make it happen as a way to push the envelope and think outside of the box … even if that means taking on the full cost and giving it away for free.”
Even the bathrooms were inspired by Zen-like, luxury hotel spas and are kept perfectly maintained, all of which, according to Barnett, is making just as big an impression as the free adult beverages.
And those are just the amenities. The pièce de résistance of the lobby are the seamless glass windows surrounding it that allow customers a front row view of the carwashing process, which features European technology new to the U.S., from start to finish. This floorplan was critical to the new carwash’s layout.
“With experience you learn where you can improve the next time,” says Barnett. “[The] Plano location features a very open floorplan with surrounding seamless glass windows, allowing the manager far greater visibility of the facility at all times, as opposed to our Allen store that is more segmented.”
Foreign and domestic policies
TradeMark Car Wash also sought to improve the efficiency of the wash process. The new Plano location features not only a 135-foot carwash conveyor, but also dual 90-foot long, 15-foot wide detailing belts that are the first of their kind in Texas, notes Barnett, purchased from AVW Systems. The TradeMark team was introduced to this technology while visiting operators in Germany, France and the Netherlands. These countries used an assembly-line approach to clean cars in a time effective manner.
“We can maximize volume in our detail services through streamlining efficiency; the belts can be adjusted to variable speeds depending on volume and service selection, and many products are available on-demand,” Barnett says.
While attending the 2015 International Carwash Association Europe Show in Amsterdam, TradeMark purchased a Holz stainless monument arch with internal LED and a Holz backlit entrance arch from ACE Carwash Systems, based in the Netherlands.
“While nowhere near as easy as an Amazon order, it was worth it,” Barnett says. “These two [Holz] pieces were the first shipped from the German manufacturer to the U.S.”
But while TradeMark is proud to showcase this European technology, make no mistake: TradeMark Car Wash is distinctly Texan.
In addition to featuring and selling locally sourced products, such as coffee, espresso beans and cane sugar soda, it also has displays of succulents from a local nursery.
In fact, TradeMark Car Wash takes its Texan location very seriously. In addition to the indoor succulent display, all Car Wash Companies locations use native plants in their outdoor landscaping in order to minimize the amount of water needed and thus the company’s impact on the environment. Since Texas does not often receive great rainfall, TradeMark does not want to waste the resource on plants suited for wetter climates.
All of Miller’s carwashes do their part in protecting the environment by using water reclaim systems that capture approximately 99 percent of the water used in the wash process, which is then recycled by the city’s sewage treatment facility. In addition, they use pH-balanced, biodegradable shampoos. All locations also use LED lighting, which according to Barnett, “is a more expensive option upfront, but the payoff is less energy used over the long run, and we think it’s worth it.” Taking it even one step further, the Plano location uses recyclable, compostable cups.
In addition to traveling across the world for business solutions and protecting the environment for all, TradeMark Car Wash also participates in many charitable acts in the local community. In fact, owners Tom and Kim Miller are passionate about education and community involvement, having founded the “Live Terrific” annual scholarship to reward and help ease the financial burden of a Dallas public school student who contributes to community betterment. The recipient is awarded $5,000 for college tuition.
Amongst The Car Wash Companies’ four locations, monetary and in-kind donations alone have amounted to more than $100,000 per year for local schools, charitable organizations, faith-based groups and other good causes.
“Service is our trademark”
TradeMark Car Wash’s motto is, “Service is our trademark,” and it has made that idea central to its Plano location, which was created all with the customer in mind. Everything, from the staff to the services to the layout of the building was fostered to give the ultimate experience.
The Car Wash Companies prioritizes customer/employee interaction and has therefore shied away from using automated systems, despite their rising popularity in recent years. “Our staff is our most valuable asset [and] our greatest brand ambassadors,” Barnett says. “Even at our exterior only stores, we do not have pay gates or RFID readers. We seek out and value the customer/employee interaction points as a way to connect with customers on a personal level, therefore enhancing their feeling about being there.”
As such, the company focuses on hiring friendly, customer service-oriented employees, and in return pays them a living wage, believing strongly that doing so not only enhances the employee’s experience but also reduces the employee turnover rate.
Indeed, although Barnett says that many things have changed for Miller’s carwashes over the years, having a friendly, professional staff in addition to quality service in a clean, welcoming environment is not one of them.
“We’ve been amazed at how many customers have [visited] review sites like Yelp and specifically mentioned a staff member by name to give a shout out for the above and beyond service,” says Miller.
Shifting customer perception
You can’t take the car out of the carwash — that would defeat the whole purpose of the business, after all — but perhaps, ironically, it is possible to take the customer out of the carwash.
“At the end of the day, we want customers to feel welcomed and comfortable and look forward to their next visit. Maybe they even forget that they are at the carwash. They can get away and have some ‘me time’ with a nice glass of wine, enjoy the patio, hang out at the bar or even take care of work on their laptop while sipping an espresso — all without any sacrifice to the quality of the carwash service,” says Oscar Hernandez, manager of the Plano location.
“We want to create a paradigm shift in the way a customer views getting their car washed all together, converting it from an interchangeable commodity or errand to a sought-after and enjoyable experience at a destination location,” Barnett concludes. “We strive to not simply meet customer expectations, but exceed them every time on every level. The marketing, interior design, architecture, curb appeal, customer service, product quality and overall goal driving each aspect of our business is to offer customers a truly luxury carwash experience.”