As PC&D has reported in recent issues, the construction of express carwashes has surged over the last few years, contributing greatly to the growth of the carwash industry. These trends in new carwash construction also reflect an overall trend of the times: the desire for convenience and immediate results.
With such a spike in the amount of express washes available, it seems almost inconceivable that an area has remained untouched by this phenomenon. However, this was the case for one town in West Virginia until January 2016, which is when Ultimate Shine Express Car Wash opened.
A new wash comes to town
Owners Michael and Kim Small have been in the carwash business since 1999, when they opened their first Scrubbies Car Wash location in Princeton, West Virginia. This location boasted two touchless in-bay automatics and six self-serve bays. Since then, the Scrubbies washes expanded to Bluewell, Bluefield, Beckley and Green Valley, West Virginia, as well as Abingdon, Virginia, although the Smalls currently only retain ownership of the Green Valley and Abingdon locations.
Throughout that time, however, Michael had always wanted to build a tunnel carwash. In 2015, the Smalls had the opportunity to purchase a piece of land in Princeton, West Virginia, and last January their first tunnel carwash, Ultimate Shine Express Car Wash, finally opened. They decided to have their daughter and son-in-law, Britni and Dakota Pentasuglia, co-own Ultimate Shine Express with them to help get the next generation’s feet wet in the world of entrepreneurship.
“This is the first time I’ve really got into something like this for sure,” Dakota says. “There’s a lot of work.”
The owners contributed significantly to the construction of the carwash. “We were pretty much the contractors,” explains Dakota. “We put the tunnel up pretty quick. We did most of the work ourselves, but it was pretty rewarding to see it all come together.”
Ultimate Shine Express is not only the owners’ first express wash, but, according to its owners, it is the first tunnel carwash in all of Princeton and its surrounding environs.
“We thought that it was best for the customers here [to open a tunnel carwash] because there’s never been one, and they do offer better washing,” Kim says. “We don’t have a very large population, but we appear to have a carwash on every corner.”
According to Kim, this competition, which is mostly in-bay automatic rollovers, generally offers $3 washes, making it difficult to convince potential customers to upgrade to a higher priced wash, especially when they do not understand the difference between receiving a rollover versus a tunnel wash.
Nevertheless, Ultimate Shine Express has succeeded despite the odds ⎯ a success that the owners largely attribute to that fact that they have the most up-to-date equipment on the market in their wash.
Their 85-foot tunnel wash, which can wash up to 85 cars per hour, has the works, including: presoak, tire cleaner, lava shine, triple foam polish, waterfall rinse, undercarriage wash, rocker/wheel blasters, carnauba wax, paint sealant application, spot free/mirror rinse, air dryers, a friction drying system and tire shine. And, alongside all those features comes a light show that, according to the owners, “kids and adults absolutely love.”
In addition to the latest tunnel equipment, Ultimate Shine Express offers free vacuums and mat cleaner with each wash purchase, which Kim says is unheard of in the area. Customers also have access to towels and window cleaner as well as a vending island and a shampoo and fragrance machine. In addition, Ultimate Shine Express offers full service detailing.
“Our customers have been very supportive of our new wash,” the owners say. “Although getting people to try something a little more expensive is difficult, once they use our wash, they are truly amazed at the quality wash they get.”
In with the old alongside the new
The owners have reached out to their customer base in various ways. For instance, although the wash type may be new to the area, they have tried to make the carwash so much a part of the community that it’s even borrowed from local businesses long passed.
“Our building theme is nostalgic,” the owners say. “We have old storefronts of businesses that [were] very prominent in the area.” Since Michael is from the area, he wanted to add a nostalgic factor to the carwash. Kim says it’s become a way to market the carwash: “Come try us out and reminisce about the old days.”
To that end, Ultimate Shine Express replicated the old storefronts of various businesses by having a local graphic designer create appliqués of them for their windows. Alongside the windows are various signs and paraphernalia from those shops, such as replica gas pumps, old Coke machines from a market that was across the street from where the carwash now stands and an iconic telephone booth that was located under the sign of a local restaurant.
“We’ve had a great response from people who used to live in the area. They’d come up and say, ‘Oh, I remember that.’ … It’s a conversation piece,” Kim says.
In fact, one of the carwash’s windows, which reflects an old barbershop from the area, generates another type of response. “Believe it or not, we actually have people come up wanting to know where they can get their haircut,” Kim quips.
Aside from appealing to the local populace, the owners are constantly marketing their carwash. “We are always running specials and promotions to try and bring in new customers,” the owners say. They actively advertise discounts and fundraisers on the company’s Facebook page in addition to advertising through traditional means, such as the radio and newspaper.
As part of their marketing program, they offer a different promotion every month. For instance, during last November, they offered a 15 percent discount on their full service detailing packages; in December, they had half price washes Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. These half price washes also served as a way to bring more customers in, given the slew of bad weather days they had during November and December. All year long, however, they offer washes at half price on Wednesday.
The carwash also offers loyalty cards year-round, which anyone can sign up for free of charge and which allow customers to buy five washes and get a sixth free. In addition, it has VIP monthly wash passes that let customers wash their cars as many times as they’d like each month.
Ultimate Shine Express also offers military, veterans and first responders discounts at all times. “It’s basically just a token of appreciation to let them know that we respect and know the services that they are doing,” Kim says.
Ultimate Shine Express’ owners also offer the community a chance to participate in fundraisers with them and has helped churches, schools, sports teams and events, veterans and even local citizens with medical and health travel-related expenses.
Looking to the future
According to Dakota, running a business with family is full of benefits. “We get along and pretty much agree on everything. Everything’s really been smooth,” he says. “We all have our different skills. Everyone can … bring something different to the table.”
Something they have all agreed on is to not stop with just adding a tunnel carwash to the neighborhood. They are scheduled to open a new business in January 2017 as part of a multi-profit center at Ultimate Shine Express: The Laundry Basket, a coin-operated laundry facility.
Whereas it was always Michael’s dream to open a tunnel carwash, Kim always wanted to open a laundromat. “I always thought a laundromat would go really well with a carwash,” she says. As Kim describes, the theme of the laundromat will be somewhat retro, with black and white tiles and splashes of red ⎯ all in keeping with the nostalgic atmosphere they have at the carwash.
But although the theme will hearken back to the past, the facilities themselves will be entirely modern. The Laundry Basket will feature 20 washing machines and 22 dryers. “We have only one other laundromat in town. We thought it would be a good opportunity to bring something new, modern and up-to-date to town,” Kim says.
Not only will the carwash be washing cars and clothes, but Ultimate Shine Express also plans to one day wash dogs by adding a self service dog wash. While the owners are concentrating on the laundromat at the moment, the pet wash is under construction.
This family-owned and -operated business appears not only to be covering the bases of success, but also to be passing on a love of entrepreneurship.
“I’d love to be involved with another [carwash] down the road at some point,” Dakota concludes. “[Britni and I] are still learning. It’s interesting and there’s something new every day. It’s pretty cool.”