“Swish and flick.” If you’re at all familiar with the famed “Harry Potter” franchise, you might recognize these words as the ones taught to young wizards and witches about how to wave their wands when performing a spell.
If only it was as simple as waving a magic wand to get a successful carwash up and running. Yet, given the popularity of Wash Wizard in Summerville, South Carolina, it’s easy to imagine that owners Brian Cook and Casey McKinley did just that. Of course, behind the scenes, the birth of this innovative, new carwash is the accumulation of many years of experience and searching for solutions to make the experience convenient for customers and employees.
Once upon a time
Cook and McKinley, who are college friends, formed Wash Wizard Car Wash in 2005. They actually started in the self-serve and in-bay automatic (IBA) market, eventually building three facilities in that style. However, by 2012, they found themselves ensorcelled by the promises of the express wash format and opened up the first Wash Wizard Express. Having seen the benefits of this model, they later acquired another tunnel location and then decided to go back and renovate their original three self-serves, transforming them into express tunnels.
In 2018, however, they ended up selling their five locations to Zips Car Wash. Being a bit tired out from so many years of development, they originally thought they would take a break after the sale, but they soon realized they were still spellbound by the industry and discovered wells of stamina within them for a ninth carwashing quest — which turned out to be the largest and most elaborate project to date.
The newest iteration of Wash Wizard is a 180-foot-long tunnel — the longest in the Southeast, according to Cook and McKinley — that is chock-full of graphics and lights to entertain customers as they pass through. The character-themed wash experience boasts eight backlit arches; aromatic scents; and 28 high-powered, overhead, multicolor, LED light bars in a blackout tunnel.
“We really strived to create a facility that not only cleans cars quickly but also entertains our visitors to make their short time with us memorable,” Cooks explains. “With a lot of new carwashes being built in the area, we wanted to make ours really stand out in terms of speed, comfort, quality and the overall experience.”
The company’s objective, after all, is to provide customers with clean, dry and shiny every time in just four minutes. Cook and McKinley wanted to put in a longer tunnel to give them room to grow in the future, since they are constantly evaluating new technology and designs to improve the wash experience and minimize expenses.
“At 180 feet, our tunnel is about 60 feet longer than a typical express carwash, which gives our chemistry more dwell time … to allow our soaps and waxes to perform their desired function, resulting in a cleaner, dryer, shinier car,” Cook states.
Of course, the team found they used up their extra-long tunnel space rather quickly with all of the bells and whistles they put in. So, what all goes into this unique washing experience? Let’s take a peek behind the curtain to find out.
Three stacking lanes greet the driver upon pulling into the wash. Of them, one is a member’s only lane, complete with a license plate recognition system, which Cook calls a “game-changer.” “It enables true customer self service of their plans online, eliminates staff installing RFID stickers and makes it easier to research customer visits when needed by tracking down the date and time for any visit by the license plate number,” he elucidates.
Already, the menus, signage and purchase prompts at the point-of-sale introduce customers to some of the characters that Wash Wizard created as part of its wash experience, including wizards, knights and a witch. The first screen to pop up on the kiosk asks customers if they would like to purchase a discounted membership for the best wash available (the ceramic package), which Cook reports has created a significant uptick in the amount of top-tier membership packages sold.
When customers pull into the tunnel, they are greeted by a shining entrance arch that proclaims, “Welcome to the Wizard’s Magical World of Washing.” After that, customers flow immediately under the “Bug Slayer” arch — an automatic bug remover process themed with green lighting.
“[We] created a dedicated bug removal section at the beginning of our tunnel that features specialized chemical application and a grill brush to eliminate the need for staff hand-prepping vehicles,” McKinley states. “This has resulted in more consistent application of bug removal presoak, reduced labor and improved throughput.”
The automated bug removal process isn’t the only way Cook and McKinley sought to help lighten the load on their staff. The tunnel itself is wider and taller than normal in order to minimize spatter, so that they don’t have to clean the walls and ceiling as frequently.
However, just because Wash Wizard doesn’t want to clean the walls as much doesn’t mean the business skimps on cleaning. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. In order to achieve a better clean on vehicles, Wash Wizard utilizes a new type of top brush that reverses halfway down the vehicle, meaning it is optimized for cleaning both windshields and rear windows.
As customers roll through the tunnel, they pass under several lit and themed arches. In the rinse area, a blue-themed arch sporting an octopus-like serpent heads the “Serpent Rinse.” Then, they pass under the “Wizard’s Wax,” which features the wizard in his yellow wax cloak pouring magic potions under yellow lights. The ceramics part of the process comes online with the “Shining Knight’s Ceramic Shield,” highlighted in purple. Finally, the red-lit “Dragon Dryer” utilizes a unique blower setup to get a more complete dry over the vehicle.
“[We] modified our drying system with side blowers that track the back of the car for more complete drying,” McKinley notes. The dryer system also features a series of V-shaped nozzles positioned over the vehicles — first one, then two, then three — to direct and successively grow the drying area across the vehicle. “Our new, overhead V-shaped nozzles part the water droplets off the surface, and the reversing finishing blower flips around to hit the back of the car one more time. This is the driest we’ve ever gotten the back of vehicles,” he adds.
Once customers are out of the tunnel, they can pull into one of 25 extra-wide vacuum spaces. Each space is 14 feet wide, which the owners admit cut down the number of spaces they could put in by about three. But, they believe it was worth it for the roomy comfort it gives customers to be able to work around their vehicles.
However, that isn’t all that’s special about these vacuums. Wash Wizard also custom-designed towel bins at each station so that customers wouldn’t have to walk to a cart to get them and the staff wouldn’t have to refold towels. There are two bins at each post: one where customers can pull out new towels (like they would from a tissue box) and one where they can deposit used towels.
In addition, Wash Wizard added a centralized reservoir and pump for window cleaner sprayers that are placed at each spot. “This has reduced staff time for filling bottles and eliminated the constant replacement of missing spray bottles. Customers love the convenience too,” Cook proclaims.
Just as Wash Wizard looks to save on staff time, it also aims to conserve energy. All vacuums and motors are controlled by variable frequency drives (VFDs), and the wash recycles 85% of its water.
The code of chivalry
Of course, quality wash results and entertainment are only part of the magic formula. Wash Wizard lives by a code of conduct that enhances both the working and customer experience. “We try to establish great company culture that starts with our published values. Not only do we display our values throughout the building, but we live by them daily in order to create an overall positive company culture,” Cook asserts.
Wash Wizard’s code of values includes the following:
- Speed: Delivering the cleanest car in the shortest possible time.
- Professionalism: Providing customers with polite and courteous service.
- Responsiveness: Listening to the needs and feedback of customers.
- Innovation: Incorporating new technologies and processes that add value to services.
- Integrity: Maintaining the highest level of integrity and honesty throughout every aspect of the business.
- Teamwork: Each team member succeeds individually when the team achieves success.
- Accountability: Taking ownership of problems and accepting personal responsibility.
- Respect: Respecting diversity and valuing differences of opinion.
- Attitude: Demonstrating individual leadership through a positive approach to every task, a “can-do” spirit and a restless determination to continually improve.
Something washy this way comes
Once upon a time, as he and McKinley were creating the wash’s characters, Cook asked his niece — a journalism major — to craft a little backstory on the wizard. He thought to simply display it on the website as a cute bonus, but what he received was an entire tale, and he was so taken with it that he wanted do something more.
Working together with a marketing service, Cook and McKinley were able to get the story illustrated and printed out in little booklets, which Wash Wizard offers free-of-charge to children. Not only do the books keep children entertained while their parents are cleaning out the cars, but Cook thought they would be a good marketing tool as well, allowing children to get invested in the characters and their story and, hopefully, ask their parents to go back to the wash in the future, which could spur subscription purchases. Wash Wizard even turned the story into a narrated YouTube video.
Yet, while the book is printed, Wash Wizard’s story isn’t done yet. Cook and McKinley have plans to expand the business model and continue to improve their process as they go along.
But for the time being, we can say: They all washed happily ever after.