Business is business. Whether you are running a big box chain or managing a local convenience store, the principles of a successful business remain the same. The Daniele family of Rochester, NY recently entered the car wash business armed with decades of business experience and is proving that strong business knowledge and intuition can turn even non “car wash guys” into successful washers.
The pay stations and menu board.
Brothers Anthony (left) and Danny (right).
The Sonnys blowers feature heated air to aid in the drying process.
Cars are pretreated before entering the tunnel.
Royal Wash staff wears dress shirts and bow ties, adding to the customer experience.
General Manager Brett McCain (top left) with the Royal staff.
Mario Daniele immigrated to the United States from his native Italy when he was 18, and went right to work in the restaurant business. It didn’t take long before he and his wife Flora owned and operated their first pizzeria. The Danieles’ first restaurant was a success, fueling the purchase of additional locations and the expansion of their holdings into other areas.
The couple has two sons, Danny and Anthony, who both grew up in the family business and shared their father’s entrepreneurial spirit. “When my brother and I went to college my father said to us ‘do you guys want to work with me in the restaurant business or do you want to go be a lawyer or a doctor,’” Danny says. “We told him we wanted to stay in the family business. We like business and like doing business as a family.”
The three Daniele men have grown the family business to include three restaurants, a construction company, real estate development, a marina, and most recently a car wash.
Just down the street from the Danieles’ office, located on the first floor of the family’s Mario’s Restaurant, was a choice piece of vacant real estate. The site was once home to a Mobile gas station, but had been vacant for over nine years. Many investors had plans to acquire the site over the years but for one reason or another it never happened. The Danieles also had their eye on the corner lot but where unsure what sort of business would work best there.
Serendipitously a salesman came to the family’s office one day looking to sell them an in-bay car wash and recommended they place it on the vacant lot just down the street. Although the family passed on the in-bay automatic pitch, the idea of a car wash intrigued them. After some research, they decided that an express exterior could work very nicely at the location, and acquired the land, and following a lengthy permitting process began construction on the family’s first car wash.
The Danieles opened Royal Car Wash in July 2011. Sales were slow at the beginning, but grew steadily over the coming months. By the end of the first year the wash was hitting the prospective numbers and were beating the original projections by over 50 percent after just two years of operation.
“Obviously we are not car wash people,” Danny says. “What we understand very well is business in general, customer service, and branding. When we built the wash the goal was to make the building so nice that you were intrigued to go in even if you didn’t need a car wash.”
The Danieles believe in supplying a superior product with superior service. According to Danny, the superior product is the easy part, as he points out that anyone can just go out and buy the latest and greatest wash equipment. The hard part is providing customers with superior service on a consistent basis.
Although Royal is an express exterior with limited labor requirements, the Danieles point to their staff as one of the reasons for the wash’s early success.
“People ask us all the time, ‘how do you train your employees to smile so much?’” Danny says. “The reality is we don’t train them to smile, what we do is hire people that smile. We put a tremendous emphasis on the hiring process, making sure that we hire people that will contribute to our culture of doing whatever it takes to ensure customer satisfaction and deliver a happy experience.”
In addition to a staff of dedicated happy people, the Danieles rely on the old business adage: location, location, location. Every wash owner knows the importance of a quality location, but where many get it wrong according to Danny is building on a site that is just a hair from the ideal locale. The Danieles will always pay for the best location and do not look for more affordable options just down the road, they want the number one site and are willing to pay for it.
Their philosophy has paid off. Royal Wash sees 35,000 to 45,000 cars pass by every day and does a good job capturing their attention and business despite the lack of a marketing program.
“We don’t do much marketing at all beyond onsite marketing,” Danny says. “The better the location the less you need to spend on marketing. The traffic count and demographics at the site support the business without having to market.”
The Danieles employ over 240 people all told between their different business ventures. With the rising costs of labor and healthcare the family was drawn to the express exterior wash concept with its low labor requirements. With a focus on limited labor, a tunnel with all the bells and whistles was a priority — the tunnel is outfitted with Sonny’s equipment front to back. In addition, the site features DRB systems auto tellers and SoBrite water treatment systems.
One piece of equipment missing from the site is a bank of free vacuums. In fact, there is only one vacuum station on site and it is a pay-for-use unit. The site didn’t have space for free vacuum stations and the Danieles were unlikely to install them even if space permitted. The Rochester market does not feature a wash with free vacuums and as Danny says the family was not looking to “taint the waters” with the free service.
One thing that is commonplace in the market is a clean guarantee and the Danieles included the service at their location. The top package, branded the Royal Package, features a five-day clean guarantee. The package costs $11.99 and features Armor All, RainX, triple foam, wheel brite, in addition to all the usual express tunnel fare. Customers that purchase the Royal can come back anytime over the next five days for a free wash. Danny estimates that 40 to 60 percent of customers return to redeem the free wash option. “Being in the restaurant business we understand the value of good service and repeat customers,” he says.
Royal Car Wash has been a successful addition to the Danieles’ business holdings. The family enjoys the car wash business and is currently expanding. A second location is set to open this month and a third is in the works. “As long as the washes maintain the success that we have seen so far we will continue to expand,” Danny says.
As long as the Danieles stay true to their superior product, superior service philosophy there is every reason to believe that the long-time restaurateurs will very quickly become long-time car wash guys.