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Changing with the Times

When Miles Johnson founded MILES Auto Spa 14 years ago, he envisioned and built a state-of-the-art, full-service facility designed to put all other washes to shame.

By Timothy Denman

03/01/21

When Miles Johnson founded MILES Auto Spa 14 years ago, he envisioned and built a state-of-the-art, full-service facility designed to put all other washes to shame.

While that is still the veteran entrepreneur’s goal, he has made a pivotal change to his operation since he opened his first wash — MILES is no longer a full-serve wash. Last year Johnson made the decision to go all-in on the express concept, embracing the industry’s most popular service option.

The automated pay lanes at MILES Express.
Modern architecture is the hallmark
of all four MILES locations.
The lobby was designed as an inviting place
to wait for your ride
.
Owner Miles Johnson (left)
and president Rocky Crossland (right)
run the sites together.
Customers can get some work done at the free WiFi bar.
MILES recently went to an all-express concept.
The well-equipped 130-foot tunnel.

“Last March we converted our full-service wash to an express wash with a detail facility,” says Johnson. “We decided to get out of full-service washing for a couple of reasons. Number one was the booming economy around Nashville. Number two was the fact that we have had an express option since day one and around 50 percent of our customers were already choosing the service.”

At first blush a booming economy might seem like an odd reason to convert a successful full-service location with a high average ticket to an express model. But with an ultra-low three percent unemployment rate in and around Nashville, attracting and maintaining a quality workforce was proving to be a challenge. And with labor costs only going to increase in the next few years,

Johnson’s decision to make the switch to express looks like a no-brainer.

Johnson got his start in the car wash game back in 2007 after a long and successful career in the telecommunications industry. His time as a telecommunication executive set him up for car wash triumph, having acquired many of the skills that would help him set his washes apart from the competition.

“I had exposure to all parts of the business when I worked in the cell phone industry,” he says. “Finance, marketing, advertising, and merchandising teams all reported up to me. This experience was invaluable when I started MILES and continues to guide me today.”

That first MILES wash in Franklin, TN was not your run-of-the-mill wash. It was designed from the ground up to be a destination, a place where customers could kick back and relax in style as their car was cleaned and polished. The site featured creature comforts like flat-panel televisions, large leather armchairs, and food and drink, all presented in a modern design that set the consumer at ease and made a visit to MILES an experience.

While the facility was a step beyond anything the Franklin market had ever seen, its launch was hampered by bad timing. Customers were intrigued by the site when it first opened its doors in 2007, but when the recession took hold in 2008 the enthusiasm for the ground-breaking facility fizzled as money-strapped consumers pinched every penny.

“We made it through the recession,” Johnson says. “We lost less money the second year than we did the first. By the third year we cut those losses considerably and were almost making a profit. And by the time the fourth year came around we had figured out what we were doing and started making a bit of money.”

That watershed moment coincided with another milestone in the history of MILES, bringing Rocky Crossland onboard as president and head of operations. Johnson and Crossland had worked together for years in the telecommunications industry and had a fantastic professional and personal relationship. Johnson’s wife had just been offered a career opportunity in Austin and although he wanted to support his wife and move with her, he had no one he trusted to run his wash locally while he was out of state.

As luck would have it Crossland had just moved to Nashville and was looking for his next opportunity and when his good friend told him about his predicament, he quickly volunteered to take on the challenge.

“He told me he liked what I had done with the wash and he wanted to try something different professionally,” Johnson said. “We had always worked well together; it was a natural fit. I went to Austin and ran things remotely and he took over the operational side here in Franklin.”

Johnson would stay in Austin overseeing his business from afar up until this year when he moved back to Tennessee to work side-by-side with Crossland as they opened their fourth MILES location.

“Every couple of years we are growing the business,” says Crossland. “We have four locations now and have a really good recipe for how we want to expand. The most recent one, in addition to being an express car wash, has a detail center. It has some unique services that you just don’t find at most detail centers.”

Among the differentiating features in the detail center is an interior purification service that not only gets a car’s interior germ and bacteria free but continues to work its magic for up to three months. The state-of-the-art air purification system removes carbon from the air inside the car and MILES technicians utilize electrostatic sprayers to deploy antimicrobials that sterilize and electrically bond with interior surfaces and continue to kill bacteria for up to 90 days.

“Just the fact that we have a detail center with an express car wash kind of sets us apart,” Crossland says. “We are both car geeks, and we share the desire to help our customers take care of their cars. Whether it is an $11 car wash or a $400 complete detail we are here to provide the services our customers demand.”

Another way the wash sets itself apart from the growing express competition in and around Nashville is its MILES club. For every dollar spent at MILES, club members earn one club point that can be redeemed for future services at the wash. Every 10 MILES points is worth $1 in wash services which can be used at any time.

In addition, the 11,000-plus club members can utilize one of the site’s Pro Detail Baskets free of charge whenever they purchase a wash. Members simply show their MILES club card and are presented with a basket that features all-purpose cleaner, window cleaner, and a host of towels, allowing express customers to put the final touches on their vehicle themselves.

And for those customers that prefer a do-it-for-me approach, MILES popular top-of-the-line $20 express wash features a hand dry and spray-wax option which takes the standard exterior wash to the next level.

Taking things to the next level has been a hallmark of the MILES experience from day one. Whether it is an amenity filled lobby or a thriving value-added membership program Johnson and Crossland are always embracing out-of-the-box ideas to service their customers and differentiate from the competition. 

WASH Profile:

Name: MILES Auto Spa and Express Carwashes
Location: Franklin and Nashville, TN
Owner: Miles Johnson
President: Rocky Crossland
Average Tunnel Length: 130 Feet
Average Site Size: More Than an Acre
Chemicals: Turtle Wax
Tunnel Equipment: Motor City Wash Works



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