Car washes and gas stations are a perfect marriage. The customer stops in to fill up their tank and while they are onsite, they splurge for a wash.
By Timothy Denman
Car washes and gas stations are a perfect marriage. The customer stops in to fill up their tank and while they are onsite, they splurge for a wash. The two businesses have been paired for decades with great success, but the modern take on this symbiotic relationship barely resembles the washes of the past.
The days of a rundown rollover or a couple of dingy self-serve bays that were added as an afterthought are long gone. To succeed today owners must build destination facilities that provide every modern convenience and can produce clean, shiny cars quickly and consistently.
Ron Reger has been in the fueling station business for years and knows firsthand the importance of creating sites with multiple profit centers. His seven locations offer a mix of fuel, convenience, and now car washing that provide plenty of reasons for customers to pull into the drive and make multiple purchases while on property.
“We got started in car wash a few years back when we bought a couple of sites with older rollover units,” Reger said. “We refreshed the buildings inside and out and put in new equipment and saw business increase significantly. Before renovating the sites, they were producing $4,000 and $8,000 a month in revenue. After the facelift they are now at the $25,000 and $35,000 level.”
While Reger is no stranger to the coupling of fuel and wash, his latest site in Norco, California is his first foray into tunnel washing and has become the model for future builds. Soapy Saddles Car Wash features gasoline, a convenience store, quick-serve restaurant, propane fueling station, and a state-of-the-art express exterior tunnel.
“We are trying to bring all those pieces together and cross market them,” Reger says of his multi-use facility. “We have been kind of limited on our marketing and promotional activity because of COVID. We weren’t able to do any sort of grand opening and of course the community was impacted financially because of the virus, but we are starting to see it all come together.”
Currently, the wash is processing around 125 cars a day, and growing every month, with the short-term goal of $50,000 a month in revenue on the immediate horizon.
Norco is affectionately known as Horse Town USA thanks to the large number or ranches, stables, and equestrian trails in and around the city. Reger and his partner Alfred Daher adopted the western theme for their latest venture branding the site Soapy Saddles and infusing the motif throughout.
“Horse culture is huge here,” Reger says. “It just kind of fit. A lot of the people living here are born and raised and appreciate their roots and heritage. We did a lot of theming both inside and out. It was a real opportunity to tie into that.”
In fact, the neighboring town of Chino, where Soapy Saddles is set to expand, has a big dairy history, allowing Soapy Saddles to carry on its western theme, providing ample cross-promotional opportunities.
The partners are set to break ground on their Chino location any day, with the goal of opening their doors at some point in 2021. The site will be another mixed-use facility coupled with fuel that is just 15 minutes from the Norco location. The proximity of the sites will add incremental value to Soapy Saddles’ already growing unlimited membership program, helping to spur membership and drive increased awareness to the brand.
To get the word out on their first Soapy Saddles location the partners joined forces with Florida-based marketing firm Slam. The agency helped Soapy develop their website and design a full marketing plan that includes social media, grocery store receipt advertising, and a soon-to-be-launched direct mail campaign.
And of course, one of the keys to the wash’s success is the built-in cross-promotional efforts the multi-profit-center site provides. For example, for every gallon of gas a customer purchases they are rewarded with a 20-cent discount on a car wash that day. The incentive is advertised and promoted at the pump helping drive customers to the wash after their fill up.
Not only are the multiple-profit centers natural partners, but they also allow employees to fill in across the site where needed. Soapy Saddles employs more than 25 workers in the convenience store, wash facility, and Wetzel’s Pretzels franchise. Five employees are designated to the wash, but they lend a helping hand keeping the entire site clean, filling propane tanks, directing customers, in addition to loading vehicles into the well-equipped 65-foot tunnel.
While 65 feet is relatively short for an express tunnel, especially for a ground-up build, the Sonny’s powered tunnel is packed with all the bells and whistles of a larger format wash.
“When we started the development process back in 2016, we were car wash novices,” Reger says. “We probably could have found a way to build a 90-foot tunnel, but we are pretty happy with the size and performance of our current set up.”
In fact, Reger is so confident in his tunnel’s performance that his next build in Chino will also feature a smaller format tunnel. The decision to stay on the shorter side was not 100 percent Reger’s however, as local ordinances and red tape have limited the site’s size, but not the owner’s confidence in a shorter tunnel’s ability to produce a consistently clean, dry, and shiny car.
In addition to the Norco location and the soon-to-be-built Chino site, Reger and Daher are constantly on the lookout for spots that could serve them well in their next venture. The duo are looking long and hard at locations in nearby Corona that could provide further branding building opportunities as they look to scale Soapy Saddles in Southern California.
“I’m pretty excited about the car wash business,” Reger says. “We would love to try a standalone. Once we get these first two expresses established that will be the next step.”
Name: Soapy Saddles Car Wash
Owners: Ron Reger & Alfred Daher
Location: Norco, CA
Concept: Express Exterior
Tunnel Length: 65 Feet
Site Size: 1 Acre-Plus