Resurrecting a Landmark
Craig Keith knows what it takes to be part of a team. He has been involved in athletics his whole life and made it to the top of his sport, playing in the NFL for five seasons.
The former tight end is still using his extensive leadership and teambuilding skills, albeit no longer on the gridiron. Keith recently opened his first wash in Durham, NC, resurrecting a near 50-year-old institution. After being unused for three years the newly re-branded Bull City Car Wash is quickly regaining the loyal customer base that had frequented the site since the early ‘60s.
After a five-month renovation of the site, little remains the same. Only the building, and the wash’s commitment to providing superior full-serve performance continue. The flex-serve model with its limited labor requirements is increasingly attractive, but Keith wanted to own a wash that he himself would frequent and that meant full serve.
“I wanted to get into the business with the notion or concept of not just making money and having a sound business model, but doing something that fit me and my personality,” Keith says of his decision to keep the site full service. “The full serve model fits me. I wasn’t afraid of the labor challenges to where it paralyzed me into thinking that I have to alter my vision or what I want to do. I took this on knowing that labor could and can be an issue, but it was how I wanted to be in the business at this particular location.”
Although a professional car wash rookie, Keith is no stranger to cleaning cars. Since the age of eight until he left for college he washed his mother’s car every Saturday morning rain or shine. As a young boy Keith was excited on Friday nights because he knew that the following morning he would be washing the car.
Keith has found an outlet for his passion for clean cars, and believes that his experience being part of, and leading a team, will be invaluable in his new venture. “I am combining my passion for washing cars with my teamwork experience. I think that is the perfect combination for a successful full serve.”
Bull City opened its doors January 1, sporting a completely new array of equipment and creature comforts.
The 100-foot tunnel features MacNeil equipment distributed by Carolina Pride. With a canopy extension on the entrance end of the wash, the 120-foot conveyor is completely covered. A car’s interior is vacuumed prior to entering
the tunnel, due to limited real estate at the exit end of the wash.
When a customer pulls onto the lot they are met by a greater who presents the wash menu. Bull City offers four wash levels starting at $9.95 for the Quick Getaway up to $24.95 for the Ultimate. In the early going Keith was surprised that his top wash was far and away the most popular. The wash rotates three different greeters, and each
is trained to identify a car that might be a candidate for express wax or one of the other additional services Bull City offers.
After choosing their service level, customers exit their vehicle and enter the newly renovated lobby to settle up with the cashier and await their shiny clean car, which is ready in 15 minutes or less.
The wash employs three detailers that perform express wax, full-serve detailing, engine cleaning, and headlight restoration. In the early going the full-serve interior detail has been the most popular detailing menu option.
Durham is one of the most diverse cities in North Carolina —several individual neighborhoods and community associations make up the city. Bull City is situated at the crossroads of many of these mini communities and is able to market to and draw customers from all of them. Four different neighborhood associations are located within a five-minute drive of the wash, and Keith markets to all of them through list serves and blogs. Each association has its own list serve and Bull City is able to craft individual messages to each unique neighborhood, tailoring its marketing efforts.
“We have had a tremendous amount of traffic by just sending out blog messages to those neighborhoods,” Keith says.
The city of Durham is a typical Southern city — it is proud of its roots and individual history — playing right into Bull City’s hand in terms of marketing and promotion. Since the wash has been a part of the city since 1964, the location is a virtual landmark present in the minds of many in the population.
“The day we opened I had a lady came in with a walker,” Keith says. “She told me that she got her car washed at this building in 1965 and is back again to get her car washed.”
That kind of customer experience is hard to duplicate in this age of here today gone tomorrow businesses.
Bull City’s main competition is two full-serve washes located about eight miles away. These washes have name recognition and a history of their own, having been in business for 20 years or more each. These two washes have been the only car wash options for quite some time in the area. Bull City has its work cut out for itself, but has done a good job in the early going capturing market share.
“We have a bunch of different approaches in terms of marketing,” Keith says. “You can’t overestimate the power of social media. We have a fantastic website, a Facebook page, and a Twitter feed. Our best marketing tool is a satisfied customer and a clean car. We are spending a lot of time focusing on the customer and providing quality service to each and every one.”
Bull City offers both gift cards and unlimited wash club cards, and has had a big response with the wash club. The unexpected popularity of the club cards speaks to the desire of the local residents to embrace and continue to frequent the newly reopened wash.
Despite his newbie status in the professional car wash industry, Keith has aggressive expansion plans in place. He hopes to have five washes by his 50th birthday, a mere 10 years away.
“I have plans in my head for five locations,” Keith says. “I have them pretty much mapped out throughout North Carolina where I think a wash would be successful. I have done extensive research on two of those locations, and done preliminary work on the other three. I would like to own two full serves and maybe the other three flex serves.”
With a dedication to clean cars, customer service, and teamwork Keith’s expansion plans are sure to become a reality.