Going Full Serve
xpress exterior is the format of the moment in car washing. Flip the pages of this magazine every month and you will find many an article on the concept and plenty of companies advertising their newest offerings.
Despite the popularity of the format, the concept is not right for every market or every operator.
Michael Ambrosini entered the car wash industry over three years ago when he took over an aging express exterior in Moorestown, NJ. Prior to becoming a car washer he worked in finance for almost a decade. He operated the express for two years, before selling the location and purchasing what he really coveted: a full-serve location.
“I wanted to own a place a little more involved,” Ambrosini says. “I ended up hooking up with a builder that had a project in the works that really interested me.”
The wash the builder was developing was a full-serve location in upper-middle class Marlton, NJ that fit Ambrosini requirements to a T. The Promenade Car Wash and Detail Center was under development for over five years before Ambrosini came on board and helped bring the builder’s dream to reality.
One of the project’s biggest challenges and the reason it took so long to develop was the fact that the property sits in two townships. Two thirds of the site is in Marlton, while the rest of the location is in neighboring Voorhees. Anyone that has ever tried to build a new car wash site can relate to the headaches dealing with local ordinances and building codes, now multiply that by two and you get an idea of the kind of stress the developers were under while planning Promenade.
Now that the site is built and up and running, the greatest challenge during development has been turned into the wash’s greatest talking point. As customers walk through the tunnel-long hallway on their way to the lobby they travel under a sign that reads “ Entering Marlton Leaving Voorhees” the flip side of the sign reads the reverse “Leaving Marlton Entering Voorhees.” The sign is a conversation piece for customers as they watch their cars get serviced through the tunnel’s glass.
In addition to the hallway sign, Ambrosini has found other ways to turn the site’s location to his advantage. He has established community outreach campaigns in both towns, building goodwill, and hopefully customer loyalty, through fundraising efforts and charitable donations.
Promenade partners with local schools and teams to help raise charitable funds. The wash offers its top two washes for $2 off and supplies the organizations with tickets to sell. The organizations are able to keep half of the proceeds from the ticket sales, with tickets being honored for up to a year.
Promenade offers four wash options: Bronze, Silver, Gold, and Platinum. The Bronze is an exterior-only wash with the customer exiting the vehicle. Silver is the entry-level full-serve option and features cleaning in and out, window washing, vacuum, and a hand dry. The site’s most popular wash level is Gold. It ups the ante with two waxes, undercarriage wash, rust inhibitor, and wheel brite. The top-of-the-line Platinum adds triple-foam, tire shine, and Rain X.
The wash process is pretty similar to most other full-serve locations in the market. Customers pull in and are met by a greeter, their order is taken and they exit the vehicle. The vehicle is then vacuumed and prepped and makes its way through the tunnel. Upon exiting the car is wiped down and the finishing touches are applied.
One aspect that is unique to Promenade is the step prior to the greeter. The wash is located in a residential neighborhood and some of the wash’s neighbors voiced a concern over noise during the permitting and approval stage.
In order to satisfy the future neighbors, the builders agreed to erect a 50-foot long enclosure prior to the entrance to the tunnel to keep ambient noise at a minimum. The enclosure is three cars wide and offers plenty of space for stacking and keeps the staff protected from the elements.
Customers new to the wash are sometimes a little confused by the pre-tunnel enclosure and begin exiting their vehicle before they reach the greeter, but after one visit they get into the swing of things and enjoy the novel approach to line-noise management.
The wash opened its doors last June and to help build a clientele quickly Ambrosini cut prices in half for the first two and a half months of operation.
“My mentality with that was to get people in here and do a quality job and try to maintain 75 to 90 percent of the people that gave us a shot,” Ambrosini says. “That really helped us build our customer base.”
In addition to the wash’s community outreach campaigns and discounts during the getting-to-know-you period, the site continues to market itself both in traditional media and new e-media avenues.
Ambrosini markets Promenade through direct mail, word of mouth, e-mail blasts, and large onsite signage. Also, whenever he is out in the community he always has a few cards good for a free wash in his pocket to hand out to potential customers.
The brand has embraced social media as a way to keep itself in the public consciousness. The wash has pages on Facebook and Twitter and uses the social sites as a way to distribute monthly coupons. The coupons are distributed both though e-mail and on the wash’s Facebook page, and can be used for unlimited visits throughout the month. Codes are also sent out for those customers that prefer not to deal with printing out the discounts. Currently
Promenade has over 2,000 e-mail addresses, with new members joining the discount club constantly.
Although Ambrosini has em-braced e-media, he is still a little leery about the new platform. “Social media marketing is good in a way, but you have to be careful,” he says. “People can put anything out there without any evidence. I had this one guy put on my Facebook page that one of my employees must have stolen his tire stem caps. I looked at the cameras and there was no one messing with the tires. He came in and looked at the camera footage as well and was convinced the theft didn’t happen here. We were able to clear our name, but people can write whatever they want without any consequences. It is definitely one thing to be conscious of when it comes to social media.”
When Ambrosini is not out in the community or online building up the brand and its customer base, he can be found getting his hands dirty along with his staff. He likes to be out in front of his customers working as a greeter, prepping cars, doing wipe downs, and running the cash register.
Promenade has been open for less than a year but Ambrosini already has plans of expansion. He has dreams of an all-inclusive site with an oil change center, detailing, car wash, and c-store. “That is my dream down the line,” he says. “Land isn’t cheap and getting the approvals isn’t easy, but I would love to be able to bring something like that to South Jersey.”
If the wash continues to grow at its current rate there is no reason to believe that Ambrosini’s dream can’t become a reality.