Perfecting the Wave
Understanding the community is a key aspect of any successful service industry business, especially car washing. Mike Opitz has his finger on the pulse of the Olympia Washington community, and his Wave Carwash is thriving and growing in the military community.
Olympia is just 20 minutes south of Fort Lewis, a combined Army and Air Force base, and many of those stationed there
live in Olympia and the surrounding towns. Optiz has no problem relating to his clientele — he is
an Army veteran himself.
After graduation from West Point with a degree in mechanical engineering, Optiz served 10 years in the Army Rangers. Following his service, Opitz worked on the Alaskan pipeline before settling in Olympia in the mid ‘90s. He opened a construction company in Olympia doing both residential and commercial work, but always had car washing on his mind.
“I was always looking at car washes,” Optiz says. “I was interested in the business since my college days.”
Optiz purchased the land the first Wave sits on in 2003 before he was certain that he wanted to open a wash. “At the time that I bought the property I didn’t know for sure what I was going to do with it,” Optiz says. “I just knew that it was a great location. There were no other washes in that part of town at the time. After much research and study I decided to build my first wash at that site.”
When Optiz says build, he means build. As general contractor, he designed and built the wash from the ground up. In 2005 the wash was complete and the Wave was born. Optiz has since built three more washes — two in Olympia and one in nearby Centralia. All four express-exterior locations sport the same basic design features — split-face concrete block with a metal roof.
Optiz received a lot of support and mentoring from industry veterans Chuck Sasse, Chuck Kaady, and Dan Hanna while building and subsequently operating his growing wash business. “All three of those guys helped me tremendously,” Optiz says. “If you want to be successful you have to surround yourself with successful people. That is what I have done.”
Another important person in Optiz’s car-washing life is his operations manager Dustin Lessard. Lessard has been with the Wave since its inception and is in charge of overseeing all four site managers, and the sites’ overall performance. Optiz splits his time evenly between his construction company and car wash business, and leans heavily on Lessard and his site managers to ensure that the Wave keeps rolling.
The wave offers four wash options: Tsunami ($15), Tidal Wave ($10), Pipeline ($8), and Riptide ($7). The two most popular wash options are the Tsunami and the Riptide. The entry-level wash features high-pressure presoak, soft cloth, and undercarriage rinse. The top-of-the-line package includes: high-pressure presoak, soft cloth, undercarriage rinse, triple polish, tire and wheel cleaner, wheel blast, ArmorAll in-wash treatment, spot-free rinse, and dashboard wipe.
As a military officer, Optiz demanded precision from his troops. That dedication to efficiency has carried over to his civilian life and its imprint can be seen all over the Wave. Although not as spic-and-span as a barracks,
the Wave is not too far off.
Competition is stiff in the Western Washington market with four other express exteriors vying for a piece of the Olympia pie. The Wave differentiates itself with customer service and a dedication to keeping the facility spotless year round. When business is slow Wave employees busy themselves cleaning, pressure washing, weeding, painting, etc.
This year Optiz has implemented a secret shopper program. Each location is shopped once a month to ensure customer satisfaction. Managers and employees alike can receive bonuses if their location scores high on the secret shopper’s report. In addition to shopping his own sites, Optiz has his secret shoppers visit the competition to help gauge his sites’ performance against the other options in town.
In addition to a spotless facility, the Wave draws in customers with a multi-faceted and continually evolving marketing plan. Each year Optiz updates his marketing strategy and lays out a month-by-month, site-by-site plan to draw in additional customers and keep the ones he already has satisfied.
New to the marketing plan this year is print advertising in Community Values Magazine and spots in the local movie theaters before the start of the show promoting the wash. During the holiday season and at Mothers’ and Fathers’ Day the Wave offers a free car wash with the purchase of a gift card. Veterans can get their car washed for free on Veterans Day, and receive discounts every week on “Military Monday.”
In the past year the Wave has introduced its Wave Rider Club, an unlimited monthly wash program. The club has two options: $39 and $49 for the two top washes, and members can get their cars washed once per day.
In additional to traditional marketing techniques, Optiz builds goodwill through community outreach campaigns. The wash recently donated $35,000 to a children’s museum that is being built on the Olympia waterfront. The Wave is sponsoring the “Kiddie Car Wash” exhibit at the museum. The exhibit allows the children to wash off after playing outside and teaches them about the importance of keeping Pugent Sound clean, a cause close to Optiz’s heart. The exhibit will be branded with the wash’s logo and will undoubtedly entrench the Wave name with cleanliness and environmental stewardship with the museum visitors.
As the president of Pugent Sound Car Wash Association, Optiz is dedicated to spreading the word about the use of commercial car washes throughout the community and Western Washington. The association’s message is clear — help keep the Sound clean by eliminating driveway washing and toxic runoff. Optiz does his part to keep the waterways clean at his locations utilizing biodegradable soaps and recycling 85 percent of his wash water.
On Memorial Day this year the Wave played host to a soldier’s homecoming. Major Darrel Rasor had spend four months away from his wife and four children while deployed in Afghanistan. When the youngest children asked their mother Adrianna where their father was she told them he was at the car wash.
Adrianna brought the children to the wash on Memorial Day for what they thought was just a car wash. They exited the car at the tunnel’s entrance and were brought to the exit to await the car. With the children out of sight, Rasor jumped in the car and rode out of the tunnel to the surprise of the children.
“That was a lot of fun,” Optiz says of hosting the homecoming. “We had the local news stations here and we made a big deal out of it. It was nice to be able to be part of the surprise.”
Optiz is constantly improving his washes. He is currently upgrading his reclaim system at his first wash and will break ground on an interior cleaning building at this location in the fall. With a dedication to customer satisfaction, cleanliness, constant improvements, and community outreach, the Wave should continue to grow and succeed for years to come.