Coachworks Car Wash's architecture is inspired by early Texas.
At first blush pairing a car wash/detail center with a barber shop doesn’t make much sense. The businesses have little in common and require completely different skill sets to operate. But the two industries have one important thing in common: customer service.
Owner Gary Domel opened the wash in 1999
Owner Gary Domel opened the wash in 1999. He had recently moved into the Bee Cave, TX area and noticed that the Austin suburb had no car wash facilities. Seeing an opportunity, the recently retired Dell executive began exploring the car wash business and decided to give it a go, building a first-class facility on the main road between Bee Cave and Austin.
When it first opened the facility featured a car wash, lube center, and detailing services. Bee Cave is an upper-middle/upper-class community with plenty of high-end vehicles, and the most popular and profitable services quickly became its detailing offerings.
“Very little of our income comes from our general wash packages,” Gary says. “We are known as the detail place in Austin and we do it in volume. The community is turning very exclusive which is good for us from a car standpoint. We see more Maseratis, Ferraris, Teslas, and Lamborghinis probably than anyone in Texas.”
Chris Domel (right) is the general manager.
Coachworks averages 35 to 50 details a day — with so many detailing customers waiting around for their cars to be completed additional services and ancillary businesses were a natural fit. The lobby features all of the usual car wash fare: air fresheners, greeting cards, and sun glasses. In addition to the traditional lobby offerings, the wash also has fine art on the walls for sale and has beer and wine available for purchase and consumption.
The additional services help waiting customers pass the time and brand the site as a destination location instead of just a tired old car wash. “We want our customers to buy a detail and be entertained,” Gary says. “We don’t want them just sitting in the lobby twiddling their thumbs and reading a magazine.”
Coachworks latest weapon in the fight against customer boredom is the on-site barber shop. The wash has an early Texas design and features a striking tower intended to draw attention and set it off from the other buildings in the area. Although the tower is a strong architectural statement the 140-square-foot interior dimensions were underutilized until n
Customers can enjoy a soft drink or something stronger while they wait
Prior to converting the tower to the barbershop, the space was used as an uncomfortable customer waiting area. “It was too small for an office or a restaurant and it was too large to just neglect,” Gary says. “One day I got the idea for an old-style barbershop and thought that it fit well with our early Texas design. The barbershop is traditional. We only do men and offer straight razor shaves, haircuts, and shoulder and neck massages.”
To keep customers coming back and draw new clients to the business, Coachworks employs a variety of marketing techniques. Domel has produced several television commercials and runs them primarily during high school football broadcasts. The wash also utilizes push advertising through Constant Contact offering up specials once a month to the customer base.
The interior of the wash has a ranch feel
Many of Coachworks’ customers are people of means and don’t respond well to coupons and traditional car wash marketing techniques. “Most of our business is through word of mouth,” Gary’s son and the wash’s general manager Chris says. “We have some long-time clientele from the beginning who we rely on to spread the word. We are kind of the hidden jewel of sorts.”
The Domels didn’t set out to hide their business, but as Bee Cave becomes more and more exclusive the township is more and more restrictive when it comes to signage. Officials are very concerned with the look of the main street of Bee Cave, making effective business signage a near impossibility. They are making some exceptions for businesses that really need it and Gary is in the process of applying for a signage exception and is hopeful the municipality will oblige.
Currently the Domels rely on quality service and word-of-mouth to increase their customer base. With so much riding on the wash’s performance Gary and his son are constantly monitoring the final product and adjusting were necessary.
For instance they noticed two years ago that despite almost completely washing cars in the prep area before they entered the tunnel the end product was less than stellar. The process was updated, with less of an effort placed on total vehicle prep — instead focusing on problem areas like wheel wells and removing bugs from front grills. After overhauling the process, cars were exiting the tunnel in pristine condition.
To further improve the end product, the Domels reinvested over a quarter of a million dollars in 2013 into the 110-foot tunnel. The all-Peco tunnel received an update to its original equipment and a car wash information system from DRB was installed. Despite investing a large chunk of funds in the wash in 2013, Gary and Chris are planning additional improvements for this year.
Currently the two share a small office on the first floor of the wash. They plan to remodel the wash’s second floor and move their offices up there. The space vacated by the first-floor office will be converted to a small restaurant/grill — increasing the wash/detail center’s appeal as a destination.
The restaurant will serve breakfast tacos, cheeseburgers, BBQ sandwiches, and gourmet coffee. The expansion plans also include adding some seating on the porch and increasing the table and chairs in the lobby/gift shop allowing restaurant patrons a place to enjoy their me
The barbershop is housed in the building's previously underutilized tower
The Domels don’t rest on their laurels. They are dedicated to constantly updating both their facility and their offerings in new, exciting, and original ways. Customers keep coming back not just for the top-notch detail and car wash services but for the auxiliary businesses currently offered and soon to be added.