Car washes are known for fundraisers. Traditional parking lot washes are major sources of income for charity groups such as high school bands and cheerleading squads. Fortunately, the conventional bucket and sponge charity washes are fading out and events hosted and run by professional car washes are increasingly becoming the norm.
Hosting a charity wash is a great way to get a wash’s name out in the community and build some goodwill. Oftentimes, however, events are only attended by those associated with the charity organization and their family and friends. In order to have a truly successful fundraiser the community at large has to be aware and become involved in the event — it also helps if you have a really fun and novel idea.
Enter Venture Car Washes. The growing express exterior chain located in Central Mississippi hosted a Halloween-themed charity wash at its Meridian location in late October, and to say the event was over the top would be a understatement. The “Tunnel of Terror” raised over $5,000 for Hope Village for Children over two evenings. The charity is dedicated to improving the lives of neglected and abused children.
The event was a full-on haunted house complete with a hearse, graveyard, fog machines, strobe lights, and 15 volunteers decked out in their scariest attire.
The wash closed its doors on Friday October 26 at 3 p.m. as the volunteers and staff rushed to get the event put together by the 6 p.m. kickoff. Owner Pettey Hardin had planned to run the conveyor at a slower speed to allow visitors a longer ride through the haunted tunnel. The turnout was so great however that just 15 minutes into the event there was a line out the driveway and the conveyor speed had to be cranked back up to its standard rate.
“I had the idea for this event last year but didn’t have the time to pull it off,” Hardin says. “We have been planning it since last Halloween. We went out and stocked up on a bunch of decorations last year and had them in storage ready for this year.”
Hardin didn’t just purchase a few plastic skulls and inflatable pumpkins; he dropped over $12,000 on supplies for the event. In fact the magnitude of the supplies purchased filled a tractor-trailer the wash had on site to house the decorations as the charity wash date neared.
“From a business standpoint it would have been a lot cheaper to just donate the money,” Hardin says. “But we plan on doing this every year and now all of the expenses are already paid.”
The Meridian location is the outlier of the Venture car wash chain, over 100 miles away from the Jackson, MS metro area base of operations. Venture currently has five washes up and running, four in Jackson and one in Meridian, with another two in development in the Jackson area.
Hardin opened his first express wash in 2003 and admittedly had a lot to learn about the wash business and specifically the growing express segment.
“I was 30 years old jumping into the car wash business having never been in the business before,” he says. “Historically car washing is a family business, but I didn’t have that background. I made a lot of mistakes along the way.”
Hardin confesses that in the beginning his first wash had terrible signage. He was simply promoting Venture Car Wash, but no one in the market new what that was or the services offered. Venture didn’t have the most up-to-date equipment, was charging for vacuums, pressure washing before going into tunnel, and pricing the service too high. Hardin was losing money month after month until he began focusing his efforts on brand development.
After nine months in business Hardin changed his signage and staff uniforms to promote the entry level $5 express wash and began offering free vacuums. He also unveiled the company’s now well-known tagline: Faster, Better, Cheaper. After rebranding and making a conscious effort to inform customers of the benefits of his concept over the prevalent full-serve locations in the area, Venture began to take off.
Since Hardin focused his efforts, three full serves in the market have closed their doors and Venture is now the biggest and most successful chain in Mississippi. “People tell me that we put them out of business,” he says. “I didn’t put them out of business, they ran sloppy operations. Too much labor and too much confusion.”
By confusion Hardin refers to his previous rivals’ oil change, gas stations, and assorted other businesses they had on site. Venture does one thing and one thing only: express exterior car washing. And they do it well.
Hardin expanded his business steadily, opening up a new location every two years. After eight years of solid, steady growth, opportunities presented themselves in 2012 propelling Venture from a four-location local chain to what will soon be a seven-location market leader.
Hardin already had his plate full last year with two new ground-up developments underway when a competitor decided to sell out and he jumped at the opportunity to complete his first acquisition. “2012 was our busiest year volume wise, as well as our most hectic in terms of new development,” Hardin says. “The acquisition took six months of very long hours and days, to get things up to Venture standards. But in the end it was worth it.”
Hardin built up his clientele the old fashioned way, through solid performance and word-of-mouth advertising. “I pride my business on the fact that I have not spend one dollar on advertising in the past eight years,” he says. “It is all about having a great location, signage, ingress and egress, landscaping, and curb appeal. You want a customer’s first impression to be ‘that place looks nice.’ We pride ourselves on being very inviting and professional.”
Once Hardin completes his latest expansion projects he is going to hang up his development hat for a while and focus on perfecting his sites and their services. He believes his market is becoming saturated and there is no longer a need to expand. Should that change in the future you can rest assured that Venture will be there to fill the need.