A Couple of Choices
When it comes to in-bay automatics there are two basic choices: friction or touchless.
Operators often struggle deciding which option their customers will prefer. Brothers Robert and Scott Wagner made the decision making process easy on themselves: they simply built one of each.
The brothers opened Pinnacle Car Wash in Millville, NJ this past winter with both a touchless and a soft touch bay.
“We wanted to do two different machines because people like variety,” Robert Wagner says. “There are some people out there who have a concern about friction.”
Wagner is quick to point out that the soft touch machine offers a superior clean, but knows that the touchless has its place — some people are just nervous about anything touching their cars.
Both bays sport Belanger equipment and share identical menus; the only difference is one has friction while the other relies on high-pressure water to get the dirt off.
Four wash options are offered at Pinnacle: Thunder Storm ($5), Hurricane ($8), Monsoon ($11), and Tsunami ($13). The storm theme of the menu is a nod to Robert’s boyhood dream of becoming a weatherman and his ongoing obsession with all things weather.
The winds of fortune are blowing strong for the Wagners; just shy of 40 percent of customers opt for the top-level wash. The Thunder Storm features a basic low- and high-pH wash with high-pressure rinse with no dryer. The Hurricane improves on the entry-level wash with undercarriage treatment, wheel cleaning, and a dry. The Monsoon adds RainX and triple-coat foam, while the highly popular Tsunami adds Black Magic Tire Shine.
In addition to the two automatic bays, Pinnacle also sports a detailing bay that is open by appointment on weekends. A professional detailer who brings in his own business and gives the Wagners a piece of the action mans the bay. In addition to detailing, window tinting is offered in the bay and is an extremely popular service. On one particularly busy day last month over $900 worth of window tinting was performed.
The Wagner brothers are new to the car wash business. They both have a background in finance working for Prudential. Scott still works for the company in Pennsylvania and Robert handles the day-to-day car wash operation.
“We always wanted to do one,” Robert says when asked about the decision to get into the car washing business. “I wanted to work for myself and be in a business where I would have a little extra time. I love cars. And I love clean cars.”
Luckily for the Wagners they are the only ones who dreamed of opening a wash in this particular area. That is not to say there is not competition around, but it is all outside of the all-important five-mile halo.
There are other in-bays, along with self-serve and full-serve locations between six and eight miles away, but Pinnacle owns its immediate area and is making strides to solidify that ownership in just its first year of operation.
Pinnacle was built on a prime piece of previously undeveloped land right in the center of Millville. The brothers bought the 30,000-square-foot lot surrounded by other businesses (CVS, McDonalds, Walgreens, etc.) two years ago. The site sees 15,000 to 16,000 cars pass by on the average day with another 8,500 cars travelling the road behind it. With so much traffic and little local competition, Pinnacle is set up for success: now the Wagners just need to continue to grow their client base and their brand.
One way the Wagners have found to be very effective in growing their upstart business is social media. Pinnacle has a strong presence on Facebook — Robert is constantly updating the site and offers “Friends” discounts and special offers.
In addition to its virtual presence, Pinnacle also uses traditional methods to drive traffic — placing ads in the local community paper complete with coupons and special offers. Of course no good design should ever go underutilized — the newest print ads are also displayed prominently on the wash’s Facebook page to reach those that prefer a digital experience.
There is a racetrack just around the corner from the wash that keeps the driveway filled with high-end performance vehicles. The owners of these cars are often meticulous about upkeep and invariably choose the touchless machine, confirming the Wagners’ decision to offer both a friction and touch free at their first of what they hope will be several locations.
“We eventually want to put up a bunch of these,” Robert says. “So far it has been really good and I like it. Of course you get the good days with the bad days but overall it has been a good experience. We definitely plan on expanding in the future.”
Although their first location sports only in-bay automatics, the brothers are not averse to trying out different concepts in the future. The partners are open to the idea of the full-serve and express concepts for future Pinnacle locations. One format that Robert is not particularly fond of is the self-serve model however.
“The reason why we didn’t do any self serve at our first location is because it is hard to make any money,” Robert says. “Everything costs so much to build and there are operating headaches with people hanging around. I am obsessed with keeping everything clean and with a self-serve it is tough to keep on top of it.”
Robert is at the wash almost every day making sure that all the equipment is in working order and the site is neat and tidy. When he is not on site however he is still in touch. The wash features 24-hour surveillance, and Robert can monitor the wash anytime from his computer or cell phone. The owners also have the ability to reset either of their machines remotely via their cell phones if needed — a huge step forward for any operator who has ever dragged himself back out in the evening to reset a tripped machine.
“People like to know that if there is a problem that I am around to fix it,” Robert says. “You can’t be an absentee owner in this business. My advice to anyone thinking of opening a wash as an investment and not planning on devoting himself full time to the place: Don’t even bother. You need to be there.”
The owners of Pinnacle are certainly not absentee operators. It is that dedication to keeping things tidy and running smoothly that will help grow the Pinnacle brand should it stay a single location or grow to a multiple location chain.