Lights, Camera, Steam
Washing a car with nothing more than steam may seem like Hollywood magic, but to three Vancouver-based stunt performers it is reality, and the basis of a growing business.
Rorelee Tio, Chad Bellamy, and Hugo Steele founded MobiGlow as a way to invest their hard-earned money and prepare themselves for a time when their bodies can no longer handle the demanding world of stunt performing.
All three are environmentalists and founded the venture in August 2010 with the hope of appealing to fellow eco-conscious Vancouver residents. The exterior-only service can wash a standard-size car with just .6 gallons of water; compare that with 83 gallons for a full-serve conveyor (without reclaim) and 100 gallons for a home driveway wash and the water savings are clear. In addition to the minimal amount of water used for each wash, MobiGlow operates 100 percent chemical free, with no water runoff.
The company’s minimal water requirements and zero chemical use allow it to operate in parking lots and garages. The wash currently operates at Royal Centre Mall Parkade and the Arbutus Club. The Royal Centre Mall’s Parkade has over 800 parking stalls, and the company is able to travel to any parked vehicle within the facility with their portable steam units and wash vehicles where they sit. All the customer has to do is remember their stall number, go to the MobiGlow booth and order the service, and enjoy their clean car once they return to their vehicle. The convenience of getting their car washed as they shop or work is a major factor helping to draw in customers.
“The concept came about by seeing a similar service offered in multiple developing nations (that will clean patrons cars while they’re shopping minus the technology),” Bellamy says. “We seem to be a nation that wastes everything until there is nothing left. The water consumption and environmental impact of all the chemical cleaners out there going down the drains and back into our drinking water really started to bother me.”
“Chad is truly the visionary of our company,” Tio says. “I looked into the process, researched systems all over the world and we merged the service and technology together making MobiGlow convenient and eco-friendly. We brought in Hugo who has had many years of experience, having owned two detail shops in the past. He was amazed at the quality of the wash and the lack of chemicals used. That was when we knew we really had something.”
The veteran detailer Steele says, “we wanted to transfer the quality of a detail to an exterior hand wash, while keeping the environment in mind. By using the steam system we were able to achieve our goal of a detailed-finished hand wash”
As with any unconventional venture, potential customers are skeptical at first. They are fearful that the hot steam will somehow damage their car’s paint. Those in the vehicle washing industry know that steam is perfectly safe for any vehicle’s paint, but MobiGlow must educate potential customers of its gentleness and usefulness.
Once steam is exposed to the atmosphere, its temperature begins to drop. In general, the temperature of the steam on the washing surface is 185 degrees, well within the safe range for modern automotive paint. Also, the steam leaves the nozzle tip well below a pressure washer’s 1,500 psi — steam comes out at a pedestrian 116 psi.
“You always have people that are unsure of a new product,” Bellamy says. “We know that over time as people see our product popping up everywhere in the city, as well as worldwide use of similar steam technology, people will be able to see the difference for themselves. The customers that we service are very happy/surprised at the outcome of the service. People just aren’t aware yet how well steam actually cleans.”
MobiGlow’s service takes approximately 12 to 20 minutes. Pricing is based on the vehicle’s size: a motorcycle wash costs $12, a standard car is charged $25, a SUV wash is $35, and an oversized vehicle is charged $45.
MobiGlow’s pricing structure may seem above the norm for an exterior-only service, but it simply comes down to a matter of convenience, and of course supply and demand. The business operates in downtown Vancouver. The downtown area has a lot of water restrictions that prevent regular water-based car washes from conducting business. In November 2009 the MobiGlow was approved by Environment Canada to work in city zones that traditional car washes cannot operate in — a major operational advantage.
Currently MobiGlow is open Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the mall, and Wednesday 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the country club. The wash’s six employees wash an averaging of two cars per hour, washing between 50 and 65 cars per week at its two locations. Although only open on a part-time basis at the moment the company has aggressive expansion plans.
Plans call for adding a few more country clubs to the roster, and setting up another location at a grocery story by the summer. The trio is also working on a franchising system. Currently the business is operating solely in British Columbia, but plans to open up in Alberta in early 2012 with a location in Calgary. In addition to expanding in Canada, ownership hopes to one day expand throughout North America.
Bellamy is in charge of the wash’s marketing efforts and takes advantage of traditional methods to reach downtown Vancouver’s busy professionals: signage, print adds, flyers, etc. When MobiGlow enters a new market services are offered at an introductory rate to help draw in new customers. In addition, the wash places high importance on community involvement. “Last year we where able to set up a charity wash day for our local children’s hospital with all the proceeds going to the hospital,” he says. “We want charity to be a big part of our company where ever MobiGlow goes.”
MobiGlow utilizes the marketing potential of the Internet with its youtube channel promoting its services, www.youtube .com/user/MobiGlow. The channel sports multiple videos displaying the concept, results, and philanthropic pursuits. The company also has a Facebook page that has basic information and directs viewers to the company homepage, mobiglow.com.
Producing a detail-quality finish with just steam is not movie magic, but simply the combination of two well-established industry trends: washing a vehicle while its owner works or shops and environmental consciousness/water saving. By tapping into the eco-consciousness of Vancouver’s population, MobiGlow has carved out a niche market for itself providing quality results with zero environmental impact.