Auto Laundry News - March 2011

Fertile Ground

By Timothy Denman

The reader board advertises the free vacuums.

Three lines of stacking are available.

The grand opening.

There are many factors to consider when designing and building a wash: equipment, demographics, format, staffing, the list goes on and on. There is one aspect of the process that shines above all the rest — location.

Brett Sheldon has taken that lesson to heart, and supported by his 25 years of real estate selection experience, is ready to take over Texas and the surrounding states with his brand of community-centric washes.

Sheldon opened his first Appleseed Express Carwash in September 2010 and has aggressive expansion plans in place that could see four or five Appleseeds up and running in the next three years. Just as Johnny Appleseed introduced much of the Midwest to the apple, Appleseed Express hopes to introduce its brand to the South and then the country.

Sheldon’s background is in de-signing roll-out programs for national chains — Walgreens, CVS, Eckerd, etc. He would buy the land, develop it, and lease the building. “We were a third party for them,” he says. “Now we are doing the same thing for ourselves.”

The first, and currently only, location is in Katy, TX. The Katy facility sits on 1.2 acres of land directly across from a Walmart that produces $200 million in retail sales per year.

“We have a fairly involved site selection process,” Sheldon says. “Eighty percent of the potential customers must fit our profile. In addition we need a solid traffic count, access, and all the little things that make a site great.”

Sheldon is the president of the Appleseed Project, “a collection of businesses designed to improve lives by meeting needs, bringing people together, and giving them the resources to impact others.” The idea behind the project is to be an instrument of good, much like Johnny Appleseed himself. According to Sheldon the organization aims to “use the power of business to affect good in the communities that we go to.”

The Appleseed Project chose Katy as its first place to plant the seed of community immersion. One of the keys to Appleseed Express’ plan to be an instrument of good in its community is the wash’s ambitious charity work with local non-profits.

The wash gives a percentage of its profits to charity. A permanent charitable contribution percentage has not been set — currently the wash donates 5 percent of its profits to local non-profits. As the wash volume increases, Sheldon expects the percentage will reach double digits.

“The history of car washing in neighborhoods is kids putting up a sign that says wash your car here,” Sheldon says. “We have taken that idea and brought it to another level. We use the car wash as a platform to bring awareness and help local non-profits. Every wash helps a local kid. That is our mission.”

In addition to the flat percentage of Appleseed profits, local organizations have the ability to earn even more for their cause by staging charity wash events on their own. Participating organizations are free to market their charity wash any way they choose (i.e., e-mail blasts, handing out flyers, posting signs). Customers simply input a code into one of the three automated tellers on site and the charity gets half of the proceeds from the transaction.

The property at night.

The apple leaf motif dominates the grounds.

The 150-foot Belanger-equipped tunnel.

Even the most community-involved washes would typically stop at this point, figuring two avenues for charitable donations go beyond the call of duty. Appleseed on the other hand goes even further.

Every month the wash features a contest between three local non-profits. The organizations are invited to promote their cause throughout the community. Customers vote on the most deserving cause either at one of the kiosks or online, and the winning charity gets $500. The wash sponsored a similar contest for its grand opening event, but the stakes were much higher. The Langham Creek YMCA took home $7,000 as the grand price winner.

“We have a very singular focus,” Sheldon says. “We have designed the facility with community involvement in mind. We have patios for the non-profits to come out here on Saturdays to promote their organization. Our main focus is to help local kids. That is our passion.”

In order for the local kids to benefit from Appleseed’s philanthropic focus the wash’s performance needs to be up to par. No amount of community outreach can make up for a car that comes out of the tunnel dirty. Helping to keep those cars shiny and clean the tunnel is equipped with all the bells and whistles that Belanger could provide.
The wash was designed to process up to 150 cars per hour without sacrificing quality.

“We practice what we call the CARE program,” Sheldon says. “CARE stands for create a remarkable experience. We strive to create that experience and provide a value customers are not getting today. For us it all comes down to more convenient locations, being friendly, and monitoring the customer experience.”

Appleseed offers four wash levels: Clean Wash, Shine Wash, Ultra Shine Wash, and Max Shine and Wheels. The most popular menu choice is the $5.99 entry-level Clean Wash, with 40 percent of customers opting for the basic wash and dry. The Shine Wash costs $2 more and adds polish and wax. The Ultra Shine Wash costs $9.99 and features an undercarriage rinse, clear-coat polish, and triple foam wax. The top-of-the-line Max Shine and Wheels sets customers back $12.99 and adds wheel shine. The top three washes are chosen equally.

In addition to express car washing, the facility also offers express detailing services. Four different packages are offered: Basic Interior, Interior Clean & Shine, Exterior Clean & Shine, and The Works. The Basic Interior costs $19.99 and features a hand dry, interior vacuum, dusting, window cleaning, interior fragrance and tire dressing. The Interior Clean & Shampoo costs $39.99 and im-proves on the basic package with carpet, mat, and seat shampoo and protectant application. The Exterior Clean & Shine costs the same as the high-end interior package and features wax protectant, and bug and tar removal. Both $39.99 packages can be purchased together for $54.99 — a substantial savings.

Local non-profits use the patio to promote their cause on weekends.

Appleseed engages in no traditional car wash marketing techniques — direct mail or coupons. Rather the wash relies on its community involvement, website, and social media to spread the word. Wash club cards and express detailing services can be purchased online, and the wash is set to release an intensive social media campaign. A second store in Plano, TX is scheduled to join the Appleseed family on March 28. Following the Plano opening will be a third location in Allen, TX in early 2012.

“We don’t have a specific number of sites in mind,” Sheldon says. “Our plan is to roll out the concept when we have the right site. We have a profile for each site that needs to be met. We have a very aggressive expansion plan, we want to grow throughout Texas, then the surrounding states, and then the rest of the country.”

Just like the Katy location, all future Appleseed Expresses will be situated near a large successful retail site. The strategy is to capture customers who are already visiting the area, offering convenient service and quality results.

The greatest forests in the world all started with just a few seedlings. Appleseed Express has grand expansion plans and its architect is relying on his keen ability to pick out fertile ground to plant his seeds.

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