Making a Car Wash Guy
Who says oil and water don’t mix? Certainly not Gary Jones. The long-time quick lube and repair veteran has expanded his business to include a sprawling express exterior wash with re-sounding results.
Jones built a new repair shop, lube center, and car wash across the street from his old facility in North Platte, NE. The Super Suds car wash opened its doors last September, and in just over six months washed over 50,000 cars.
North Platte was in dire need of a quality wash facility, and seeing the need, Jones has been dreaming of opening one for over a decade. There are a handful of in-bays, coin-ops, and a short express tunnel in town — but the newest facility prior to Super Suds was 18 years old and in need of some serious TLC.
“We tried to put in a wash a couple of times over the past 10 years but it never worked out,” Jones says. “There was a serious need. Even when I washed my own vehicle I would have to go to a coin-op. Sometimes they would have soap, sometimes they wouldn’t. It would end up costing me $12 to $15 to wash my pickup.”
With first-hand knowledge of the area’s need of a modern high-performance wash, Jones was confident that North Platte would be an ideal location for a large express exterior — equipment manufacturers were not as convinced.
North Platte is a small community in central Nebraska with a population of just over 25,000, which Jones playfully describes as “in the middle of nowhere.” Jones knew he would need to have reliable equipment since there are no distributors in the local area to service his wash. After some research he decided on MacNeil equipment for the tunnel. He wanted to build an express tunnel over 100 feet, which MacNeil at first thought was too much wash for such a small population center.
“They were a little hesitant to put such a big express tunnel in this sized community,” Jones says. “They thought it couldn’t support it. We have proven them wrong on that.”
Despite its small population size, North Platte sees plenty of traffic on a daily basis — it is right off of Interstate 80 and a hub for the surrounding communities. Super Suds sees 18,000 cars pass by north to south each day, with another 12,000 cars passing by east to west. It is that kind of traffic counts that has helped the small community support the large-scale wash, maintenance, and repair facility.
Jones started his career in 1982 with a muffler and brake shop. In 1994, he expanded into the quick lube business, building an oil change facility next to his repair shop. Although the two businesses were less than 100 feet
away there wasn’t a ton of cross-over business — many customers didn’t realize that the two businesses were connected.
All that changed when Jones moved his offerings across the street into his brand new 16,000 square foot repair and maintenance facility. Just like with the car wash, Jones decided to build his repair shop big, bigger than what the experts thought the community could support. The Mobil 1 Lube Express and Modern Tire Pro businesses that occupy the 12-bay facility are having no trouble keeping busy. In fact Jones’ quick lube business is up over 15 percent from last year.
Having quick lube and repair in one location is not common in the marketplace. But Jones thinks the quick lube industry is going to evolve in the near future, and that these kind of set ups will become more and more common. “It is getting so hard for a quick lube to stand on its own,” he says. “You are going to see a lot of lube businesses get into the repair side of the business in the coming years.”
Jones opened the lube and maintenance facility in November and began cross training his techs in January. He says it was a real eye opener for his staff. Each side now knows what the other side does and can answer any customer questions and step in and help out when necessary. Quick lube employees are also cross-trained to work at the car wash and fill in when needed. “I think it is important to cross train,” Jones says. “One thing I hate is if someone calls in sick and we don’t have anyone to cover for them.”
One of the things that drew Jones to the express exterior format was the small labor requirement. The wash has two preppers, one cashier, and one manager on duty at all times. Super Suds does not offer wipe down service or interior cleaning. All car wash customers are welcome to utilize the 21 free vacuum stalls.
The wash features a Vacutech vacuum system, and once again Jones overruled the equipment supplier and went with a bigger-than-recommended system. Jones was right once again as the vacuum stalls are routinely full, with many customers getting their car washed just so they can use the free vacuums.
Since opening its doors last September, Super Suds has been a community favorite. Jones reports that at least once a day he is stopped and thanked for building the wash and filling a much-needed void. It is not just North Platte residents that are enjoying the new mega facility. The site is just off of Interstate 80 and routinely services customers from over 100 miles away. “The closest big towns are all over a three hour ride away,” Jones says. “It is nothing for people that live here to jump in their car and travel a few hours on a daily basis.”
Because of all of that driving and reliance on their cars, the population has a strong car culture, with many residents owning more than one vehicle. The heavy mileage the average driver puts on their car certainly helps keep the maintenance center’s bays full. In addition to changing the oil on a regular basis, the population is also diligent about keeping their vehicles clean. Over 1,000 people have already signed up for the wash’s unlimited wash program in just over six months. The wash offers three wash levels: Super Wash, $6; Super Gold, $10; and Super Platte num Wash, $14. The average car wash ticket is hovering right around $10.
Since Super Suds is the only modern and well-maintained wash in the area, Jones has had to do little in the way of marketing, relying on word-of-mouth and his electronic greeter board to bring in the customers. When the wash opened in September, Jones gave away car washes for 10 days to help introduce the service to the community. Super Suds had cars lined up for two blocks, many of which became loyal customers from the start.
Jones has one of the facilities that many operators could only dream about. He saw a definite need in his community and stepped up to fill it. By ignoring the advice of the experts and going with his gut he was able to build a large-scale, multiple-revenue-producing facility that is drawing customers from unheard of distances. Not too bad for an operator who describes himself as “not really a car wash guy.”