Schooling the Competition
Despite the national trend of shrinking sales for both self-serve and in-bay automatics, Green Mountain Car Wash has increased its revenue every month since it opened it doors.
Partners Ron Walker and Chuck Kochan opened the Lakewood, CO site in 2006 and have kept growing the four self-serve bay, two touch-free in-bay location despite the economic downturn and the rise of the express exterior.
According to Walker, car owners in Colorado are skeptical of friction washing, helping self-serve and touch-free automatics thrive in the Centennial State.
“We have some bad weather here,” Walker says. “And after a snowstorm people want to get the dirt, dust, and chemicals off of their cars as quick as possible without the use of friction.”
The community uses Mag Chloride on the streets to help keep the icy roads passable during the harsh winter months. The chemical is tough on ice and snow, but is just as tough on cars. The unforgiving chemical can do severe damage to a car’s finish and undercarriage if left on the vehicle, helping to ensure that car washes in the area are filled to capacity after a storm.
Mag Chloride and the other road contaminants that accompany snow clearing efforts can lead to scratching if a vehicle is washed in a friction wash, making a touch-free location like Green Mountain a must go-to locale following a visit from Jack Frost.
In fact, the popularity of touch-free is so great that the friction tunnel location that opened up 18 months after Green Mountain directly across the street has seen two owners go bankrupt over the past five years, with a third struggling to keep up with Green Mountain.
“We have had as many as 35 cars on the lot at one time,” Walker says. “After a snow there will even be a line two deep at the self-serve bays. In 10 degree weather there are people around here that like to get out of their cars and take pride in washing their vehicles themselves.”
Green Mountain has a loyal customer base that keeps coming back. Part of the appeal is the touch-free nature of the location, but that is not the whole story. There are plenty of other touch-free locations that customers can frequent. What draws the community to Green Mountain is the customer and community focus of the location, and an ever-present ownership.
Both Walker and Kochan are ex-high school assistant principals in the Jefferson County School System. The partners worked at the same school for just one year in the early 90s, but stayed friendly over the years and reconnected after they both had retired. They were both looking to start up a business in the early 2000s and ran into each other at a function in 2004 and discovered that they shared the same desire. A partnership was quickly formed, a lot purchased, and construction commenced on what in 2006 would become Green Mountain Car Wash.
One of the two partners is on site from 8:30-4:00 each day to help customers, make sure everything is running correctly, and to keep the location spotless.
Community involvement is very important to Green Mountain’s owners. Ever since they opened up their doors they have been giving back to the community. On Mother’s Day mothers can wash for free, as can fathers on Father’s Day and veterans on Veteran’s Day. Not only are mothers, fathers, and veterans treated to a free wash on their respective days, they are treated to the top $10 automatic wash. On Wednesdays ladies vacuum free, while Tuesdays is senior
citizens day with participants receiving a $2 discount on any automatic wash.
Four years ago the local high school started the BIONIC Club (Believe It Or Not I Care). The club is now the biggest club in the high school, and is in over 1,000 high schools around the country.
If any family in the school district with a child enrolled in school suffers a tragedy the club’s members help out any way they can. They assist with meals, cleaning, anything they can do to help the families.
Green Mountain Car Wash hosts a fundraiser twice a year for the BIONIC Club. Members of the club are on site to wipe down vehicles and accept donations. In addition, the wash gives half of its proceeds from the day to the club.
“It doesn’t seem like there would be that many tragedies in town,” Walker says. “But there are. The club raises around $800 at each of the fundraisers and they go through it. There are a lot of events that require attention and these kids help. It has really worked out for both of us.”
In recognition for their community service, Walker and Kochan were bestowed the Distinguished Service Award at this year’s Western Carwash Association show in San Diego in September. “We were honored to receive the award,” Walker says. “Ever since we opened up we always said that whatever we get out of the community we would give back.”
The in-bay menu features four packages priced at $7, $8, $9, and $10. The self-service bays cost $2 for four minutes. At a lot of self-serves in the area once the time is up the wash shuts down and you have to buy an entirely new block of time. In contrast, at Green Mountain customers can just add a quarter at a time once the initial four minutes are up. Since it opened its doors in March 2006, the wash has accepted credit cards, with around 75 percent to 80 percent of customers opting to pay with plastic.
Green Mountain is one of the most successful washes in town and the owners continue to improve the offerings and facility to make sure the site stays that way.
Two months ago all of the lights were changed from 400-watt traditional lights, to 135-watt LED lights. The new lights are brighter, more uniform, easier to maintain, and most importantly more cost effective compared to traditional lighting options. Operation of traditional lighting for five hours a day, every day, for a year costs about $250 per light — the newly installed LEDs cost $40 per light. In addition to the yearly cost savings the local energy company offered a rebate for installing the new fixtures. Not only are the new lights more cost conscious they provide greater illumination, helping to draw in more customers in the overnight hours.
The site is open 24/7, and the location averages around $500 in revenue overnight — twice that amount following a snowstorm — further enforcing the need for top-quality, consistent lighting.
Former educators Walker and Kochan have found success in their second careers as car washers. Through community outreach and a tireless work ethic — even during “retirement” — the duo has increased Green Mountain’s sales every year, though much of the industry has experienced a downtick in the past few years. The partners have demonstrated the power of a solid business plan even during times of economic struggle.