Little more than three years
ago, Keith and Juli Jacobs opened their first car wash in Buffalo
Grove, IL. In a radical departure from conventional car wash concepts,
these newcomers to the industry created a "destination"
wash permeated with a racing theme. (See Auto Laundry News for December
1997, page 48.) The idea of a theme-park type wash, making the car
wash experience both entertaining and value-packed, has rarely if
ever been carried out as thoroughly as at Grand Prix Car Wash. Making
one's car wash look like an offshoot of motor racing fandom may have
perplexed many industry veterans.
Now these "novices" have done it again.
In the booming, freshly renewed
suburb of Deerfield, a few miles east of the first Grand Prix Car
Wash, Keith and Juli Jacobs have opened their second wash in a town
that had never had a car wash within the town limits, and wasn't sure
it wanted one. What changed the town's thinking took place in Buffalo
Grove. The developer of Deerfield's downtown mall saw what fun, excitement,
and presence Grand Prix generated there, and invited the Jacobses
to be part of Deerfield's renewal.
Both Grand Prix Car Wash locations
embody the latest technology in full-service car washing, including
DRB customer tracking. Detailing services range from "Pit Stop"
express detail work to more thorough packages for exterior, interior,
or total vehicle conditioning. Visiting Grand Prix Car Wash is a total
sensory experience. From entering the 130-foot tunnel until leaving
with a freshly cleaned vehicle, drivers and passengers, from toddlers
upward, are surrounded with motor racing insignia, legends, artwork
and artifacts, sound and colors.
Racing videos entertain customers
as they enter, sometimes featuring "in the pits" interviews
with drivers such as Mario or Michael Andretti. As customers move
ahead, they encounter part of an actual racing car (courtesy of Newman/Haas
Racing) coming out of the wall; the rest of its image is painted so
the car seems to be disappearing down the track. Drivers leave their
cars as a smartly uniformed, bustling pit crew starts on the interior
before the vehicle reaches the conveyor. Guided by a bold red stripe,
customers enter a corridor that will take them to the lobby.
Shirts worn by auto racing
crew chiefs, oversized artwork from Paul Newman and Carl Haas, flags,
and other insignia are part of the corridor's decor. Customers view
car washing on one side, detailing operations on the other, through
oversize windows that enable children and adults alike to see what
's going on inside. In the retail lobby, one can buy not only the
usual car-care items and accessories but also custom-packaged Grand
Prix car air fresheners or tire cleaner, the same cleaner used by
Grand Prix professional staffers. Racing trading cards, racing-theme
sweatshirts, Grand Prix sport bottles, and other items, or simply
a soft drink in a NASCAR cup at the soda fountain are among other
Grand Prix seems to have arrived
at just the right time, as auto racing establishes itself as the nation's
number one spectator sport. Whether they follow NASCAR (National Association
of Stock Car Auto Racing), CART (Championship Auto Racing Teams) or
Indy-type competition, fans of the sport are everywhere. Customers
of Grand Prix are known and treated as fans, too. They enter a driveway
marked by Grand Prix's checkered-flag logos. They can pick up free
litterbags with the same insignia as they move through the corridor
toward the lobby. They can sign up for a free "Winner's Circle"
membership that gives them a free wash on their birthday, every 10th
wash free, and weekly discounts.
Names of Grand Prix offerings
continue the racing theme. The detail center is called "The Finishing
Line." The four main wash packages range from "The Formula
1" upwards to "The Indy 500," then to "The Silver
Crown," and finally to the top wash, "The Grand Prix."
Prices of these basic packages range from $9.90 to $17.90, but buyers
of "Pit Passes" can whittle those down by 35 percent to
40 percent. The Pit Pass program has been very popular. The customer
pays for five washes and gets the sixth wash free, using a credit
card-sized card designating his or her choice of wash packages. "The
more you buy, the bigger the discount goes," explains Keith Jacobs.
If a customer buys three Pit Passes, he gets 10 percent off the total
price. Buy nine passes and the discount is 20 percent.
The cards never expire, and
can be given to anyone to use. Grand Prix sold out of its first printing
of 5,000 Pit Passes within three weeks of opening the Deerfield location.
Detailing packages go from "The Starting Lineup" to "The
Inside Track," "The Photo Finish," "The Season
Finale," and "The Grand Prix Detail." These are priced
from $49.99 to $169.99. Additional detail services such as convertible
top cleaning, Scotchgard(r) treatment, and engine cleaning are priced
at $24.99 and up.
Why the racing theme?
"We gave birth to that before building," Juli says. "My
husband and I are not racing fanatics. My background is strategic
marketing, and Keith's is basically developing real estate and custom
"I did the marketing and
the conceptual overview of the project while he got the place zoned,
land-planned it, worked with architects and got it built.
"We wanted something to do with cars, and since racing is one
of the top spectator sports in America, we jumped on that. We took
cues from Planet Hollywood and other theme settings, came up with
motor racing and named it Grand Prix Car Wash, with the tag line,
'Redefining the sport of clean.'"
The racing theme is carried
out also in corporate sponsorships sold at each Grand Prix location.
At a cost of $1,600 a year, corporate sponsors can sign on to have
their company logos embroidered onto Grand Prix crew shirts, thus
gaining exposure to some 200,000 customers at the washes during the
year. Sponsors also get company cars washed (The Grand Prix package)
as frequently as they wish for an entire year. The program is so popular
that would-be sponsors are lined up well in advance, Keith and Juli
Catchy logos, theme treatment
and entertaining surroundings, and imprinted gifts or souvenirs don't
take away from the essential business of Grand Prix Car Wash, getting
cars thoroughly clean. The wash is fitted out with an AVW equipment
array, mostly in racing colors of red and black, using top-quality
chemicals to triple soap every vehicle and get it clean with lamb's
wool cloth. The triple soaping contrasts with the single soaping of
many washes in the area, and Grand Prix is the only car wash in the
area using lamb's wool cloth, Keith Jacobs says.
"People have called us
saying, 'I don't know what you did to my car but it has never shined
like this two days after I've had it washed. Water is still bouncing
off my car,'" Team VP and marketing director Juli Jacobs reports.
The detail center is staffed entirely with car-care veterans, each
with eight to 10 years detailing experience. Grand Prix's detail shop
is one of the few in the area that does high-speed buffing to give
cars a showroom shine, Keith Jacobs reports.
The combined crews of 75 to
80 persons are headed up by John Nardini, himself a 20-year veteran
in professional car cleaning. Nardini, who began detailing cars when
he was 15 years old, is manager and now a full-fledged partner in
the two Grand Prix operations. Keith and Juli Jacobs credit him with
setting the tone of excellence among their personnel that has delivered
excellent results to their customers.
"Take away all the glitz and glamour, all the aesthetics,"
says Juli Jacobs, "and basically the quality of your wash and
other services comes down to your team." The team leader's mindset
and customer service mentality is reflected in the crew he directs,
"Not only did he (Nardini)
open our first car wash, he stocked it, staffed it, and trained the
staff, all those internal details. He was instrumental in our second
opening, which came just three years after opening our first Grand
Prix." So effective is Nardini's leadership and example that
potential employees are always available, a rare situation for many
"We've never had a problem
getting employees," says Keith Jacobs. "There's a waiting
list to get in. Many are friends or family of people who already work
here, or they come from other car washes because our facilities are
that much nicer and [here] they're treated with respect." It's
so difficult to get in here, he adds, that "there's not even
room for my nephew. Respect and treat your crew as hard-working, and
the people will come."
The company promotes from within, so crew members may advance to line
supervisor, greeter, and assistant manager posts. Such opportunity
for and attention to employees help explain why 25 percent of the
current workforce have been with GP since it first opened in Buffalo
Grove more than three years ago.
Employees are saluted and given
rewards at Christmas parties. Those marking their first anniversary
with the company are given custom-made Grand Prix wristwatches. Second-year
employees get travel bags embroidered with the GP logo. This past
Christmas, the company also gave out sweatshirts, again custom embroidered
with the GP insignia.
Nardini uses service bulletins from area trade associations in his
one-hour Saturday morning crew meetings, held before the doors open
at 8 a.m. He also covers problems that may occur with particular makes,
models, and parts of vehicles, ranging from rear-window wipers to
inside parts that might break off.
Beyond the essentials of car
cleaning, crews are also trained in timely topics such as child-seat
handling. Some washes or detail centers may routinely unfasten and
may or may not reinstall those safety seats. Grand Prix team members
ask the parent/driver whether they wish to reconnect the seats themselves
or want GP personnel to do it.
All the pizzazz of Grand Prix's theme wash, the attention paid both
to customers and employees, and events ranging from Halloween promotions
and other community support don't restrict productivity or add to
costs, Keith Jacobs says. Per-car labor cost and the cost of space
aren't any greater than those of the industry at large, he says.
The result seems to advance the image of professional car cleaning,
providing it at a reasonable price, and making it fun for both customers
and the crews who serve them.
Jim and Elaine Norland are regular contributors to Auto Laundry