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APRIL 2003

Express Wash Lures With
Savings in Time and Money

By Jim and Elaine Norland

Owner David Nobles (left) and manager Steve Whisanent in front of the tunnel entrance
Give customers excellent car cleaning, house that service attractively, and staff it with friendly employees who know the customer is boss.

That may be the basis for any successful car wash, but the details are expressed nicely in Shammy Express Car Wash in College Station, TX, a ride-through wash that opened last September.

The wash is owned by Shammy Car Wash, Inc., which already had a well-established full-service wash in nearby Bryan, TX. Phil Nobles is president and David Nobles, his son, is vice president and operator of Shammy Express. The family-oriented corporation also relies on the active participation of Sandra Nobles, Phil's wife and David's mother.

Why switch from full-serve operations to ride-through? "We just feel like this is the wave of the future in the car wash business," says Phil Nobles. "I had seen the express washes Sammy Farina (Wash Solutions LLC, Dallas) had put together in Lubbock and Amarillo. After surveying the available sites in Bryan and College Station, towns that simply run into one another in south Texas, we felt that College Station was the best place to put one."

Shammy Express offers drivers both time and money savings, David Nobles points out. "Customers can wash their car at about half the cost of a full-serve wash, and even if there's a line, they're not going to be on our property more than six or seven minutes."

From a Mini to a Hummer, the wash takes on all

Convenience is another major factor, Phil Nobles adds. Shammy Express is on Texas Avenue in a very high retailing area, directly across from a grocery store and inside a shopping area.

The site has a daily traffic count of about 50,000, and can be accessed from three streets, so customers can enter and exit safely and quickly without stepping out of their cars "Many drivers just aren't full-serve customers; they want to do the outside and go," Phil notes.

Of course, labor costs are very much lower in an exterior-only wash, David says. He's staffed 90 percent by college students from Texas A&M, his alma mater.

The 110-foot tunnel at Shammy Express is equipped with Hanna "non-aggressive" (a term coined by David) cloth equipment. Powerful dryers at the end of the tunnel remove 95 to 96 percent of the water, David reports. Any remaining droplets have been treated with reverse osmosis to assure spot-free drying, so there's no need for towel drying.

At the wash exit, customers can pull into a six-bay canopy equipped with Doyle vacuums. Vending machines are stocked with cleaning supplies such as towels, Armor All and Rain-X products, fragrance and similar items. "You could full-serve your own car from our vending area," David observes. More than 30 percent of his customers presently stop in that canopied area, he reports.

The wash was designed by Vincent Jarrard of Eurythmic Design Group, Dallas, in consultation with the Nobles and Sammy Farina. David, who majored in construction management at Texas A&M, was the project manager. Farina equipped the wash as a turnkey package.

"This is a family thing," Phil points out. "We all got together on the design and colors we wanted and turned it over to the architect." Sandra guided much of the design and color selection, he noted. Both Shammy Express and Shammy Car Wash in Bryan embody the same south Texas or Mediterranean look, complete with tall palm trees.

A substantial canopy covers the vacuum islands.

The CMU block exterior of Shammy Express is khaki green with a beige crown molding and dark contrasting awnings. The building is 110 feet by 30 feet, with a driveway alongside. The canopy at the front of the tunnel extends its apparent length to 130 feet.

Shammy Express' lot is about 30,000 square feet. Ten-by-eight-foot windows along the length of the tunnel allows a lot of light to come in, preventing any claustrophobic effect. The windows also enable people from across the street to see cars being washed in the tunnel.

Attractive, professional landscaping surrounds Shammy Express. While the College Station city development committee insists on a high level of landscaping, the new wash has done it so well that it was the subject of the New Business feature in a recent issue of the city magazine.

Shammy Express also demonstrated its good citizenship with water recycling, which is not yet required by the city of College Station. Recycling of water is cost effective, Phil Nobles asserts. "The utility costs here are so high we felt we had to put it in to keep our costs down." Farina notes that the system is two-stage, the first stage recycling wash water and the second recycling rinse water for the pre-rinse prior to final rinse.

The entire operation is brightly lit. Lamps along the entire length of the building add to the well-lit ambiance. The building is situated perpendicular to Texas Avenue, and passing traffic sees the tunnel entrance. Cars exit away from Texas Avenue so drivers can use the long driveway as they wait to get safely onto a busy street.

The Nobles family entry into the car washing business began in 1990. Phil decided to leave the corporate world - he was a district sales manager for Western Auto - and bought a then-defunct car wash in Bryan. With the help of Sammy Farina, he refurbished and reopened the wash, which has thrived as a full-serve operation ever since. The wash in Bryan also offers detail and lube services.

Following his graduation from Texas A&M, David Nobles worked for a construction firm in Corpus Christi for three years before deciding he wanted to get in the car wash business. "He got his education here and came back and used it," says Phil.

"I came back and got my minor in car-wash design," David jokes. Does anyone offer such a program? "No, but they need to," David says; "it's a science."

The two Shammy wash operations - Shammy Car Wash, the full-serve plus lube and detail in Bryan, and Shammy Express in College Station - offer a strong corporate image and give drivers in the two adjoining cities a wide choice of services. They're just four miles apart on Texas Avenue, so customers who want more complete car care can go to the Bryan site while those who want a quick "wash-and-go" can choose College Station.

Customers can buy a prepaid wash card that works like a debit card and can be used at either location. The Shammy washes also share a loyalty promotion through a customer-tracking card. Each customer, identified by license plate and name, earns points for every dollar spent at either location. When customers collect 1,000 points, the reward is automatically redeemed for $10 in service, which covers the deluxe exterior wash at Shammy Express or the basic wash at Shammy Car Wash in Bryan.

"We're couponing heavily, too," says David. "In February, we offered 20 percent off any advance purchase, and that went over very well. Customers could actually double discount with the 20 percent off up front as well as earning points toward a free car wash."

Washes at Shammy Express are priced at $6, $8 and $10, with the current average ticket about $8. The wash has recently introduced a new Armor All tire machine that dresses tires just before the car reaches the drying area. Thus, the best wash with tire treatment is $12, but customers who choose this add-on service get a bonus - one vending accessory item free.

To introduce Shammy Express to College Station motorists, the Nobles had a radio remote on site and offered one-dollar car washes all Friday afternoon on opening day. "We washed 250 cars in three hours," David recalls. The build-up activity continues with widely distributed $2 and $3 discount coupons to get drivers to try the wash very inexpensively.

Commercial and fleet business also contributes to busy days at Shammy Express. David has acquired some fleet accounts and high-volume customers such as the College Station Police Department. "They're doing advance purchase, and we're washing many of those fleet accounts for as little as $4 a car." David personally visits business owners and fleet managers to build that business.

The Shammy Car Wash corporation also advances its community presence by supporting or taking part in many local fundraising events, benefits and charities, including the Nobles' own Baptist church. If cash donations aren't feasible, the company donates at least a service to every reputable charity or group, ranging from Little League to Texas A&M student organizations, David Nobles reports.

Fleet and commercial accounts at either the Bryan or the College Station sites can visit whichever site is most convenient to them. That means that fleet customers can also charge lube service (at Bryan) to their account, and pay on a monthly basis.

Sharing staff and training expertise is also a benefit of the corporate approach. A full staff at Shammy Express is just four persons, and if someone is missing, an employee of Shammy Car Wash, with its relatively large work force, can usually be sent to the College Station site.

Terry Ballew, the manager at Shammy Car Wash in Bryan, also helped find and then train Steve Whisanent, manager at Shammy Express. Whisanent came on board about two months before Shammy Express opened, and Ballew worked with him not only in operations but also in customer relations. Ballew has been with Shammy since 1997.

Customer satisfaction is evidently running very high at Shammy Express. "Over 60 percent of our volume is repeat business," David reports. "Drivers seem highly satisfied with the quality of wash and the time they can save. Some are washing their cars two and three times a week."

Phil Nobles adds that the ride-through operation is grabbing customers who wouldn't come to the Bryan wash because they didn't want to get out of their cars or disliked having car wash personnel inside their vehicles, even briefly. "And with a $6 wash, they can afford to come in once a week."

Quality, speed, and affordability are bringing both new and repeat customers to Shammy Express, getting more Texas motorists to have their vehicles washed professionally and frequently. The growth of the last several months seems certain to continue.

Jim and Elaine Norland are regular contributors to Auto Laundry News.

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