Profile in Success - August 2002

At Andy's Success is Clear
By Jim and Elaine Norland

The conveyor is in the foreground; six self-service bays are arranged along its rear.

Andy's Car Wash moved a mile further out from a long-established location, opened the month following the 9/11 terrorist attacks when the economy was down, and had lousy weather not only on opening day but during most of the following weeks.

Despite all those negative factors, Andy's new location in Bluffton, Indiana saw a 30 percent increase in wash volume as well as a 50-cent-per-car gain in average revenue.

It's easy to see why. The first Lighthouse conveyor car wash in the world is in operation at Andy's new location at 1930 North Main Street in Bluffton, and it's a community success.

Welcome to the tunnel!

Customers have been lured by the wash's brilliant lighting and colorful "show," as well as the clean and showy vehicles it delivers. The wash gives customers options within the Lighthouse structure, not only several price-and-feature combos on the conveyor wash itself but also a choice of self-serve washing in six standard bays and two large RV-size bays.

The newest Andy's Car Wash in Bluffton is the Anderson family's third in 30 years in this 10,000-population community. The first was when James F. and Betty L. Anderson opened Bluffton's first conveyorized wash, a Hanna-equipped operation. That wash was succeeded by another, on a different site, in the 1980s.

Kevin Anderson, their son, bought out the operation over 20 years ago. He now runs Andy's Car Washes in three northeastern Indiana communities with his wife, Marsha.

The most recent incarnation of Andy's Car Wash in Bluffton occupies a new location that, with its Lighthouse structure, seems to attract business not only for itself but also is attracting other businesses to its surroundings.

The structure was so impressive and attractive that even though there was just a four-hour window of decent weather on opening day, 600 cars were washed in that time.

Businesses seem drawn to the bright new operation, too. Blockbuster is moving in next door, Applebee's restaurants are coming into the neighborhood very soon, and a CVS drugstore is moving in directly across the street from the new Andy's Car Wash.

The 105-foot path of the conveyorized wash doesn't feel like a tunnel because the entire wash operation
is housed in glass panels and is brightly lit, eliminating any of the claustrophobic feeling sometimes associated with traditional wash tunnel structures, Kevin Anderson told Auto Laundry News in a recent interview.

In fact, the glass walls and exterior of the wash attract customers even when the conveyorized wash itself isn't operating. Drivers can still use the self-serve wash bays at any time of day or night. However, some
who come in for a self-serve wash change their minds when they see the conveyorized wash in operation, Kevin Anderson says. "They put their change back in their pockets and head around for the conveyorized exterior wash."

The lights are always on at Andy's, although the conveyorized wash operates from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday, 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Sunday.

Andy's concentrates entirely on car washing, not on gas sales or convenience store operation often associated with washes. Andy's doesn't offer detailing or lube services at any location. With only
one profit center per location, that focuses all effort on attracting car wash customers and keeping them as regulars, particularly in the small communities where all three Andy's Car Washes are located.
"In a larger market you might be able to depend on attracting new customers to keep operating profitably," Kevin Anderson says, "but here we run out of new customers in about two weeks and we had better be able to keep them coming back." Each of the three counties with Andy's locations has about 30,000 residents.

The Andersons have succeeded in keeping those customers coming back, but the new Lighthouse operation at Bluffton may build that loyalty even further and bring customers back more frequently.
"Because the Lighthouse building is unique, it helps an operator differentiate his operation," explains Steve Yastrow, Lighthouse Carwash marketing executive. Customer surveys at a Lighthouse location in Indianapolis show that even in that metropolitan market, 60 percent of customers are repeat users and 98 percent indicate an intent to come back, he reports.

The Andy's Car Wash in Bluffton is unique beyond its structure and appearance. The wash equipment is of Kevin Anderson's own design. He patented that design five years ago to avoid what he feels is the unnecessary complexity of many other equipment arrays now marketed to car wash operators.
On his wraparounds, the arm itself is just 3.5 feet long. On the centerline shaft that holds the Neoglide material, the arms actually cross over on the front of the vehicle "so you have the capability of washing the front of the vehicle almost twice with the same lineal feet of movement on the conveyor," he explains.
"Normal wraparounds or flex arms cannot overlap the centerline shaft without causing considerable
damage. My wraps work with the simplicity of gravity. They contour the side to gently wash the vehicle instead of relying on extreme pressures."

Andy's Car Wash in Decatur, Indiana, about 20 miles east of Bluffton, was built from scratch
15 years ago and operates with equipment Kevin designed. The Andy's in Columbia City, Indiana, about 45 miles northwest of Bluffton, may soon have the gravity wrap system as well. It was acquired just three years ago.

Bird's eye view of the self-service operation.

Lighthouse car wash locations elsewhere have combined automatic and self-service bays, but Andy's Bluffton unit has a total of eight self-serve bays in addition to the conveyorized wash. The two larger bays can accommodate recreational vehicles, trailers, boats, large dump trucks and even complete semis in a self-serve environment.

Those larger bays are already being used by some regular Andy's customers to detail larger vehicles to prepare them for sale. "They'll come in and degrease the complete engine, body and frame and then take it back to the paint shop," Kevin Anderson explains. "We are just now preparing to add another sign to our marquee advertising our RV bays to market them to the general public."

He had held off on such promotion until he had a feel for how customers would use those large bays. He didn't want any greasy or messy appearance in those bays, and they are regularly monitored by himself and his uniformed employees. "We can look right through and see what type of activity is going on in those big bays, and it's very common for us to walk out and ask customers to clean up after themselves. If customers have a problem with that, they're not invited back."

Overseeing operations at Bluffton is relatively easy, not only because the facility is well-staffed during operating hours of the conveyor wash but also because the Andersons have a 2,000-square-foot office with excellent visibility on an upstairs level of the Lighthouse building. Kevin often walks out into the
wash and gives a sign of greeting to customers either in the conveyor wash or in the self-serve bays.
Even though the conveyorized wash and the operation of self-serve bays is automatic and wouldn't seem to require much personal attention, Andy's customers expect and get that personal touch from the time they enter the property.

For example, as they enter the conveyorized wash and choose their wash package, they might tell the attendant they have a heavy bug problem on the front of the car. Andy's employees take care of
that right away, before the car begins its conveyor trip. "We detail tremendously," Kevin Anderson says.
"Customers expect us to be personal with them, and we are."

Washes in the conveyorized operation are priced at $6, $8, $10 and $12. The lowest-priced wash is the basic exterior wash. At $8, the wash includes better wheel cleaning and either underbody or clear-coat service. The $10 "Weatherbeater" wash includes wheels, clear-coat and underbody treatment, and the "Works" package includes all that plus a clear foaming application.

Andy's has a simple and inexpensive frequency discount. Customers can buy a certificate for two washes and get $1 off each, and they can buy any number of certificates they want. "A lot of car washes depend on Christmas, Mother's Day or Father's Day to sell books of washes, but that may require them to spend $30 or $40 at once. We encourage and allow our customers to buy the certificates the entire year, either to use themselves or give away," Kevin Anderson explains.

All three Andy's Car Washes utilize a bright and easily recognized color scheme, yellow and red and black with a touch of green. Lighthouse offers a wide range of standard as well as custom colors, so incorporating the company colors in the new structure was easy. "The building enhances what we do," says Kevin Anderson. "It just looks clean and bright all the time." The site is attractively landscaped with trees, shrubbery and grass.

Those colors are also embodied in the company's four-color logo and in company-furnished uniforms worn by all 25 employees. Employees can choose which color they want to wear each day, an option they seem to like, the Andersons report.

Adam Anderson, the younger son of Kevin and Marsha Anderson, is the company's human resource specialist, and is in charge of hiring new employees. "He's a third-generation car washer, and his specialty is people," Kevin says.

While most new hires come from recommendations of present employees, they are carefully screened. "We don't hire them if they just fog a mirror. We look for a responsible person who can greet and take care of our customers."

Jobs at Andy's have ample monetary rewards. Andy's pays well above the minimum wage and each employee gets commission as well. Those of school or college age are also allowed to study on the job. "We want them to want to work for Andy's," Kevin Anderson says.

The combination of bright and attractive facilities, customer-friendly employees and personal attention to the car cleaning needs of their mostly repeat clients seems to be a winning recipe for Andy's.

The latest enhancement of that will be seen at Andy's Car Wash in Columbia City. Four self-serve bays will be housed in a new Lighthouse unit there, a separate structure on the same property as the traditional-looking conveyorized wash already operating there.

Part of the successful mixture that seems to work so well at Andy's may also be passed along to other car wash operators. Since he and the principals of Lighthouse Carwash worked out the design and layout of the first conveyorized Lighthouse installation, Kevin Anderson is now the Lighthouse representative for conveyorized car washes.

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

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