Theory Put to Successful Practice
Jim and Elaine Norland
finishing area. The tunnel exit can be seen on the left, the
lube bays on the right.
New and even established car wash owners and operators figure they're
"going to school" every day, learning more about their
business and helping it grow. They're happy if their business plan
gets a passing grade from bankers or investors and then proves itself
Calvin Winton Jr. went to school first, in a college classroom,
before opening his car wash. His business plan for a car wash earned
him a disappointing "C" and some snickers and chuckles
from classmates, but he was the only member of his economics class
to actually open a business.
Lanier Superior Car Wash and Lube at 5015 Friendship Road in Buford,
GA is that business. It opened last May under the ownership of Winton
and his father, Calvin Winton, Sr. The wash, lube and express detail
operation has fulfilled the younger Winton's academic projections
and filled an apparent void in quality car care in the booming area
near Lake Lanier, north of Atlanta.
Even Calvin Winton Sr., whose background is in aerospace engineering,
at first thought his son's ideas for a car wash were "funny,"
Calvin Jr. says. Before moving to Georgia in the early 1990s, the
Wintons had lived in Southern California, where car washes are abundant.
(The elder Winton left the aerospace industry to become director
of engineering for Federal-Mogul Corp.)
"I always enjoyed going out and looking at car washes, and
wanted to have my own," says the younger
Winton. "When I first mentioned the idea to my father four
years ago, he didn't show much interest. But then he spent a lot
of time investigating the business and got more interested and involved."
Father and son both learned more by studying washes, particularly
in Orange County, California, "which seems to be the car wash
capital of the world."
The result of their study and investigation shows up beautifully
in Lanier Superior Car Wash and Lube. Located on a relatively new
but well-traveled road that is the principal access route to Lake
Lanier and Lake Lanier Islands, the wash occupies 1.33 acres in
an area that is growing fast with commercial and industrial as well
as residential development. The site is just half a mile off the
985 freeway that feeds into Atlanta from Gainesville.
|The process begins.
"The (Friendship) road will expand to four lanes soon, and
a six-lane bridge was finished in December," Calvin Winton
Jr. says, "and we'll also get a stoplight right in front of
our car wash."
New or incoming neighbors to the wash include several fast-food
chains. Rumored development on a 188-acre adjoining land parcel
includes a medical arts building and a small business park.
The building housing the wash and lube center is built of masonry
blocks covered by stucco. The lower three feet of the building is
clay red, and above that is sand-colored stucco. A smoke-gray shingle
roof gives a look that fits well into the neighborhood. The entire
structure is "lit up like a football field at night,"
says Calvin Winton Jr., and the lights are on all night, even though
the wash closes at 5:30 (winter) or 6 p.m. daily.
|A Bentley comes off the
Landscaping occupies about 70 percent of the total site. Calvin
Winton Jr. prepared it all, including planting of Virginia and loblolly
pines and 24 pallets of sod. Pansies were recently planted on all
of the islands. An irrigation system was installed along with the
The interior of the wash has a comfortable feeling for customers,
with resilient flooring, rocking chairs, a Vermont Castings wood
stove and gourmet coffee. Interior walls are finished in a tan or
sand color. Lobby merchandising is handled by Ron Levy of Lobby
Area demographics include a lot of two-income families, Winton
says, and the vehicle population reflects a taste for quality. "Seventy-five
percent of the vehicles we wash are SUVs," says the younger
Winton. "We have a lot of minivans, Suburbans, Excursions,
and high-dollar luxury vehicles such as Mercedes Benz, Bentley,
Rolls Royce and Jaguar."
To properly care for such vehicles and to set Lanier Superior apart
from possible future competition, the Wintons chose N/S Autohandwash(tm)
equipment, set in a 100-foot tunnel. The AHW-100 equipment incorporates
Lammscloth(tm) super-soft synthetic material in its mitters, which
the younger Winton says gives their wash a competitive advantage.
"All of my customers love that (Lammscloth)," he says.
Use of that same material in washes at Atlanta Classic Cars, a big
Mercedes Benz dealership, and at dealerships for Lexus, Jaguar and
LandRover as well as at a local Honda dealership gave the new wash
an identity with those quality-minded car centers, he believes.
"We want to offer the best service in the area."
"We spent a lot of time at ICA shows and talking to a lot
of players in this business," Calvin Winton Jr. says. He and
his father also looked at hand washes in Southern California that
had converted to the N/S and Lammscloth approach.
"It's finish-friendly and customer-friendly," says Mike
Levin, national marketing manager of N/S, asserting that Lammscloth
equipment "washes cars instead of beating the dirt off them.
Lammscloth gives a wash brand identification and builds customer
loyalty, creating a marketable difference."
Levin and others in the N/S organization were impressed by the
Wintons' research and planning.
Larry King, A-1 Supply and Car Wash Systems, Marietta, local N/S
representative, also worked closely with them to develop and launch
While the quality of the wash at Lanier Superior has been of paramount
concern, the wash presently has relatively little nearby competition.
"I have one rollover up the street from me about half a mile,"
Winton says, "and the closest wand wash is about six miles
away." The nearest full-serve car wash and lube center is five
Complementing the wash equipment itself are a Stealth dryer (also
from N/S) and a water recovery system from an N/S subsidiary, Liquid
Recovery Corp. The reclaim system recovers 80 to 85 percent of water
used for each vehicle, and fresh water is used only for the final
rinse, Mike Levin explains.
|The three-bay lube center.
The Stealth dryer removes most of the water from vehicle surfaces,
but two-person crews finish off each vehicle with hand toweling
and vacuuming. Vacuuming has been moved to the finish line to reduce
personnel turnover and assure customers that their vehicles are
being thoroughly cleaned on the inside. Customers who wish to tip
will give the gratuity to one person on that crew, and the team
splits the tips at the end of their workday.
Washes are priced from $7.99 (exterior only) and $11.99 for a basic
full-service wash through $29.99 for a "Superior" package.
Lanier Superior doesn't offer any frequency discounts.
A "Super Express" package can be added to any of the
wash packages to add Blue Coral express wax
and tire-dressing services for an additional $14.99. Other detail
services include express hand wax, polishing and interior shampooing.
Express detailing accounts for about 18 percent of total dollar
volume of the wash/lube center. Zeev Josman, representing Blue Coral
chemicals, has worked closely with the Wintons, and "played
a big part through his service and support," says Calvin Winton
During the warm-weather months which have dominated most of Lanier
Superior's operations since opening, wash revenue accounts for about
37 percent of total volume, but that percentage increases during
A three-bay lube center featuring Pennzoil products contributes
about 45 percent of sales dollars at Lanier Superior. In addition
to oil changes and chassis lube, the lube center offers transmission
flushes, fuel injection cleaning, power steering flushes, serpentine
belt replacement, wiper blades and air filters, breather filters
and PCV valve service.
Although it opened last May, the wash and lube center had its grand
opening on Nov. 17, with Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s Number 8 Winston Cup
NASCAR vehicle on exhibit just the day before the Atlanta 500, a
major NASCAR race. A local restaurant catered food, and reps were
on hand from Pennzoil and other major players in the new car-care
Lanier Superior Car Wash and Lube has already garnered a strong
following among commercial and fleet customers as well as individual
car owners. "We now accept Enterprise fleet accounts, and we
have a total of about seven national accounts plus several local
companies," Calvin Winton Jr. reports.
Electrical and landscaping contractors and other construction companies
are among the commercial accounts already established. "They
tell me their time is too valuable to change their own oil or wash
their own vehicles; they'd rather be out on the job making money,
and they feel it makes sense
to contract that (vehicle) service out," he adds. Such commercial
customers benefit from both a 10 percent discount and 30-day terms.
|A look inside the equipment
The 23 Lanier Superior employees are loyal, hard working and well-
groomed. "All of my lube people have been with me from day
one," says the younger Winton, "and that goes for the
wash side, too. The key to keeping people is to treat them well,"
he believes. The Wintons pay above the minimum wage scale, the average
employee on the wash side starting at $6 to $6.50 per hour. Every
employee wears shirts, caps and sweaters provided through a local
At least one of the Wintons is present at the wash during its operating
hours. "It's a hands-on business," Calvin Winton Jr. explains,
"and a new business is something like a newborn baby. One of
us is always here."
Such close personal supervision also helps the Wintons see what
can be improved in their business, not only for better results at
Lanier Superior Car Wash and Lube but also for use in another location,
which they might well undertake.
While the concept and plan for their first car wash may have begun
as an academic undertaking, real-world experience will help guide
their future enterprises. The success of Lanier Superior Car Wash
and Lube, the plans for which got a so-so grade in college, seems
to deserve an "A" grade in customer-satisfying excellence
and meeting bottom-line expectations.
Jim and Elaine Norland are
regular contributors to Auto Laundry News.