Profile in Success - February 2007

Road Runner — Quality & Speed
By Jim and Elaine Norland

Ample yet simple street signage serves the purpose - bringing in customers.
Signage is consistent. Note the logo on the tower above the tunnel entrance.

Convenience, speed, and cost-effectiveness are three attributes most car wash operators want to bring to their customers. Introduce those with a new concept in a fast-growing area and it’s likely to be a hit with drivers who take pride in having a clean car.

Three partners with diverse and complementary professional skills and backgrounds have done that in Road Runner Car Wash, an express-exterior tunnel wash in Greer, SC. Their wash opened last June 16, and is steadily growing in popularity among residents and shoppers on or near Wade Hampton Blvd., a busy four-lane artery in the Greenville, SC area.

Road Runner boasts top-quality tunnel equipment, free vacuums, and cheerful attendants in a modern block building. It sits just across Wade Hampton from a Target store, a short distance from both Lowe’s and Home Depot building-materials stores, and on an outparcel of a shopping center soon to house a major anchor store. Its exterior — in two shades of blue with a few yellow accents and bubbles — beckons to drivers. The site is further enhanced with nearly 100 plants, shrubs and trees.

They enjoy easy access to and from the main road, nearby eateries such as Fuddruckers Restaurant and Bruster’s Ice Cream. A planned major tire retailer and major drug chain unit will bring motorists near to Road Runner, where they can spend as little as $3 or as much as $12 to speedily clean their vehicles.

Additional retailers are expected to open stores in the neighborhood so even more drivers will see Road Runner’s tower and decide to stop in for a quick — but thorough —wash.

The daily traffic count on the 45-mph stretch of Wade Hampton in front of Road Runner already exceeds 30,000. That reduced speed (compared to 55-mph stretches on many roads in the vicinity) makes access easier. A road leading from a nearby signal light enables drivers to enter the wash conveniently.

Residential developments (including one in which Road Runner partner Colleen Sagan lives) have helped achieve a 245,000 population within a 20-minute drive. The nearest car wash — a well-established full-service facility — is three miles away, on the fringe of Road Runner’s market area.

“What’s great about our wash is that we created a new market in the Greenville area,” explains Sagan. “Before we opened, there were only full-service or self-service car washes in the area.

The free-vacuum area is to the right of the tunnel exit. In the far background the automated access system is visible.
A customer interacts with the automated greeter.

“One thing we have that they (other washes) don’t have is all this shopping around us. When people are shopping at Target, for instance, they can decide to get their car washed quickly right then.”

Sagan’s professional background is in marketing. Renee Grosse, another partner, is an attorney and accountant. Daryl Duwe — also an owner and most involved in day-to-day operation of Road Runner Car Wash — previously owned his own business. Duwe and Grosse both live in Simpsonville, SC. Sagan lives in Greer.

Spouses of the three co-owners bring still more talent to the enterprise. Sagan’s husband is an
engineer, Duwe’s wife is a salesperson, and Grosse’s husband is an attorney.

Road Runner is the first joint venture for Sagan, Duwe and Grosse, although they have been friends for some time. The trio wanted to introduce the exterior express-exterior tunnel idea to the area but were resolved to incorporate the best in equipment and procedures to assure gleaming results.

Sagan says their approach ties in with growing trends toward speed and quality of service in other areas such as supermarket and even library self-checkouts.

The tunnel uses a Pro Class 100 Belanger Wave Car Wash System with Quick Wave Fire Wrap,
supplemented by 3G high-pressure wheel washing equipment to further assure thorough cleaning
of the entire car. To eliminate the need for towel drying, the wash is equipped with a seven-nozzle 70-horsepower Belanger AirCannon dryer, providing more drying power than the three- or four-nozzle products often provided in such systems.

Not as obvious — but an asset for the wash — is its PurWater water reclaim system. While not required under current regulations, that system recovers much of the water used in the wash. That quantity is substantial, explains Scott Brown of KC Chemicals Inc., the distributing company that put the project together.

“We were limited in tunnel length because of the size of the property,” Brown notes. “Because of that and the type of show they’re trying to give, you throw a lot of chemicals on the vehicle. To rinse all that off in a shorter tunnel, you have to throw a good bit of water on the car. The reclaim system is probably saving 50 percent on the water bill.”

Entering the wash, motorists meet up with the ICS entry system to order the level of wash they want and pay by cash, credit card, or Road Runner gift or prepaid card. Friendly attendants are present to help them with the automated teller and guide them onto the conveyor.

Wash prices begin at $3 (well-advertised on a front sign) and go up to $10. Any level wash can be supplemented with a $2 Simoniz Double Bond treatment. Average revenue per car through the wash is $7. Vacuuming is free with any wash, and car-care products for glass or interior cleaning can be purchased from one of two vending machines. The other vending machine sells soft drinks.

Everything has its place on the Road Runner site including the central vacuum system.
Even to the dryer is color-coordinated!

Road Runner has eight employees, each working 20 to 40 hours a week. “Their job is more customer service than washing the car,” Sagan says, “and we want people who will do their best to make the customer happy. We want them to help keep the area clean and make sure the property and building always look good. Finding the person who will fit what you want can be very difficult.”

The wash is open from 8 to 7 during the winter months, 8 to 8 in summer. Initially, Road Runner didn’t open until 11 on Sundays but now opens earlier, and customers have responded well, Sagan says.
Teamwork is exemplified not only among the Road Runner ownership trio, but also in their relationship with their equipment and chemicals supplier — KC Chemicals, Inc. based in Travelers Rest, SC, about 15 miles away. KC helped in formulating business plans and putting the equipment package together, Sagan says.

“They were there with us through the whole process, figuring out the layout, selecting the best equipment and assuring that we would deliver a really clean car.”

Their nearness and expertise have been helpful from the start of the enterprise, Sagan adds. Brown is a partner and president of KC Chemicals, which sells its products in 13 or 14 states. Other partners in the firm include Will Jackson and Ken Carter.

“Our initial direction was toward a full-serve or flex-serve wash,” Brown recalls of events following his meeting with Daryl Duwe at the ICA meeting in San Antonio. “Daryl, upon doing further research, felt the express exterior wash would be a better fit for that market,” Brown adds. “For the most part we’ve done automatics and hand-held (wash setups), a couple of other tunnels and some retros, but never an express.” That approach helped KC Chemicals’ principals learn about that aspect of the business.

Wayne Knight of KC Chemicals led a guided tour of the Road Runner Car Wash just before the opening. “This is the most state-of-the-art system I’ve put in since I’ve been in the business,” he said
during that tour. He said the owners had spared no expense, and that Road Runner had doubled the amount of equipment normally used in a car wash.

Vacuuming is thirsty work. In addition to vending machines for car-care products, there is one for soft drinks.

Road Runner opened quietly in mid-June of 2006 to make sure all the equipment and procedures were working as planned. Later the wash really reached out to the market with a two-hour onsite radio promotion, a giveaway of free car washes (nearly 200 cars washed during that two-hour period), free food samples from neighboring Fuddruckers, and free car-shaped air fresheners bearing the Road Runner logo.

Both at that time and subsequently, Road Runner has steadily reminded drivers in its market area of its location and features in every suitable medium. A local newspaper, the County Line News, carried a descriptive article as the wash opened, and later had stickers on its front page for a few weeks, Sagan reports. “We’ve done Money Mailer promotions and run ads in the Greer Citizen, which reaches about 10,000 readers.” Mid-December ads in that paper promoted Road Runner Gift Cards as a thoughtful present for any car owner.

“Once drivers try us they really like what we do for their cars. They realize they are getting tremendous value for their dollar, so we tend to have a lot of repeat customers,” Sagan says.

Further business-building efforts will include strengthening of community ties and building fleet or commercial accounts. The wash hopes to regularly care for a stretch of road under the Adopt A Highway program, and is working with the Greer Chamber of Commerce, she adds.

While full development of retailing in its immediate vicinity hasn’t taken place yet, Road Runner Car Wash is already well established and hitting its numbers, according to Sagan. “We’re right on plan.” As more stores open and as word spreads about the quality and convenience of its service, this Road Runner is already setting an enviable pace.

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

AUTO LAUNDRY NEWS is published by EW Williams Publications Company
2125 Center Avenue, Suite 305, Fort Lee, NJ 07024-5898, USA Phone: 1-201- 592-7007 Fax: 1-201-592-7171