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Few business enterprises make it into the black in less than two months' time, but the seven self-serve bays at Fountain Car Wash in Plano, TX did just that this past summer. A month later, a unique structure housing an express wash opened on the Fountain Car Wash site, and that quickly turned successful, too.
Three partners, each with extensive business experience in other enterprises, created Fountain Car Wash. One, Ted Revis, had some car wash experience. Tim Bednar and Brett Gaston were newcomers to car washing but studied it intensely before jumping in.
What they've brought to the booming Plano area, north of Dallas, is a combination of wash services for area motorists who enjoy clean cars and trucks. Their well-engineered car wash offers quality, speed, and convenience, plus an eye-catching display of car washing that draws in passing drivers.
They have an almost captive draw, too, among the 525 parents who bring their children to an adjoining daycare facility via Fountain Car Wash's lot. A postal service drop box in the back brings in another two cars a minute (or 120 cars per hour) through the same lot. A busy veterinary clinic is on one side of the wash and a Goodyear Service Center on the other. The latter business hands out Fountain tokens or vouchers to its quick-lube customers.
Fountain Car Wash has seven spacious self-serve bays plus an exterior-only wash tunnel specifically designed for that purpose. Its spacious and bright interior contrasts sharply with other washes that have converted full-serve tunnels to exterior wash operation.
The exterior-wash tunnel measures 130 feet and features a 140-foot conveyor. Most car washes are built perpendicular to the fronting street, but Fountain's tunnel is parallel, with windows spanning the entire wash and showing it off to motorists passing by.
Its roundness and unusual roof, part of the design magic of Dallas architect Ed Copeland of CamargoCopeland, caused a lot of guessing among area residents about what the new structure would be. Copeland, a friend of Bednar, does Starbucks units in the Southwest as well as Coldwater Creek stores.
The tunnel simply doesn't look like other car washes. "Our roof is shaped like a wave and is built with translucent Lexan polycarbonate. It's all one big skylight," says Bednar. "Daylight comes through really well, adding to the bright and roomy feeling inside." At night, the tunnel is lit, giving the roof a subtle glow.
The self-serve bays, which opened the month before the express wash, were introduced with unusual flair. Fountain partners decided to give the washes away and actually wash vehicles for motorists on the grand opening weekend last June.
"We washed about 700 cars that weekend, explaining our equipment and telling customers how to wash their cars. We dried the cars off with our microfiber towels, explaining their attributes as we worked," Bednar reports. (Microfiber towels are among the offerings of Fountain Distributing, operated by the same three partners.) "We had packages of car wash tokens for people to buy, and we sold towels as well to raise some revenue to pay for the weekend," he adds.
When the express wash opened the following month, similar tactics were used. Some 1,400 cars got a free wash that weekend.
"It was a real hot day," Bednar recalls. "People waited in a line that stretched around the block. We had pallets of bottled water on hand, handed out water and gave out the drying/polishing cloths we sell here, and we gave them tokens for the vacuums as they went through the line.
"After they came through the wash, we gave them a pencil to fill out an entry form [for a drawing]. The drivers dropped those forms in a bucket where our people were waiting to ask them how they liked the wash. We had more of our products there, and some great grand opening specials. We sold quite a few wash packages."
"We built up a nice database with those names and numbers," adds Gaston. "They were registering for our giveaway of a DVD player, a year's free washes, and six months of free washes."
The heavy promotion, aided by door hangers and coupon distribution in nearby areas, paid off nicely. The express wash - aptly named, since cars get a thorough exterior cleaning in just five minutes - is averaging 200 cars a day, putting Fountain right on its growth track, the partners report. The self-serve side of the business is averaging about 80 cars a day.
Giveaways and promotions work only if the wash quality is right. Fountain Car Wash owners made sure they had the right equipment and chemicals, the right strategy to meet market needs, and manufacturing and supplier allies to help.
Each partner in the venture has unique qualifications:
Bednar and Gaston studied the car wash business for a year before deciding to jump in. Despite some strong players already in the area, they felt there was room for a new entry in the booming North Texas market.
One goal was to introduce self-serve equipment that hadn't been previously represented in their market area. To that end, they worked with Southern Pride. "We searched long and hard to find a company whose product we believed in and a line we could represent in this area as well," says Bednar.
"We told them about our market and our need for a dollar bill validator. They hadn't had one previously. Ronnie Blalock of Southern Pride stepped up to the plate, saying 'Let's do it,' and they redesigned their acceptor box to include that validator."
Fountain's self-serve bays include a triple-foam clear-coat conditioner spray wand, which has proven very popular. Chemistry for the wash is almost entirely Blue Coral. The partners worked closely with Blue Coral's rep, Bill Fauquier, who is with Pro-Tech Service Co., Lewisville, TX. Fauquier also helped significantly in training Fountain's staff on the express wash.
Credit card acceptance is a growing need in many areas, too, the partners
noted. The American Changer at Fountain Car Wash accepts credit cards.
That enables the partners to more easily sell packages of wash tokens,
another innovation for the area. Customers can spend $40 and get 55 wash
tokens, each with a nominal $1 value, in return. That amounts to a whopping
37.5 percent discount while guaranteeing customer loyalty and encouraging
frequent return visits. Fountain Distributing
The partners also represent a line of vending machines, including security cages, called the Megavendor. "We sell both the vending machines and the cage," says Bednar, "and showed them at the recent ICA show with RainWipes, for which Ted (Revis) is the importer." The cage, for washes with add-on vendors, is powder-coated and has a Lexan front. For built-in applications such as at their own wash, Fountain offers vendors with stainless steel fronts. Fountain Car Wash has two such built-in Megavendors.
The express wash combines equipment and features from multiple sources, with a strong representation of N/S Wash Systems components. That company's CTW 3 and CTW 5 units, its AutoHandWax "Green Machine," and a set of dryers are all on line, along with Fountain's self-designed and manufactured rinse sections and application arches. The wash line also includes a Simoniz tire-dressing applicator.
Water reclaim for the wash also employs N/S pumps. Water reclaim was not mandatory, but the partners incorporated it to save water. Reclaimed water is used for the N/S blasting arch and oscillating wheel blaster.
Express washes are priced from $7.50 for a basic or "Silver" level wash to $10.99 for the top "Platinum" wash. Two a la carte items, Simoniz tire dressing and Carnauba AutoHandWax, are offered at $1.99 and $5.99 respectively, but a "Platinum Plus" combo package includes both extras with Platinum wash for just $16.99.
"We decided to set our price point a little higher than our competition because we let people know we give them more than they're getting elsewhere," Bednar explains. The quick handling of vehicles through the express wash, and the size of customer vehicles - 80 percent are sport utility vehicles - adds value for Fountain's customers.
"Time is important to the working couples that comprise much of our business," says Bednar. "They like not having to get themselves and their kids out of the car, they can get done relatively quick and get out of here." Some full-serve tunnels in the area now offer exterior-only washes, but customers still have to wait in line, he noted. About two-thirds of Fountain's customers are women, who also appreciate the bright appearance and lighting of both self-serve and express wash areas, all lined with polished porcelain tiles.
Machine drying was standard during the startup of Fountain Car Wash, but towel drying has recently been added, both to provide a final quality check of wash results and to meet expectations of customers who've received hand toweling touch-ups at other area exterior washes.
The express wash is open from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Monday through Saturday, 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. on Sundays. Self-serve bays are open 24/7. The entire wash is brightly lit, and security is further enhanced with video cameras. "We have about one and a half times as much lighting as other self-serve washes in the area," Gaston notes.
If express wash traffic slows down, some of Fountain's four permanent and four temporary employees stand on the street with signs cut out in car shapes with brief messages such as "Got Dirt?" and "Five Minute Express Wash." That gets quick results, says Bednar. "It's our sort of guerrilla marketing."
Fountain Car Wash shows its good citizenship and community concern through generous participation in local drives and charities, donating washes to virtually every charity that asks for support. It recently donated several wash packages to Ambucs and is also helping the Collin County Children's Advocacy Center. Various church youth groups are selling wash gift cards, splitting the revenue between the charity and Fountain.
A melding of partner talents, strategic location, strong introduction of its services, and matching the needs of a high-income and fast-growing market are all part of the success formula at Fountain Car Wash. The warm reception drivers have given it in just a few months of operation mark it as a wash worth watching.
Jim and Elaine Norland are regular contributors to Auto Laundry News.
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