Bright Wash to Plano
Jim and Elaine Norland
|Grand opening at Fountain Car
Wash - 800 cars were washed on the second day. Inset: Note how
the logo follows the unique roofline.
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.
|An aerial view during construction.
The unusual poly-carbonate roof is clearly visible as are the
huge tunnel windows that face the street. The self-serve bays
are to the left of the tunnel.
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.
|The pump station for the self-service
"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,"
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 was a professional firefighter for 11 years, but
more recently worked in marketing support services such as advertising.
He was an art director before getting into the car wash business.
Gaston is an electrical engineer. He designed hardware
and built databases and has been involved in a few other entrepreneurial
Revis is also an electrical engineer with extensive managerial
and executive experience. Vice president of a Fortune 100 company,
he ran his firm's operations in China. When the trio partnered
up, Revis owned one car wash and now has three more, all in Arizona.
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
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
also represents American Changer.
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
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
"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
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
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,"
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
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