Profile in Success - January 2008

Newcomers Bring Magic Touch
By Jim and Elaine Norland

The Magic Rabbit welcomes customers onto the site.

Many successful car wash owners and operators switched careers to get into the business, but few can equal the leap made by Kevin and Shirley Leung. Mr. and Mrs. Leung each spent 15 successful years in the information technology (IT) field, but have now jumped into the car wash industry. It seems appropriate that their business is called Magic Rabbit Car Wash.

Their initial location in Highlands Ranch, CO opened in September 2005. Less than a year later, they opened a second location in Parker, CO. Both communities are affluent areas of southeast suburban Denver, and feature full-service tunnel washes and full detail service. The Leungs’ emphasis on friendly and quality treatment has gained the confidence of suburban residents who often own multiple vehicles.

The very name of their business projects an image of caring concern for cars and their owners. The smiling white rabbit on their signs and website portrays clean and gentle treatment — the Leungs credit their children for the creativity involved. “Magic” signifies the Leungs’ intent to create “something special” for customers coming into their wash.

Good business neighbors help enhance the surroundings at each of the Magic Rabbit sites, and the Leungs have cultivated good relationships with them. The 1.25-acre Highlands Ranch store is next to a “huge” liquor store and near a bank. The one-acre Parker site is next to a new-car dealership, and a medical center and fire department headquarters are close by. The location is just off a highway and near the entrance to a major freeway.

Kevin and Shirley Leung’s success earned them “Rookie of the Year” honors at the Western Carwash Association meeting last October. A month before, their business was named 2007 Retail Firm of the Year by Minority Enterprise and Educational Development, Inc., a Colorado nonprofit organization.

Emphasizing top-level quality services rather than viewing car care as a commodity is paying off for the Leungs. In a metro area where some washes compete on price alone, the most popular choice at Magic Rabbit is the $20 “Works Wash” package. Some shops push quick express detail selections, but Magic Rabbit emphasizes full detail.

Clean cars at the tunnel exit.

Shirley and Kevin Leung feel strongly that their customers want that level of care. Their stores are both in Douglas County, ranked as one of the most affluent in the state and nationally numbered among the top growth counties. The two Magic Rabbit sites are renovated, previously-owned businesses that operated under other names.

Landscaping and other improvements made by the Leungs contribute to a professional image, as do the neatly uniformed employees. All those factors appeal to owners who often have multiple vehicles and for whom vehicle appearance is important, Kevin Leung says. Magic Rabbit is the only business of its kind in the Denver area that offers free drop-off and pickup service for customers, he adds.

Both Magic Rabbit locations offer a convenience and gift store and gasoline service. At their Highlands Ranch location, lube and related services are also provided. Indoor waiting areas offer current magazines and TV viewing, although outdoor waiting areas are often preferred by many Coloradoans, the Leungs say.

Kevin and Shirley Leung had reached ceilings as IT managers working for big U.S. corporations, and the IT industry was declining as many jobs in the field were outsourced overseas. “Our training in corporate America gave us an education in how to manage some things” in the business world, Kevin noted.

Both Shirley and Kevin have master’s degrees in information technology, and Kevin has an additional master’s degree in business administration. Many car wash owners have an excellent understanding of the mechanics of the car washing process but may not understand some business basics, he feels.

Providing facilities to clean cars is a service industry, Kevin notes, and “we have a lot of experience in IT, also a service industry.” Weighing their career options, Shirley reflects, “I didn’t want to flip burgers. I didn’t want to sell clothes. I think I’ll do a good job in making sure cars get clean, very clean.”

View the tunnel action or check out the merchandise.
Hands-on management in the lube bay.

The two prepared for almost six months before becoming small business owners with their first car wash, the Highlands Ranch site. “We went from nice offices and air conditioning to standing outside in the sun and wiping cars dry,” Kevin says. “I never worked harder in my life,” Shirley says of the transition and her new role.

Realizing the importance of a good location, the Leungs look for businesses that aren’t doing well but have good potential. “We get into the business and build it back up; that’s the model we have,” says Kevin. Their plan involves long-term commitment to each location. “We’re in this for the long haul.”

They sought out car washes with full-service tunnels and detail facilities. Each of their current locations has a 90- to 110-foot tunnel as well as detail services. “I truly believe that full service is the way to go” in car washing. While each of their locations does have an exterior-only wash offering, “We don’t promote that.

“We want to project an upscale image to our customers. We want them to think that when they bring their car here, they can just drop it off and we’ll take care of it. That’s why we’re interested only in locations in middle high-income neighborhoods. We want to focus on that specific niche and clientele.”

Drivers who own expensive cars expect a higher degree of professional appearance and services, they feel. They insist on every employee wearing a clean uniform and being ready to greet customers in a friendly manner. The professional service image is also the reason for their complimentary drop-off and pickup service, particularly important for detail customers.

Detailing is where the profit margin is, they believe. If they were to find another location, “We would insist on getting something that has a good detail facility,” Kevin says. The Leungs also offer boat and recreational vehicle detailing, but it is not a major portion of the business.

Interior and exterior detail services are offered both separately and in combination, and each includes the “Works Wash.” The package covers full wash and drying, vacuuming, window cleaning, triple-foam wax, tire dressing, wheel wash, underbody washing, air fragrance, and a rain guarantee.

A complimentary wash is provided to oil change customers who may choose from regular, high-mileage, or synthetic lubricants. While the lube service faces plentiful competition, the Leungs offer additional convenience and service to make Magic Rabbit a more attractive choice. Transmission service, radiator and engine flushes, differential and transfer-case service are provided along with air filter replacement. Other special services are battery cleaning and replacement, light bulb replacement, and special fuel additives.

To encourage repeat business, Magic Rabbit offers an 11th wash free for a completed punch card, and also has monthly and yearly programs to encourage customer loyalty. Senior citizen discounts are provided all the time. Commercial and fleet business includes an account with the neighboring car dealer at Parker, and agreements with area police departments.

As they took over their locations from previous owners, the Leungs faced some limitations imposed by community regulations. They repainted the entire exteriors to refresh their appearance and also improved the signage and landscaping.

“Our colors were limited by what each town dictates,” Shirley Leung explains, “we didn’t have much flexibility.” Basic colors include earthtones, reds, beige, and some gray. Floors are mostly tiled, and walls are nicely finished, painted drywall. Each store has a lot of windows, she says, so customers can see and observe what’s happening outside. At each location, additional windows let customers see what’s happening in the tunnel wash as cars are cleaned.

Tunnel equipment at Highlands Ranch is Hanna, and at Parker, Belanger. ISI software is employed for cashier needs at both locations.

Special care is extended to the 25 employees of Magic Rabbit Car Wash, many of them Hispanics with poor English skills. “I treat them like they are my kids,” Shirley Leung says, “so I make sure they not only do their jobs well, but we help them learn English.” She enrolls them in groups for language classes.

“When they come to us, their writing is not good and we fill out their applications for them so they can go

to school,” she adds, “and whenever they have problems we help them in many ways.

“We are both foreigners ourselves. I came from the Philippines and Kevin is from Hong Kong, and I remember when I first started in this country. It was very tough for me, and I try to make it a bit easier for our employees who are also struggling.”

“Both of us come from very poor surroundings but we found we could make it in this country, and we believe our employees can do the same,” Kevin comments. In return for the help he and his wife extend to employees, they try to be better workers, they believe.

“Employee success is a good thing; it helps give us a good reputation,” Kevin adds. Magic Rabbit’s owners believe in giving back to their communities, and have already supported school and community groups in their fund raising needs.

The Magic Rabbit website has no customer testimonials, but an Internet search on the business name turns up glowing reviews.

Those appraisals are evidence that Magic Rabbit Car Wash is pleasing discriminating car owners in one of Colorado’s most affluent counties. Its success lies in the efforts of a couple of hard-working owners who are new to the car washing business but dedicated to a professional image, quality car cleaning, and concern for their customers.

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

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