Profile in Success - July 2007

Classy Chassis Stays on Top
with Constant Improvements
By Jim and Elaine Norland

Freestanding coffee shop. Note the drive-thru window topped with an "Open" sign.

Corey Campbell, owner of Classy Chassis in Lakewood, WA, isn’t satisfied with the degree of success most business owners would happily accept. His car care center keeps getting better all the time; he unceasingly improves and adds to the services he provides drivers in the Puget Sound area.

Last fall, he opened up a lube center that gave Classy Chassis more than 500 feet of additional frontage on busy Grange Street West. The three-bay drive-through building provides not only basic oil changes, but also a sizeable array of other services ranging from radiator flush to tranny maintenance.

In addition, Campbell rearranged the layout of his wash and detail center to place an express after-care canopy and a coffee shop as prominent parts of his company’s curb appeal.

Campbell is also preparing to revamp his car wash tunnel within the next year and a half, even though he has made multiple recent improvements there as well.

Campbell takes extraordinary steps to inspire customer confidence in the convenience and service Classy Chassis provides. He treats his customers as valued guests. In his lube center he gives them live action views of what’s being done to their vehicles while they sit in their cars. Tray service brings beverages, snacks, and other diversions, for both adults and children, right to the car.

In addition to its main site, Classy Chassis also operates two multiple-bay self-serve washes in the area, and soon will have a third. The first of these to open was a three-bay in Tacoma, which Campbell brought back from rundown condition and opened in 2002. Just two blocks away from the main store, a five-bay self-serve was rehabbed and opened under the Classy Chassis banner in 2005.

TV monitors allow customers to follow service progress from the driver's seat.

Now Campbell is preparing to start construction on a new three-bay self-serve with an in-bay automatic. These satellite locations “are a great complement to our business. Customers enjoy the crossover,” Campbell reports.

Customer comfort gets high priority. As part of its big expansion last fall, Classy Chassis opened “Classic Coffee” in a separate building. That enterprise, launched with the counsel of John and Diane Simchuk of Tacoma, capitalizes on the area’s taste for quality coffee.

“We felt that coffee was a good synergy for our site. We’re on a busy morning drive route with good visibility,” Campbell notes. The coffee shop offers drive-through espresso service and a variety of other coffee and non-coffee drinks and snacks.

The lobby and gift shop at Classy Chassis’ main location is well stocked with cards and small gift items, amid reminders of the many other services the company offers, from bolt-on accessories to spray-on bedliners. While waiting for the completion of express care or detail services, customers can watch the action in the car wash tunnel, browse the internet with either of two computers, or use their own laptops using the provided Wi-Fi service.

The tunnel at the principal Classy Chassis location is equipped with a combination of Sonny’s and Belanger equipment. It has undergone many improvements since it first opened in 1995. “We use a hybrid system of microfiber, foam, and cloth, which has really helped our cleaning process. We’ve added on-line tire dressing, and that’s been good for us. Every year we try to update or change something. We take extra care to inform our customers on how we are improving and reinvesting to give them the best possible car care,” Campbell says.

Detail center - occupied.
Part of the collection at the LeMay Car Museum, which relies on Classy Chassis for detailing services.

Strong communication with customers and employees, and feedback from customers, are important business building tools at Classy Chassis. Just a few months ago, Classy Chassis launched an e-mail newsletter for its customers, issued every five weeks.

Every detail customer is given a thank you card, a comment card, and a complimentary air freshener. Phone calls are used as follow-up, and Classy Chassis encourages customers to call or e-mail any comments. Any negative comments are quickly addressed and corrective action taken.

Outstanding employees are recognized as “Associate of the Month” on a placard posted in the lobby along with the individual’s picture. A staff newsletter also recognizes the honored associate. About twice a year Classy Chassis strengthens its ties with its 42-member staff with boating trips and/or picnics.

A core of full-time employees, who are assured a consistent work week, is supplemented by part-timers. Weather in the Puget Sound area is rainy or cloudy 165 days a year, “so volume really fluctuates,” Campbell explains.

“We hire young people coming out of high school or junior college who are going to be with us for at least three to four years,” Campbell says. Campbell looks for potential employees with “great attitudes. That we can develop skills around.” Classy Chassis develops management from within, employing a wide array of training resources including purchased video seminars, off-site management seminars, and programs by visiting experts.

Assuring customers of service quality is one of Campbell’s biggest concerns. In setting up his oil change center, he equipped it with twin video screens facing drivers as their vehicles are being serviced. One screen shows the driver what’s going on with his or her car as services are called out and performed, while the other screen uses an internet-style format to market the full range of services that Classy Chassis offers.

The lube shop offers transmission, differential and coolant services as well as serpentine-belt, cabin-air-filter, and light replacements. Service is usually completed in just 12 minutes.

“My objective is to let customers know they don’t have to go to their dealer for everything in maintenance for their car,” Campbell says. “Whether they’re driving a Malibu or a Mercedes, we give them the same service confidence as the dealership. We want them to know they’re getting exactly what they’ve been told.”

Campbell’s commitment to environmental quality and recycling is evident in the sizeable oil reclaim system he put in when the lube center was built. It heats working areas and provides all the hot water needed for the car wash and other needs, cleanly burning the waste oil.

While Campbell delivers quality at every level of car care he offers, his customers choose the highest and most complete options more often than not. In the car wash, for example, the most popular choice for the exterior wash is the $12 Ultimate Wash; a basic exterior wash is available for as little as $7. Full-service customers can purchase a $15 package, but the most popular option is the $26 Wash-n-Shine.

Repeat business is encouraged with prepaid washbooks and gift certificates, each offering discounts of about 10 percent. Classy Chassis also has its own rechargeable gift card. A lifetime membership in its VIP club ($5 first car, $2 for each additional vehicle) entitles the holder to a free wash on his or her birthday, a 24-hour clean-car guarantee on upgraded wash packages, discounts for prompt return visits, and savings on detail and lube services.

Detail services comprise a major part of Classy Chassis offerings and volume. The company offers professional detailing for cars, trucks, recreational vehicles, boats, motorcycles, and even semis. It is the official detail center for the LeMay Car Museum, recognized as “The World’s Largest Private Car Collection” by the Guinness Book of World Records.

Services begin with choices such as hand wash and dry, at around $20, and range upward to a “Supreme” detail package for $185 (each package priced higher for trucks and vans). Specials such as a second “Supreme” package at substantial savings encourage multiple-car owners to bring in two or more vehicles for detailing at the same time.

Campbell began his car care enterprise from the back of his car in the mid-1980s, while he was still in high school. His mobile detailing service vehicle later evolved to a panel truck. Campbell then spent a year managing the detail center at Sunset Carwash & Detail Center in Bellingham, WA, before opening his own detail shop in Lakewood.

When he began and then expanded his current operation — after clearing hurdles with financial resources concerned about the merits of the car washing business, and local authorities concerned about its environmental impact — Campbell’s location didn’t have nearly the traffic that the street now draws. “We joke and say that McDonald’s moved here because of us,” he says. The roadway has become a major traffic route and business corridor, and a new Wal-Mart is coming in two blocks away.

Should that newcomer, with its own oil change setup, be a concern? Not if one has an established quality reputation, says Campbell. “Wal-Mart will actually enhance the business by increasing traffic flow, and customers will see the consistency and value of our facility,” he believes.

Other competitors such as the Brown Bear chain are “friends and good competitors,” in Campbell’s view, and their presence and their marketing is good for the industry as a whole. A number of in-bay automatics operate at area gas stations, “but our unique flex-serve and our one-stop shop for car care gives motorists an incentive to try us, and then stay.”

In addition to its shared charity programs with other members of the Puget Sound Car Wash Association, Classy Chassis has its own fund raising opportunities for civic, school, and similar organizations. The company may arrange for a group to operate one of its self-service bays for part of a day, and also offers a washbook ticket program where group members sell wash or coupon books and keep a substantial part of the proceeds.

Campbell has been with the PSCWA since its inception, a year before he built his own car wash in Lakewood. He says the group has been “a tremendous asset,” enabling him to be business friends with many other operators in the region.

“All of us are working together toward a common goal, getting both regulators and consumers to understand the drawbacks of illicit or parking-lot washing.” The association has become a leader, creating a program that gives regulators an alternative, he says, instead of just telling charities “no” to any car wash programs.

With all the improvements made through the years and those now pending, it’s little wonder that Classy Chassis has won many plaudits from the community. Most recently, Campbell was recognized as one of the “40 under 40” businesses in June 2005 by the Business Examiner, “The South Sound Business Information Resource.” More telling of the attitude and teamwork that keeps winning customers was an ad in The News Tribune by the staff congratulating him on the award. The ad said in part, “we appreciate all he does for us at Classy Chassis.”

No wonder the business keeps growing.

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

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