Profile in Success - June 2008

The Glo Car Wash - a Gleaming Success
By Jim and Elaine Norland

The Glo - built to impress.
Customers line up.

Just a few months old, an express exterior car wash is racking up impressive sales figures in a northwest suburban area of Denver — but its owner-operator has years of his own success in car washing and generations of car wash expertise in his family.

The Glo Car Wash at 6315 Sheridan Blvd. in Arvada, CO opened last Nov. 28 in an imposing structure across from a busy King Soopers shopping center. Even though its market area is characterized by modest household incomes, almost half of Glo customers are going for the top-line wash without urging or upselling by its driveway greeter says Mike Huggins. A menu board naming some of the brands and features of that $10 wash probably helps, however.

Before building and owning his wash, Huggins worked for Car Wash Express in the Denver area for about five years, developing and managing properties for that group. He already had a strong family background in car washing. His grandfather was a pioneer of car washing in Detroit, and his father, Dale Huggins, owns Gas ‘n’ Glo exterior car washes in Detroit. His uncle, Larry Huggins, owns a car wash in Wixom, MI.

Mike Huggins managed car washes for owners outside his family while he was in high school and community college, and came to Colorado for snowboarding in the Rockies, going to school during summer months. He met with the Car Wash Express investor group as they were building express car washes and soon joined them.

The new Glo Car Wash (the company logo is all lower-case letters) is an exterior-only car wash tunnel that combines high pressure and friction washing, using Mark VII’s SoftLine equipment. The system is designed to give customers a “clean, dry, and shiny car in under five minutes,” the company noted in opening announcements.

Mark VII officials have hailed the opening of a wash with its newest technology so close to company headquarters. “It’s a beautiful facility on a major commuter artery with no competing tunnels in the market area,” noted Murray Kennedy, CEO. “We expect it will be a showcase site both for Mike and for Mark VII.”

The tunnel wash is highly visible through a window-filled wall facing traffic on a busy Denver traffic artery. The same windows let in a lot of light. The Glo wash is housed in an imposing structure with some portions of the front soaring 36 feet above grade.

The menu board at the tunnel entrance.
Tunnel equipment in action.
The dryers do the whole job — there is no towel drying.

The tan building looks massive, and is accommodating for incoming cars with an indoor turnoff. The conveyor is 136 feet long, but the tunnel’s overall length is 170 feet. The structure is up to 60 feet wide in some areas.

With that expanse of glass and overall size, the building may look almost too grand for first-time customers. “Because of the look of the building and grounds, some coming in for the first time ask about how much the wash costs. They’re afraid it’s going to cost $20 or $30 for a wash, and they’re very pleasantly surprised when they see our menu being so simple and low priced,” Huggins reports. The structure sits on a 1.2-acre property, handsomely landscaped with grass, shrubs, and river rock. A number of trees, very small now but certain to grow quickly, add to the greenery and natural look of the site.

The layout of The Glo would allow for added operations such as vehicle interior cleaning, detail, or express-detail offerings, but none of those are anticipated at the present. Vehicles are blown dry and no towel drying is offered.

Drivers can vacuum their own interiors free of charge with the 20 vacuum drops. Vacuum power comes from two 30-horsepower direct-drive motors in a Vacutech system. Huggins previously worked with Vacutech installations in three Car Wash Express locations and counts himself “very loyal” to Vacutech.

Two attendants staff the wash most times, a greeter and an employee guiding vehicles onto the conveyor. The Glo doesn’t employ any autoteller system, and the greeter may explain the features of each of three different washes ($5, $7 and $10) but doesn’t try to upsell before the customer makes his or her choice.

Payment is by cash or credit card. No initial prepping takes place beforehand. The setup allows Huggins to cover all personnel needs of the wash with four full-time employees plus himself. The wash is open from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. every day.

Huggins prepared well for the launch of The Glo. He has toured the WashTec AG (Mark VII’s parent company) factory in Germany, and consulted with a number of industry leaders in this country as well as drawing on his own and family knowledge. One valuable resource was Robert Hodge of Western Peak, LLC who received an award at Car Care World Expo 2007 for his commitment to quality and innovations for the car wash industry.

Local experts helped Huggins build and open an impressive wash at reasonable cost. While working with Car Wash Express, he learned of some difficulties getting a car wash permitted in the city of Westminster, which adjoins Arvada. Perhaps because of its proximity to Westminster, Car Wash Express wasn’t interested in the possible difficulties on the piece of property where The Glo now stands. With Car Wash Express disinterested, Huggins and his family pursued the property on their own.

The Glo reclaims over 90 percent of water used.

Huggins felt fortunate with the shape of the lot and its relation to adjacent roads. He involved an architect early in the planning and concept phases as well as a local civil engineer “who was a tremendous help.

“HVS Engineering did a wonderful job helping put this together. They worked through the hurdles which had deterred a lot of other operators from building here and near here,” Huggins says.

He gives high praise to Brad Wallington of Wallington Construction. “He has built four other car washes and he is fine tuning the buildings for those, which are all high-volume very successful tunnels.” Wallington was also involved “from early on, putting the project together.”

The City of Arvada required water reclaim to be incorporated in the wash, but its requirements were very vague. Huggins built upon lessons he’d learned from other leaders in car wash design. He incorporated some of his own engineering into his system, hiring a local engineer to help. While his system is simple, it far exceeds local requirements, which mandate 50 percent recycling. His system reclaims over 90 percent and is entirely eco-friendly, according to The Glo website. “I’m a big advocate of being environmentally friendly,” Huggins says, not surprising in a person lured to Colorado by snowboarding.

Huggins likes to assure customers that every wash they get at The Glo is a great wash, whether they’re paying $5, $7 or $10. His menu boards, however, encourage drivers toward the best wash with descriptions and brand logos for its features.

The Glo Wash Plus listing describes a three-step wash process with wheel bright and Citra-Glo chemistry (also featured on the $7 mid-level wash), underbody flush, full body protection from RainX, and Simoniz tire shine. Both the $7 and $10 washes have heated drying and two-stage wheel bright.

Huggins is becoming involved with community causes and interests, sponsoring Little League programs in both Westminster and Arvada. He is considering selling groups of wash tickets at discounts to local fund-raising groups.

Customer loyalty or frequency programs aren’t yet part of The Glo operations, but will be as Huggins becomes more familiar with available POS approaches. “I do plan on having a wash package of, say, four washes that customers can buy at a discounted rate.”

Fleet business is presently limited to an arrangement Huggins has with DHL, the express shipping and delivery company. Their bright yellow vans going through The Glo make a colorful impression on anyone passing by the wash.

Demographics of his immediate surroundings and his experience with Car Wash Express led Huggins to believe more customers would choose lower priced wash choices at The Glo, but drivers have pleasantly surprised him.

Huggins projected what he felt were reasonable business expectations when he launched his business just after Thanksgiving last year. The Glo is meeting what he expected in vehicle volume. While the car numbers are right on target, the revenue is higher than projected because so many customers choose the best quality wash, affordably priced and impressively delivered.

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