Profile in Success - March 2009

Clean Wheels, Classic Meals
By Jim and Elaine Norland

Note the collection of Shelbys behind the monument sign.
Vacuum lanes. Note the designations — “Fast Lane” and “Full Service.” Diner parking is to the right.

A Colorado Springs, CO couple has married 50s style diner food and expert car washing and detailing. The goods they serve, both car care and diner-style food, work well together.

The diner lures drivers with the convenience of having a quick breakfast, lunch, or snack while their cars are washed and often mini-detailed. The site is an ideal meeting and show place for car lovers in the area. Enthusiasts can exhibit their vehicles, enjoy a meal and beverage, and perhaps get a special discount on a featured wash.

Hub Car Wash and Diner, at 4460 Forest Hill Road (just off the Garden of the Gods Road) came under the new ownership of Shane and Michelle Squibb in December 2007. The previous owners operated the business for five years. The enterprise occupies an easily accessed corner on the west side of Colorado Springs.

Since they acquired the business, the Squibbs have made many changes to better manage and streamline operations. Their efforts are paying off in smoother, more reliable operation of the car wash and diner and enhanced per-visitor sales.

Shane and Michelle Squibb are aggressively courting new friends and customers among residents, executives, and employees of nearby businesses. They’ve made their location a gathering place for not only car lovers but also supporters of community and charity events. These efforts have countered the effect of downsizing at some major tech-oriented employers near them such as Intel, Hewlett Packard, and Verizon.

While car numbers through the wash have suffered somewhat, per car revenue is up. The current washed vehicle average is around $18. An express exterior wash is available for as little as $6.95 (including hand dry). Even such a budget customer may spend a little more because he or she must get out of the car. Going to the cashier lobby and gift shop may also tempt the driver to the diner just a few steps away.

The Squibbs have integrated what once were two separate operations. “Now you can come in, order your meal as well as your car wash services and be ready to go in 20 minutes total,” says Shane Squibb. Previously, customers had to pay and order meals and car cleaning separately.

The diner is a big draw, he says. It closes when the car wash closes, so there’s no dinnertime business. Operating hours are 7:30 a.m. till 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday from March through October, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. November through February. Sunday hours are 7:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. March-October, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. November-February.

Full service car wash packages range from a Supreme wash at $25.95 to the “Shake, Rattle & Roll” at $12.95. The “Route 66” at just under $16 is the most popular choice. Express exterior wash choices include “Cruiser Works” at $9.95.

While the 100-foot Hanna-equipped tunnel doesn’t afford two lanes, exterior express cars skip the vacuuming and are expedited into the wash line as soon as possible so those drivers can be on their way quickly. Exterior-only wash vehicles stay on the express side for drying also.

If drivers don’t want to browse in the gift shop or order food from the diner, they can wait for their cars on a covered patio and enjoy impressive views of Pikes Peak and the front range of the Rocky Mountains.

What goes in - dirty cars.
What comes out - clean cars.

Many drivers choose one of Hub’s five express detail services, each priced at $35.95, which includes a $21 “Flash Cadillac” wash package. Customers can buy two of those services in one visit and save $10. Two of the express details, the “Blitz Blizzard” and a hand wax, include a free meal in the diner. The wash, included with any express detail, includes undercarriage cleaning and rust inhibitor, triple foam wax, clear coat protectant, and tire treatment.

The detail shop is managed by Ernie Peña, and offers premium full details (complete exterior and interior, $189.95) or premium exterior and premium interior options, each priced at $99.95. Peña plays a strong role in the success of the Hub car cleaning operations. “There are days when he’ll do more revenue in detail than we do in the wash,” Shane Squibb reports. Detailing is housed in a building behind the wash and diner.

Peña moved to the Colorado Springs area from Denver, where he had his own detail shop. “He wanted a change of pace for his family, and he has been a great addition to our staff,” Squibb shares. “Our service writers do a great job of upselling. If we have a 200-car day it’s almost neck and neck between the car wash revenue and that from detailing.”

About 40 employees staff the two businesses, 30 on the car wash side and 10 in the diner. Five core managers oversee operations as well as staffing and training. Two people co-manage the diner. Three assistant managers are on the car wash side.

Bill Hindmarch is facility manager. He formerly worked for Denny’s in Arizona, “and he’s done a tremendous job in making the wash more efficient,” Shane Squibb says. The assistant managers on the car wash side stagger their hours so that one person doesn’t have to open and close every day. Three service writers also alternate their hours.

“We’ll assign a person each day placing him in charge of his side of the car wash,” Squibb continues. One management person will be roving and dealing with customers and the point people supervising each side.

The Squibbs have built their car wash and diner into an event location not only for car aficionados and owner clubs but for similar groups and community charitable events as well.

“Michelle is a big part of the car club and similar gatherings,” Shane Squibb reports. “One of our first events was a fundraiser for children’s cancer. On one occasion we held a benefit for Alex’s Lemonade Stand, a national organization. Proceeds of our first car show entrance fees and a percentage of our revenue that day all went to Alex’s Lemonade Stand.

“That was our first car show. We talked to some of the car show fans and car clubs around the area and started to have shows and club events. Often they meet in the morning, and because of the diner, they have a meal with us.” Groups involved so far include Shelby, Corvette, Porsche, and other clubs.

“What’s been a big draw for us, even though they may not want to get their special vehicles out in the winter with snow and all, is our willingness to do a car wash and meal combination for such groups at a special price,” Shane Squibb reports.

Even though not related directly to car washing as such, the Hub Car Wash and Diner has hosted a number of Harley Davidson owner/rider gatherings. “They may caravan and stop here, or just come in to support some of our events,” Shane Squibb explains.

Final touchups outside the tunnel exit.
The well-stocked gift shop.

The Hub hosted two car shows in 2008 with 20 to 30 cars entered in each. Local TV coverage and hundreds of visitors have been drawn to the site for the events, and a special discount is offered for the car wash. Charities benefit from each such event and some even set up an outside barbecue to sell hot dogs or similar items.

The Hub’s large, well-maintained parking lot allows ample space to accommodate and display special cars while operations of the diner and car wash continue.

A different type of club brings good value to members and steady traffic to the Hub Car Wash and Diner. Unlimited wash packages sold in monthly, semi-annual, or annual increments, bring customers in not just for the wash but also usually a meal in the diner. The annual fees range from $972 for the Hub Supreme Package to $275 for the exterior Cruiser Express. Monthly fees range from $95 to $30 for those categories.

Hub Diner fare offers a variety of traditional home-style or diner food for breakfast and lunch at prices topping out at $7.99. Special discounts are offered every weekday morning from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. for seniors, and on various days of the week for ladies, badge-wearing company employees, and parents with children. Seniors get a discount on meals and car services all day Monday.

The Squibbs have built or maintained special relationships and discounts with area employers and some smaller car dealerships.

One of the major accounts is Vertec Tool, just across the road from Hub Car Wash and Diner. Company vehicles are washed at Hub and may be transported to and from the company lot by Hub employees. Even Vertec’s big semi’s and other large vehicles that may not fit into the Hub tunnel are hand washed so the entire fleet is serviced.

Hub employees will also ferry other area employees to and from their job sites so their cars or trucks can be washed and returned to them before their workday ends.

Other commercial entities for which Hub Car Wash and Diner provides special service include 15 or 20 companies ranging from bread delivery to a Harley Davidson dealership.

The Porche club takes its turn.

When business at Hub is slow, Michelle Squibb and Hub employees range out into nearby neighborhoods with door hangers or other promotional tools to attract more drivers. Michelle Squibb has been very successful in reaching local businesses as sources of more customers, Shane Squibb says.

The Squibbs also use west-side newspapers for general advertising and are considering discount coupons on the back of cash register tapes at a nearby Albertson’s supermarket. They also employ Community Connections coupon books distributed to households in certain ZIP codes.

The Hub Car Wash and Diner is also hosting a once a year event featuring local radio host Mike Boyles and his popular “Lunch Bunch” broadcasting from the Hub site. “When he does that we offer a meal for two in the diner that day for $7.40 while he’s here. We’ll also sell coupons for our Route 66 wash, normally $15.95, for just $8.99. This year’s event will be held May 9,” says Shane Squibb.

The coupons for the discounted Route 66 wash package can be used all year. Many customers come in and stock up on those coupons, the Squibbs report, “and it gives us a good cash flow bump.”

With efficient management, inventive promotion and persistent cultivation of new business from both commercial and residential sources, Shane and Michelle Squibb are countering the effects of a slow economy. They’re finding new friends and allies. As its website proclaims, Hub Car Wash and Diner is becoming known as a place to find both “Clean Wheels” and “Classic Meals.”

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