Profile in Success - March 2007

Captain Ron Pilots Jet Pro Auto Wash
By Jim and Elaine Norland

From left to right, Brandon Hughes, Ron and Connie Prynne, and Anthony Schlotfeld.
The "airline" theme extends to the menu design.

A new car wash in central Washington State seems an unlikely destination for a veteran commercial airline pilot, but Ron Prynne and his wife, Connie, have found it ideal. Drivers in and near Wenatchee have found that Jet Pro Auto Wash, which the Prynnes opened in February 2005, is great for on-time delivery of top quality car cleaning.

These newcomers’ successful entrance into the business has earned them not only a growing clientele of loyal drivers but also the admiration of fellow owners and operators. Last October, Jet Pro Auto Wash was named Rookie of the Year for 2006 at the Western Carwash Association convention in Las Vegas. Jet Pro is an express-exterior wash that puts a premium on speedily cleaning cars, SUVs, and pickup trucks at prices ranging from $8 to $12. A popular option since November of 2005 is Rain-X, applied in the 105-foot tunnel for an additional cost of $3.

Just five minutes through the Hanna-equipped wash includes pre-wash preparation and final touch-up hand toweling, along with friendly greetings from a young, uniformed, and well-groomed staff throughout the process.

The idea for Jet Pro began to take shape in 2002 when Ron and Connie came to visit her mother in Wenatchee, and looked for an efficient and convenient place to clean their dirty GMC.

“I’d had my eye on doing a car wash for a long time,” Ron Prynne told Auto Laundry News in a recent interview, “and I wanted to have my own business. I’ve always enjoyed an express-exterior wash for my own vehicle, and wasn’t too impressed with the quality of vehicle cleaning or the convenience of other washing approaches.”

When a prime piece of commercial property on North Wenatchee Avenue, the city’s main thoroughfare, became available, the Prynnes explained their idea for a wash to the owner. “It was a major find, totally unexpected. We had no idea we could get such a nice piece of property for this,” Ron recalls.

The site for Jet Pro Auto Wash is just 17,000 square feet, so additional services such as detail or lube offerings weren’t feasible. Their location is just across the street from a Les Schwab Tire Center, which has drawn Wenatchee drivers for many years.

The Prynnes had expert counseling on the feasibility of their wash location and the equipment package to achieve the quality they wanted in vehicle cleaning from Chuck Sasse. Sasse is well known on the West Coast for the car washing knowledge he’s gained over 35 years in the business.

At the tunnel entrance, customers are reminded that weather conditions can impact the finish of their car.
Every wash package includes hand drying.

“He did the feasibility on the site before we purchased it, and he took us around to observe other car washes with similar equipment. He arranged interviews with those operators so we could get some first-hand information on what it would take to establish ourselves and what we could expect after two or three years of operation,” Ron Prynne said.

A key element in the successful launch of Jet Pro was professional marketing advice from J Russell Creative Marketing, a Wenatchee firm. “The first check we wrote was to that marketing company,” Prynne reported.

That company paired Ron Prynne’s background as a commercial pilot with packaging of the wash and its offerings to create a consistent theme embodied in advertising, building graphics, wash package identification, and selling of prepaid or debit wash cards. “J Russell did such a great job with our corporate identity that people often ask if we are a franchise,” he said.

Wash packages bear airline-type labels, from the “Economy” wash ($8) to “First Class” ($10) and the most popular choice, the “Executive Club” wash at $12. All washes include a basic wash, spot-free rinse and hand drying. The “First Class” package adds triple-foam wax and clear-coat protectant. In the “Executive Club” package, a motorist also gets undercarriage wash and Wheel Brite treatment.

Undercarriage washing is a critical need for most Wenatchee-area motorists, because state transportation units treat snowy and icy roads with a sticky mixture that is also corrosive to vehicles, so the Prynnes made sure their wash could deliver a really good undercarriage wash. Soon after opening, they also decided to heat the water for their prep guns. “That was a dynamite move on our part,” says Ron Prynne. “Just heating it to 95 or 100 degrees makes all the difference in the cleaning process.” Customers can vacuum or do other interior cleaning of their own vehicles using the Fragramatic combo vacs. A vending machine offers car care items for specialized interior needs.

Ron Prynne was surprised at the popularity of his premium wash package, but he offers many ways to save on it. As part of the “Fares” listing, Jet Pro offers the Executive Club wash for half its regular price every Tuesday from 2 to 4 p.m. The tenth wash is free with any combination of washes for VIP-card holders, and birthday washes are also free.

On “Crazy Thursdays,” vehicles meeting certain criteria get their Executive Club wash at half-price. Different qualifications apply each week. This month (March), for example, a dog in the car earns that discount on March 1. On March 8, manual transmission vehicles qualify; March 15, all green vehicles; March 22, all Fords, and March 29, kids under 12 in the car.

“Frequent Flyer VIP Cards,” prepaid or debit cards, help reduce the top wash price at any time by 30 percent to 40 percent, depending on the number of washes bought in “Executive Club Packages.” The 737 package of three washes cuts the $12 price down to $10 each; the 757 package of five washes reduces it to $9 per wash, and the 777 package pays for seven Executive Club washes for just $8 each. The debit cards can be reloaded with additional value at any time so customers can always be prepared to give their vehicles that premium treatment.

Combo vacs provide customers a choice of interior services.

Those deals are so attractive that an estimated 40 percent of Jet Pro washes are purchased with the VIP cards, rapidly building a loyal clientele. In its opening promotion and advertising, Jet Pro emphasized those valuable discounts so heavily that within the first seven or eight months some 5,000 cards were out in the community.

That penetration of the market helps explain Jet Pro’s phenomenal success in getting return customers during its second year of operation, according to Judy Anderson of J Russell Creative Marketing.

“We did free washes for everyone on opening day,” Anderson said. “We also sent out personal invitations to Chamber of Commerce members and selected VIPs, and also did a postcard mailing just to let the community know about Jet Pro.” The wash also had a discount coupon in a local coupon book, “but we don’t want to be known as a coupon car wash.”

Wenatchee is heavily radio oriented, and most of Jet Pro’s media exposure is via three local radio stations. Ron Prynne does a live one-minute interview as “Captain Ron” every Tuesday morning on each of those stations. Many car wash customers, he said, have heard or overheard him talking with customers and asked, “Aren’t you Captain Ron?”

Both Ron and Connie spend about 60 percent of their time at Jet Pro, greeting customers and pitching in to wash cars when business is heavy. Since they are older than their employees, many customers recognize their role and presence at the wash. Connie Prynne also handles bookkeeping chores including bill paying and payroll.

Most senior of Jet Pro’s current seven employees is manager Brandon Hughes, who is probably in his mid 20s, Anderson said. Hughes was also a newcomer to car washing but had worked in retailing and knew how to deal with customers. “He’s a leader in Young Life, and has a tremendous work ethic,” Ron Prynne said.

Assistant manager Anthony Schlotfeld is in charge of maintenance at Jet Pro.

During its first year of operation, Jet Pro had a preventive maintenance program from its equipment supplier, Northwest Pump & Equipment. (Jet Pro’s chemicals supplier is Kaady Chemical Corp.) Other lessons in maintenance were learned simply by experience, Prynne reports.

Other members of Jet Pro’s staff are either in high school or enrolled at Wenatchee Valley College, a two-year college. “We work our schedule around their class schedules,” Ron Prynne explained. Most of their classes are in the morning. Employee training emphasizes making sure that every customer is pleased with the car cleaning results.

Staffers who get customers to buy VIP wash cards are paid a commission on those sales. While there is no tip jar, box, or sign at the wash, many customers do tip as they leave Jet Pro. Employees handle the sharing of those tips, Prynne said. He doesn’t get involved.

Every aspect of Jet Pro’s operations seems well planned, including its support of community fundraising projects. “Community fundraising through commercial car washes is a way to control sewer overflows, promote a clean environment and build community-business partnerships,” according to a page on the Jet Pro website.

Groups can sell a minimum of 100 and as many as 200 tickets provided by Jet Pro. Each ticket is good for the Executive Club wash, Rain-X application and vacuuming, a regular $16.50 value, for $12. Tickets are good only for a specified night when the charity or group can help staff the wash. The group gets to keep the first $8 of the ticket price leaving Jet Pro $4 to help cover its own labor and products involved in each wash.

Each such ticket also includes a “bounceback” coupon which enables the purchaser to come back within three weeks and get the $12 Executive Club Wash and the $3 Rain-X treatment for just $10. The fundraising group gets an additional $5 for each bounceback coupon redeemed.

Jet Pro sets requirements for volunteer staffing, safety measures, and advertising signs, and also requests a group photo, organization description, and signed liability waivers for participants in the fundraising events.

Tailoring every aspect of its business to community and motorist needs with well-planned marketing and personalized service has given Jet Pro Auto Wash a flying start. This “Rookie of the Year” can show other newcomers some valuable lessons.

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

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