Profile in Success - March 2008

Standing out in a Crowd
By Timothy Denman

Customers can pre-treat their tires and wheels before entering either the Soft touch or Touchless bays
A bounty of stainless steel vacuums, shampooers, and floor mat cleaners greet customers as they exit the bays.

Sometimes you just have to go with your gut.

Seven years ago David Bogese was working on plans to open a self-serve car wash in Hopewell, Va. During the development process he received a lot of negative reactions to his plan to open up a car wash business in an already crowded market.

“Everyone told me that there was already too many car washes in the area,” Bogese says. “But I thought there was an opportunity here.”

Although Bogese is relatively new to the car wash industry he is no rookie to the world of business, having built, developed, and owned numerous real estate projects over the years.

He already owned the land on which he would build Car Wash City, and envisioned a self-serve facility that would draw in customers with quality equipment and top-notch service.

His ability to see past the naysayers and stay true to his vision has paid off, and Car Wash City is now ripe with business.

The wash utilizes a post-modern design that features colonial columns, gables, and plenty of neon. At night the wash’s four neon signs and accents act as a giant billboard drawing in passing motorists.

Car wash owners are well aware of the benefits of joining a trade association, and Bogese’s experience while developing and building his wash in 2002 speaks volumes about the importance of association membership.

Bogese originally planned to build four self-serve bays and one in-bay automatic. Early in the construction process he attended his first ICA show armed with his site plans and demographic information, and picked the brains of fellow car wash owners and distributors alike.

“Everyone I talked to told me to put in at least two in-bay automatics,” Bogese says. “I took their advice and as soon as I got home we started altering the building plans to accommodate an extra automatic bay.

“It was the best thing I could have done. The in-bays handle the bulk of our business. In fact, I wish I had a third one. It just goes to show the value of joining an organization.”

Car Wash City has three self-serve bays that contribute nicely to the wash’s bottom line.
Cash customers pay for their purchase inside of the self-serve bays.
The wash is covered with neon, greatly increasing its curb appeal at night.

Although a self-serve wash, Bogese has at least one employee on site from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. to help keep things running smoothly.

“We are open 24/7,” Bogese says. “The wash can run without anyone here, but I like to have someone here during the day to deal with any customer questions or problems.”

Keeping the wash open around the clock is one of the reasons Car Wash City is thriving. Most of the competition closes early, and Bogese is able to cater to those customers looking to get their cars clean after hours. During the spring pollen season for example, the wash has long lines of cars waiting for their turns in the bays well past 7 p.m. The only time the wash closes is during rare extremely cold nights.

Bogese owns and leases the two gas stations that neighbor the wash, and while their presence helps draw in customers, the wash stands out architecturally.

“At a lot of places the car wash is secondary to the gas station, here we wanted it to be primary,” Bogese says. “I think we did a good job of that. The style and colors of the wash really set it off from the gas stations.”

The site has two different in-bay automatic options, a soft touch and a touch-free, and three self-serve bays.

Ryko equipment is featured in both in-bays. The soft-touch bay utilizes Ryko’s Soft Gloss equipment, outfitted with foam brushes instead of conventional cloth, which resists dirt and works to buff the car as it cleans. The touch-free bay has an Ultrasonic Overhead unit. Both bays are equipped with Thrust Pro dryers.

Bogese opted for above average 52-foot bays to help increase throughput. During busy times one car can start the wash cycle while another is under the dryers. At peak performance the touchless bay can wash and dry 11 cars per hour, while the soft touch can process 17.

There are three pricing options for the in-bays. The Deluxe wash costs $6, the Premium $8, and the Ultimate $10.

“Both of the in-bays do a great job cleaning cars,” Bogese says. “It just comes down to personal preference. We have some customers that will only use the touch-free bay or vice versa.

“The key is to provide a quality wash. If you don’t, they won’t come back. When we designed and built this place, we worked with that idea in mind.”

The automatics feature auto cashiers, and accept cash, credit cards, and fleet cards. The wash has fleet accounts with the Hopewell Police Department, nearby Prince George Police Department, and the Sheriff’s Department.

David Bogese (center) is flanked by employees Pete Burke (left) and Debra Waddell (right).

Bogese owns an identical wash in Prince George County, and the two locations combine to wash 120-130 police vehicles each month. The fleet accounts serve two purposes. First, they supply Car Wash City with a steady stream of income. Second, the increased police presence at the washes helps to discourage vandalism and theft.

The self-serve bays have Jim Coleman equipment, and are outfitted with all of the usual bells and whistles. Customers can pay with cash inside of each of the three bays, or can use a credit card at a central location. In addition to the bays, customers can use their credit cards for the vacuums and vending machines.

The wash is doing well right now, but it is about to do much better with the announcement of the federal government’s plans to expand Fort Lee, located just down the street from Car Wash City.

Self-serve customers can pay by credit card at a central location.

The Federal Base Realignment and Closure Commission has plans for a $1.5 billion project, which will see the number of troops training at the complex nearly double to 9,000, with another 3,000-plus permanent military, civilian, and contract workers added over the next few years.

The wash site processes over 42,000 cars per year in the in-bays, and each self-serve bay produces between $2,100 and $2,700 per month. Those impressive numbers will surely increase as the traffic counts along busy Route 36 increase with the Fort Lee expansion.

“We are in a good location here,” Bogese says. “We are right off of 295 and surrounded by other business. The location is going to get even better with the planned expansion.”

Hopewell will see a bump in its population when the expansion is complete and if Bogese and his staff continue their top-notch service they will surely capture the newcomers’ business and Car Wash City will continue to thrive.

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