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A FEATURED ARTICLE FROM

JANUARY 2006

Lenny Dykstra's Car Washes Score Big  
By Jim and Elaine Norland

Entry monument at Lenny Dykstra's Car Wash in Simi Valley.

As a Major League baseball player - first for the New York Mets and then for the Philadelphia Phillies - Lenny Dykstra was famous for league-leading hitting and tough play.

Now retired from baseball, Dykstra is scoring with a different audience with car washes that also look like league leaders. Lenny Dykstra's Car Wash operates in three Southern California locations, two in Corona and one in Simi Valley. He also owns Lenny Dykstra's Auto Repair Center and Quick Lube Express in Simi Valley, a 16-bay auto service center behind his wash.

The washes, each with a busy detail center and oil change service, all display a high level of first-class customer accommodations as well as excellence in conveyorized hand washing. Dykstra calls his stores the "Taj Mahal" of car washes, which sums up the architectural extras and stature of the washes as well as the service qualities they embody.

Inside, skylighted customer areas feature cherry-wood wainscoting, green marble, comfortable seating and well-appointed restrooms. The creature comforts also include free coffee, abundant sports memorabilia, and an array of TV sets frequently tuned to major sporting events.\

The state-of-the-art tunnel in South Corona.

Outside, water fountains along with seating for as many as 50 people help waiting customers spend a pleasant 20 to 25 minutes while their vehicles are cleaned. A white-uniformed customer-area attendant is constantly on patrol to keep the premises litter-free and spotless.

The state-of-the-art tunnel in South Corona. The finishing area at the McKinley Hills (North Corona) location.

The wash tunnels are visible to customers walking to the waiting areas, and so are lube and detail operations, all exemplifying the best in car care in neat, well-lit surroundings. One of Lenny's phone messages at his newest (south Corona) location sums up what he intends to bring customers: "Our highest priority is your complete satisfaction."

The first Lenny Dykstra Car Wash opened in December 1993, a year that was also one of Lenny's best with the Phillies. He was named an All Star, led the league in hits, and helped take the Phillies to the World Series. With the good contracts he had earned, Lenny, a native of Orange County, was looking for opportunities to invest his money in business opportunities in Southern California.

 

Lush, tropical customer-waiting area in Simi Valley.

"Lenny was always very much into cars," his brother, Kevin, says. "He always loved his exotic cars when he was playing baseball, and naturally wanted to keep them clean and looking good."

Lush, tropical customer-waiting area in Simi Valley. Each location has a memorabilia display. The display at Simi Valley is pictured.

After some preliminary research, Kevin spent a year learning the business in preparation for that first wash, the north Corona site. That site now washes 800 to 1,000 cars on a typical weekend day, taxing its capacity. The volume has resulted in several operational adjustments as well as pursuit of a slightly larger site, one acre, for the south Corona wash, which opened in September of 2003.

The Simi Valley site, opened in 1998, is relatively "gigantic," as Kevin puts it, two acres with the car wash in front of the auto repair center. Simi Valley is about 90 miles from Corona, but both Lenny Dykstra's name and high customer satisfaction from the first wash have helped build business there.

The south Corona site, just off Interstate 15 at the Ontario exit, is adding more in customer convenience. It has a Conoco-Phillips gas station with an upscale convenience store within walking distance of - but not attached to - the car wash.

All the car washes are located close by major retail operations - Wal-Mart and Home Depot stores - as well as McDonald's restaurants, and benefit by that proximity. "We try to follow the big boys," Kevin Dykstra says.

Staffing all operations and locations is a major concern for Lenny Dykstra Car Washes, involving some 250 workers. "This is a labor-oriented business," Kevin learned. "You have 40 or 50 guys on at a time, and you have to demand quality performance from all your employees. Drivers in California take great pride in their cars, and they really check them out after a wash," more so than in other parts of the country.

To get the best quality control, the Dykstras and other company executives seek top-level experienced managers. "Our managers at each location each have 15 to 20 years experience in the business," Kevin says. "Then we try to take care of all those employees, whether they're line workers or managers. We appreciate their hard work and in return they appreciate us." Darrell Talbert, who is also mayor of Corona, is chief operating officer of Lenny Dykstra Car Washes. Perhaps the most veteran non-family employee is Jerry Garcia, "the gentleman I learned the business with 13 or 14 years ago," Kevin recalls. "He and I began together, and he's still with us."

Garcia manages the south Corona location, and generally "puts things in motion for us." As an example, Kevin Dykstra, Darrell Talbert and Jerry Garcia were all heading for the Simi Valley wash site on a recent spring day to resolve some operational issues. "We look to Jerry to help us out in all areas," Kevin adds.

All the Lenny Dykstra Car Wash sites have attractive 3,000-square- foot boutiques, stocked with sports art and memorabilia. Some light refreshments are stocked at each, including free coffee for car wash customers. The refreshments and merchandise offerings are more a convenience for customers than a revenue generator, although they contribute somewhat to overall profits.

Hand washing is very popular among California car owners, and the process is given center stage at each site. A 100-foot conveyor moves vehicles at the first Corona location while a 120-foot conveyor serves the second. At Simi Valley, the conveyor is 150 feet long, enabling a higher volume of cars to move through quickly.

The north Corona operation taught the Dykstras that more space was needed in the entrance/vacuum area. "There, you go three cars deep and you're in the street," Kevin explains, but at Simi Valley, "we made it a longer entrance and went really big on the tunnel. We also doubled the size in the drying area to gear up for the volume."

Wash packages - priced from $12.95 to $24.95 - bear baseball terminology. There's the "Double," the "Triple," the "Home Run," and the "Grand Slam." Drivers can add detailing such as hand waxing for $39.95. Complete details run up to around $150 for passenger cars. Higher prices prevail on both wash and detail packages for larger vehicles and trucks.

Customers can join the "All Star Club" at Lenny Dykstra's for additional benefits, and those who buy the Home Run car wash get a sixth wash free after paying for the first five. That Home Run wash is the most popular among wash customers.

That same wash is given as a premium to oil change customers at each location. For $34.95, a driver gets both the oil change and Home Run wash in a convenient package that may take only 15 or 20 minutes more than the wash alone. "We were one of the first to put in an oil change service and give a free car wash with it. We're doing 1,500 to 2,000 oil changes each month," Kevin notes.

Each of the three wash sites has a three-bay lube center, with spacious pit room for workers. The south Corona operation has drive-through bays. Offerings at each lube center have been expanded to include transmission and coolant system services and light, wiper and belt replacements.

Detailing services are popular at all three wash sites, and wash customers can easily view that work in progress. "We have about four to five detail bays, but we usually see about five to 10 cars over there at a time," Kevin Dykstra reports.

At both Simi Valley and south Corona locations, detailing takes place indoors in covered bays. Detailing of up to six cars at a time is performed under three canopies at north Corona, where inside space is most limited.

The exteriors of Lenny Dykstra Car Washes are eye-catching. White stucco is accented with royal blue and red, a color scheme repeated inside the washes as well as in workers' baseball (what else?) caps and uniform smocks.

"Lenny has put a lot of money in these facilities because he knows customers appreciate it," Kevin says. "We have nice tall buildings with the clay tile roof and a canopied vacuum entrance. Beautiful landscaping surrounds the wash and the water fountains near the entrance. And we have stamped concrete throughout the wash."

That's all part of his philosophy of doing things right the first time, Lenny said in a recent interview. By building his facilities right, treating both employees and customers right, and giving them the best product, he believes drivers will respond with repeat business.

Dykstra is also unstinting when it comes to support of community causes and charities. "When we went to Simi Valley, Lenny donated a Little League field, which cost thousands of dollars," Kevin reports. "At all our locations, we give back to the city, donating all kinds of prizes. We regularly help schools, hospitals and others in the community." With his quality approach to automotive services, his commitment to business investment and community support, it's no wonder that Lenny Dykstra's Car Washes are batting 1,000.

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

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