Profile in Success - May 2009

Building an Empire in the King's Town
By Timothy Denman

Elvis Presley has always been the king of rock and roll and Memphis has always been his kingdom.
But three brothers-in-law are carving out an empire of their own in Elvis’ hometown — their focus is on sparkling fenders and shinny rims not catchy hooks and shaking hips.

Owner Ray Holley and executive vice-presidents Kerry Sewell and Bob McQuage have recently opened up their fifth Car Wash USA Express in the greater Memphis area and are quietly becoming car wash kings.

The view of Car Wash USA Express from Elvis Presley Boulevard.

The partners’ newest wash is located on 3419 Elvis Presley Boulevard, less than one mile from the King’s Graceland mansion. The front-and-center location intersects with busy Windchester Ave and sees over 40,000 cars pass by everyday.

“We had been looking for a piece of land in the area for over two years,” Sewell says. “It is real tough to get land here. We were fortunate to be able to carve out a sub-parcel (just shy of an acre) from someone who was moving a large chunk of land.”

Once Car Wash USA Express had the land they went right to work building their fifth wash under the brand in record time. Construction took just 100 days — by far the quickest build time of the five washes in the area.

Two payment lanes help keep cars flowing through the site.

The partners aim to become “the fast food of car washes;” offering quick and satisfying service for an increasingly-busy customer base.

“All three of us grew up with our parents taking us to the local burger joint to eat and going in and sitting down in the restaurant,” Sewell says “Kids today go through the drive thru. Expectations have changed. People want to wash their cars quickly, get in, get out, go home. That is what we are trying to do.”

Helping Car Wash USA Express fulfill its goals of fast-food-like service is a tunnel packed full of the latest equipment in the express market.

When customers pull into the wash they are met with two separate POS entry systems with a variety of payment methods. Customers can pay with cash, credit cards, fast pass, as well as RFID tag.

Following payment, customers are directed onto the conveyor by the on-site staff and the car’s prep-less journey begins.

All customers receive two top brushes, two sets of wraps, friction gear, spot-free rinse, and the use of the free vacuums at the “Deluxe” $5 entry-level wash. At the $8 “Works” level customers receive Wheel Brite, two-step foam bath, undercarriage blast, helix high-pressure rinse, clear-coat protectant, and tire shine. The $10 “Ultimate” level has all of the add-ons of the “Works” plus bug-off, Lustra Shield, and TriGloss.

The wash menu features three express exterior options.
A car makes its way through the well-equipped tunnel.
There is no mitter at Car Wash USA Express to
block the view.
Customers make use of the abundant free vacuums.
Kerry Sewell, Ray Holley, and Bob McQuage.

Since the wash opened in November of 2008, 65 percent of customers have opted for the “Ultimate” wash.

Motor City Wash Works provided all of the equipment, including the red plastic covers that match Car Wash USA Express’ color scheme. The simple-to-clean plastic skins simply snap on the equipment’s frame and could easily be replaced should the wash decide to change its color palette.

Express exteriors haven’t yet penetrated the greater Memphis area. Besides Car Wash USA Express’ five washes, there are only six other expresses in the market. “We do a great deal of research finding our locations,” Holley says. “We want to make sure that we are far away from our competitors. It doesn’t make sense to build right on top of another wash. If you put in too many washes nobody wins.”

Despite the relatively low number of expresses in the area, competition for the car wash dollar in the city is intense — the market is saturated with self-serve bays and in-bay automatics, with an emphasis on touch-less washes.

“We are reintroducing the market to a soft-touch option,” Sewell says. “There is a long-held belief in the area that touching a car will scratch a car. That is not the case; when a customer goes through a Car Wash USA Express they find that out. So far the response has been absolutely fantastic, we have exceeded ramp-up time three months earlier than we planned.”

Always having two to five attendants and a manager on site has helped build the Car Wash USA Express brand in the sometimes-dangerous Memphis area. “There has been some resistance to self-serve bays in the area particularly for woman.” Sewell says. “We own some self-serve bays at other locations and we are attracting more woman at this site. I believe it is because they feel safer knowing there is always an attendant on duty.”

Having five washes within a 25-mile radius has helped Car Wash USA Express develop its brand and economically promote the businesses. Direct mail is sent out for each wash within a mile of the establishment to help promote each specific location, while electronic media is used to build the brand throughout the Memphis area.

The washes utilize radio, television, and the Internet to build the brand and cross promote the five locations. The campaign’s messages focus on the fast pass and RFID technology, the always-present attendants, and special brand-wide promotions. Customers who utilize the washes’ electronic payment methods are welcome to use them at all five locations — which is a great selling point in the recruitment of fleet account business. Each location also features a full-color reader board that is used to advertise site-specific promotions.

In addition to traditional advertising vehicles, Car Wash USA Express has partnered with local charity groups to help spread the brand while simultaneously helping the community.

The wash has partnered with some of the charity walks in the area. Tying in with those events, the wash gave out coupons to all participants, and was a designated charity sponsor for some of the walks.

All of Car Wash USA Express’ grand opening events partner with the Ronald McDonald house of Memphis. Washes are free all day, and donations for the charity are collected.

“We try to take each one of our washes and tie it into the community,” Sewell says. “We see them as being the meeting point of the community. We want to be a place you go on the weekend to hang out and wash your car.” If early numbers are any indication the wash is well on its way.

The partners are always looking to add additional sites, and plan to build more washes in
the future with an eye towards the Memphis suburbs as the city becomes more saturated with car wash sites.

If their work in Memphis is any indication the trio will become kings in whatever territory they set up shop.

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