Profile in Success - November 2009

50 Years of Super
By Timothy Denman

Special signage proudly declares the Goddards' Best in State Award.
The Goddard brothers at the Best in State Awards dinner. From left to right: Jeff, Mark, and Guy.

A lot has changed in the past 50 years, but one thing has stayed the same: The Goddard Family is washing cars.

The Goddards have been serving the citizens in and around Salt Lake City, UT since the late fifties, and are celebrating their 50th year in business with the same commitment to customer satisfaction that helped Super Sonic Car Wash grow from one location to an 11-store chain.

Wayne and Marion Goddard opened Super Sonic Car Wash in 1959 and ran the business until Wayne passed away in 1987. Following Wayne’s death, the business fell into the capable hands of Wayne’s three sons: Mark, Guy, and Jeff, who have run the car wash chain and expanded the empire over the past 22 years.

Super Sonic now has nine full-serve and two self-serve washes — five full-serve washes are run by Guy; four full-serve and two self-serve locations are run by Mark; while Jeff is the vice president for the entire operation.

Super Sonic started as a single wash entity 50 years ago and stayed that way for 10 years until Wayne opened his second location in the late 60s.

“We were relatively conservative in our expansion approach in the early days,” Guy says. “We could have expanded faster but we took it slow.”

The biggest obstacle to quick expansion during the company’s early years was the lack of available financing. Wayne received the financing to build his first wash from his father, and even laid the brickwork himself to help alleviate costs.

Although financing is more readily available these days the cost of building or renovating an existing facility has grow astronomically since Super Sonic added that second wash 40 years ago.

“In 1968 it cost $300,000 to build a car wash,” Guy says. “Today that number is in the millions. The real cost of land, building, and equipment has far exceeded everyone’s expectations.”

The Goddards’ original location was torn down and the property sold 10 years ago. The chain’s oldest current location is Wayne’s second store located in downtown Salt Lake City.

Under the dryers at the Sandy, UT full-serve tunnel.
The entrance to the chain's flex-serve location in Salt Lake City.

The 40-year-old traditional full-serve contrasts with the Goddards’ newest location, a completely modern express tunnel located in Orem, UT. The location was built four years ago from the ground up after Super Sonic sold an older location to a land developer. The new site is located just three blocks from the previous wash, making customer adjustment a breeze.

“We were fortunate enough to just move up the street,” Guy says. “We opened the new car wash the same day we closed the old one.”

Although Mark and Guy run their washes independently, there is still a strong connection between the locations. All Super Sonic washes share pricing, branding, and honor the newly established unlimited wash club.

“We meet several times a year to talk about pricing and promotions,” Mark says. “Guy has his washes and I have mine, but we try to keep them connected as best we can.”

The brothers’ dedication to keeping the independently owned washes operating as one cohesive unit was recognized by The Best in State of Utah this year as the trio received the award in the Automotive Services category.

Super Sonic’s marketing plan is simple, yet high-tech. The Goddards have invested heavily over the years in expensive, highly visible electronic reader boards that are in use 24 hours a day, seven days a week promoting the chain and advertising any specials.

“We have the flexibility to put messages up at any time,” Guy says. “The reader boards have been our most effective marketing campaign in the modern era. We have them at all our washes in one fashion or another. Some are bigger and more impressive than others but they all have them.”

One constant in the Super Sonic marketing approach is the annual Christmas promotion. Starting the week before Thanksgiving each wash begins selling car wash coupon books that customers can buy and use to stuff the stockings of their family and friends.

Traditionally, the Goddards sold books of 10 with a free wash at the time of purchase. In response to the slowed economy, this holiday season the chain will begin selling smaller books of five.

The tunnel at the Murray, UT location.
The lobby at the Murray, UT location.
Super Sonic has two self-serve locations.

“In the past December has al-ways been a huge month for us,” Mark says. “It was like having three months wrapped up into one. We always make a big deal of it and commission our cashiers to sell the books. We are going with the smaller sized five-coupon books this year to help eliminate some of the sticker shock of buying 10 washes at once.”

Although Super Sonic has simple roots, the company continues to embrace the newest trends in the industry, and recently installed automated POS stations at all of its full-serve washes. Hoping to utilize the full potential of the POS system, the chain has implemented an unlimited wash program.

Super Sonic employs a three-tiered pricing structure at all of its conveyorized washes. Three full-service wash options are available starting at the $15.50 “Full-Serve” wash. The wash includes a wipe-down, window washing, light dusting, and a vacuum. For $18 customers can enjoy the “Protection Package,” which improves upon the “Full Serve” with a single wax and an undercarriage spray. The $21 “Works Wash” features triple coat wax and an air freshener.

Three exterior only options are also available, starting with the $7 “Exterior Only.” The wash features a full wipe down and use of free/pay vacuums on a site-by-site basis. For $9 the “Manager’s Special” features a single wax. The $10 “Exterior Plus” comes with a triple coat wax, undercarriage treatment, and an air freshener.

The unlimited program, which launched in June, allows members to wash their vehicles at any of the company’s nine full-serve locations. Two options are currently available: a $45 “Works Wash” full-serve unlimited pass and a $25 “Exterior Plus” unlimited pass. After less than six months in existence the unlimited wash program boasts over 800 members.

“If we can get a customer to commit to washing with us on an ongoing basis we can offer our services at a discounted rate,” Mark says. “So far the program has been successful. We expect it to continue to grow.”

Guy echoes his brother’s sentiments, “I have customers stop me on the street all the time and tell me that they just bought one of our monthly passes and that they really like it. We have not been doing it all that long, but I think it will grow a life of its own.”

Although Super Sonic Car Wash has no immediate expansion plans the chain does see opportunity for further growth.

“I think there will be opportunity to buy existing washes and re-brand them in the future,” Mark says. “That is going to be something to explore as we move forward. We will just keep marching forward and washing cars like we always did. We still believe in customer service, integrity, values, and are committed to doing this for the long term.”

With 50 years of experience guiding them, the Goddards are poised to continue serving the people of Northern Utah for decades to come. And if the past half a century is any indication, serving them well.

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