Profile in Success - November 2010

Kwik Car Wash —
Two Locations, Two Distinct Markets
By Jim and Elaine Norland

Back view of the Parker location.
Aaron Green and Megan Ronald outside the Parker wash.

Aaron Green has been both ahead of his time on one site and joined a wave of competitors at another. As operator of two exterior express washes he has the secret to not only survive, but also become a community favorite at two Kwik Car Wash sites in Littleton and Parker, CO.

The washes are located south of Denver. Littleton is a long-established city just a few miles outside the Mile High City, and Parker is a bedroom community in commuting distance from either Denver or Colorado Springs.

Green opened the Littleton wash in April 2005 as a ground-floor entrant in an urban redevelopment area that has since attracted numerous new traffic-generating businesses.

The Parker site opened in January 2006 as he and a host of competitors built tunnel washes in a town where the residential boom then looked to be unstoppable. “Unstoppable” then, has become nearly static since, and one of eight Parker tunnel washes has shut down.

Green has ridden out the economic storms of recent years and built a community following with clever marketing and aggressive promotion of charity or community benefit car washes at both locations. Twice monthly during summer months, he and Megan Ronald, sales and marketing manager, promote and host car washes for various groups.

Press releases within the communities herald each event, in addition to whatever internal bulletins and meetings the benefitting group has available. The company gives away 50 percent of its revenue during the Saturday hours the charity group is present, and allows the group to vacuum customer cars for tips.

Kwik Car Wash benefits from pre- and post-event publicity and the spirited group beckoning motorists from busy streets adjoining each wash. A bunch of waving, smiling young people is a great substitute in communities where large and conspicuous signage is restricted, Green feels.

Drivers supporting the groups may be making their first visit to either wash. The quality of the wash, usually Kwik’s best $10 package, brings newbies back for repeat visits. Group members and sponsors are likely repeat customers in the future.

The menu board and some promotional signage.

Green says it’s a close call to reach breakeven on the traffic at such events, but the other benefits are very worthwhile.

During fall, winter, and early spring months, groups can raise money by selling tickets for the $10 “Gold” wash at Kwik Car Wash. A responsible leader of the group can get a package of tickets imprinted with the group’s logo for members to sell. The leader returns $5 for each sold ticket ($10 for each missing ticket) to Kwik at the end of 30 days.

This fall Kwik sponsored a local high school by holding a Frisbee tossing competition at one Friday-night football game with free car washes for the winning side. Kwik will host other events and sports for the same school.

Both Kwik Car Washes are handsome, solidly built structures with attractive landscaping, easy access and egress, and bright coloring. Glass windows face major roadways — passersby see cars being washed in well-lit tunnels. Each tunnel is 100 feet long, and conveyors are 120 or 125 feet.

Washes are priced at $5, $8, and $10 currently, with an early bird discount for washes before 9 a.m. each day. Package offerings include 30-day unlimited washes for any level of wash on a single vehicle, bulk ticket, and family ticket packages which can reduce the cost of a Gold or $10 wash to as low as $7.

During the past five years, Green has made a couple of price changes from an initial $6-8-10 structure. He competed in “the $3 game” in late 2006 with a $3-6-9-12 array, but later went to the present pricing. Average revenue per car now is $6, Ronald reports.

Drivers are given a dashboard towel, lollipops for kids, a biscuit for their dog, and free access to powerful vacuums after they exit the wash tunnels.

The tunnel at Parker waiting for the next customer.
The Parker wash in motion.

“We offer special pricing for fleet accounts wishing to purchase unlimited wash cards or a minimum of 24 washes per account,” says Megan Arnold. “This program plays a large role in wash volume at our Littleton location where our surroundings are highly industrial. We currently have accounts with the city, the county, sheriff’s department, and a couple of local landscaping companies.” A minimum of two attendants are present during operating hours. One operates a MicroLogic point-of-sale system to enter the driver’s selection and collect payment. The other does some prepping and/or guides drivers onto the conveyor. When traffic is heavy, attendants are added — up to a maximum of four per wash.

Washes are open from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sunday starting in October. Evening hours extend until 8 p.m. starting around May 1, allowing commuting motorists more time to get home, perhaps eat, and then get to the wash.

Total employment at Kwik, including office staff, is between 13 and 15.

To acquire employees the company often uses “Now Hiring” wind signs near the point of sale entrance and also uses Craigslist. Interviews determine if candidates have the right customer service skills and test them for quick thinking. An operations manager handles training after a successful applicant reads a manual explaining company standards and job basics.

All employees wear blue polo shirts with khaki pants or a nice pair of jeans. Blue and yellow jackets, Kwik’s colors, are provided for the winter season. “It’s important that all our employees look professional, act consistently, and stand out if a customer needs assistance,” Ronald notes.

Kwik uses mystery shoppers to evaluate the service and appearance at each site. If the rating is sufficiently high, employees are rewarded with a bonus according to the hours they’ve worked at the time of the visit.

Green didn’t have any previous experience as a car wash operator prior to opening his near-Denver locations. His background was in horticulture and landscape design, but he worked for Kwik Industries, Dallas, TX, developing lube centers, car washes, and dry cleaners.

The tunnel entrance at the Littleton location.

He met a group that wanted to own car washes, and they asked if he’d like to be part owner. “Through the course of events, I became not only the developer but also the operator/president/ day-to-day operations small business owner,” he says.

The first wash, in Littleton, has four self-serve bays in addition to the express-exterior tunnel. Larger vehicles that can’t go through the tunnel use the wand bays for cleaning. The demographics of the Littleton market helped dictate that combination, and Green says fleet and industrial customers find the bays fit their needs.

Lot size and layout as well as demographics of a bedroom community led to the express exterior tunnel without self-serve options for the facility at Parker.

The Parker Kwik Car Wash is built of construction block and faced with split-face block with a parapet roof. Tunnel walls are lined and sealed. Littleton tunnel walls are coated with an elastomeric coating that has held up very well, Green says. Littleton’s structure has a tile roof tower and parapet flat roof. The equipment room is between the tunnel and the self-serve bays to serve both.

Water reclaim systems have been part of each wash from the beginning, but not because they were required. “Colorado hasn’t mandated reclaim but they strongly encouraged it by increasing tap fees for a larger size tap. With reclaim you can use a smaller tap. For instance, in Parker the reclaim system paid for itself in construction costs just by employing a smaller tap,” Green explains. The system helps Kwik Car Wash use just 12 to 15 gallons of fresh water per vehicle.

Self-service bays in Littleton.
The Rawlings baseball team — just one of the many beneficiaries of fundraisers at Kwik Car Wash.

Green regularly updates equipment. He is replacing original equipment with A.V.W. Equipment Co. and Tommy Car Wash lines. New wraps create a spiral look as they spin in the tunnel. Billy Tillotson’s Colorado Chem-Oil is Green’s source for both new equipment and chemicals.

Coupon mailing companies such as Money Mailer and ValPak are used for ongoing promotion. Local coupon magazines add to that. Green supports many community events and organizations with advertising and coupons. When the Parker location opened, Kwik gave free car washes for the first two weeks.

Cross promotions with nearby companies have worked well for Kwik Car Wash. “Some partners that have worked best for us are those who are also interested in fast customer turnover, including fast-food or quick-serve restaurants.”

At Littleton, where Green was one of the first in an urban renewal area, Walgreen’s, 24-Hour Fitness, a redeveloped Lowe’s, several banks, and Taco Bell have now joined Kwik Car Wash. “We were probably about two years ahead of the curve on that property,” Green says.

At both locations, Kwik Car Wash is a community partner, creating a small-town atmosphere with its constant promotions, support of area schools and charities, and partnerships with neighboring businesses. Its fast service — a three-minute wash — and quality results are becoming local favorites among drivers and their families.

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

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