Profile in Success - November 2008

Miles The Auto Spa - Destination Wash
By Jim and Elaine Norland

The oval shape of the logo is a recurring element in the facility's design.
The oval shape is evident in the building structure.

Is getting one’s car washed a necessary chore or an enjoyable and relaxing visit? Some car washes focus only on whatever is absolutely necessary to clean cars, with little regard for customer comfort or convenience.

Something more, a pleasant destination for car care, is exactly what Miles Johnson created at Miles The Auto Spa in Franklin, TN. A car lover for many years, Johnson had sampled car washes across the nation in his previous work as a telecommunications executive. He felt that most fell short of delivering an enjoyable experience in both vehicle and customer care. They usually gave drivers a sense of “let’s get it over with and get out of here,” Johnson felt.

On his well-located acre-plus site amidst upscale auto dealers in an affluent suburb of Nashville, Johnson designed a wash and detail operation that befits the “spa” name. He wanted to develop an attitude and ambiance of customer care like the experience of shopping at better department stores such as Nordstrom, Nieman Marcus, or Saks Fifth Avenue.

While a customer can drive through and get a quick exterior car wash here if pressed by time and budget, it is very tempting to make the visit more than brief. Gourmet coffee, a big flat-screen television, leather lounging chairs, a gift boutique, and decorative accessories all lure drivers.

Many have opted to treat their cars to a full-service M1 or very popular M2 washes, $15 and $29 respectively, or perhaps one of several express detail services. Those are performed in a glassed-in detail bay that flanks one side of the lobby/café/gift shop area.

The spacious glassed-in lobby includes a gourmet coffee bar, “Octane,” featuring offerings from Bongo Java Coffee Co., a Nashville specialty firm, and “Retail Therapy,” a boutique area that carries a range of fashionable garments and accessories.

The gift shop and coffee bar are so attractive that many drivers are still enjoying the experience when their cars are ready to go. Some simply say, “I’m not ready yet.” The children’s play area is so comfy that even moms have fallen asleep with their kids in the beanbag furniture.

Tunnel exterior-only options can handle a quick wash-off of surface dust and dirt from the past day or so. The exterior washes offered at two competitive price points, $5 and $9, can equal or top whatever else is available in the area in both speed and quality. Extras such as rain-off and tire shine are part of the upgraded exterior wash.

Full-service washes represent roughly two thirds of monthly wash services, more than half of that the M2 or $29 wash. “Our exterior only washes will represent on any given month between 30 to 40 percent,” Johnson reports.

“When you talk about wash services only, we average just under $20 per customer.” Extra services and sales may boost the average per-customer revenue to between $25 and $30.

Customers can watch the big-screen TV or check out the selection of specialty wheels.
Action stations, as a vehicle makes its way down the tunnel.
Detail bays double as display area for custom garage cabinetry.

Miles wash packages may seem a bit pricey compared to the base full-serve prices offered by some washes, but they offer high value through packaging or bundling. “We decided to limit the number of add-on services by bundling them into price points,” Johnson explains. “Our entry level full-service wash is $15, inside and out. We have seven $3 additional services that can be chosen a la carte. However, if you choose our $29 price point, we’ll throw in all seven of those $3 items.

“The vast majority of our customers that come in for a full-service wash choose that $29 price point. If you were across town, you might have chosen, let’s say an $18 car wash or a $15 car wash, but by the time you got all of those additional items thrown in that we charge $29 for, you would typically be in the mid $30s.

“What’s surprising to most people is that our prices are actually sometimes less than what they were used to paying when they were tacking on all these additional services. However, from a business perspective if the majority of our full service car washes choose that bundled package, we have a much higher revenue per customer.”

Car washing is the principal revenue producer at Miles The Auto Spa, representing about 65 to 70 percent of total sales.

The wash and related operations are located on one-and-a-half acres, although Johnson wishes he had a little more space to fully accommodate his customers and services. The structure and many interior features are oval shaped, as is the company logo. “Our building —including the lobby, the wash tunnel, and the detail bays — is just under 9,000 square feet,” Johnson notes. The building’s black, gray, and gold hues — like highway signage colors — are also seen in employee uniforms and inside furnishings.

The structure includes a 2,200 square foot oval lobby, a 105-foot tunnel, and a shiny detail area that can handle up to four cars at a time. Three full-time detailers deliver express and full detail services six days a week, and customers in the lobby can watch the work in progress.

Tony Lane is general manager-operations, Matt Buerger is general sales manager, and Jeff Anderson is assistant manager-operations of this multi-faceted car care center.

Just as the wash package options, numerous detail services are packaged into both interior and exterior bundles at $69 each, or they can be combined for $119. The “Ultimate Detail” is priced starting at $189. “We do quite a few details that are anywhere from $200 to $300,” Johnson reports. “We run the gamut.” Detailing accounts for about 10 percent of total revenue.

Coffee-bar menu with an automotive flavor.
Current and future customer enjoy the out-door "lounge."
"Retail Therapy" - shop the pain away.

The detail area also serves as a display showroom for garage cabinetry, accessories, and floor covering sold at Miles The Auto Spa. Work desks, tool cabinets, and wall fixtures are shown in use. Several home garage interiors are shown on the company web site.

Customers can choose to have Miles The Auto Spa custom order, configure, and install garage furnishings. One side of the double-door detail bay shows Gladiator cabinets, another has the Baldhead line. The company sells Sport Court and RaceDeck flooring which also can be patterned to suit customer preferences.

The spacious lobby also houses four salesperson stations outfitted with Gladiator desks and cabinets. Customers can also enhance the appearance and handling of their vehicles with custom wheels and tires displayed and sold at Miles The Auto Spa. Several wheel brands are displayed on stands in one area of the lobby, and customers can also check out performance enhancements such as exhaust and intake systems and suspension upgrades. Such sales represent about 5 percent of the current total revenue, Johnson estimates.

A fairly new addition to this car lovers’ mecca is Miles AutoMotive, opened last spring. Pre-owned upscale cars are prepped to showroom condition, displayed and sold on behalf of owners. Several such vehicles are on display at a time. Johnson expects revenue from that enterprise to soon account for 10 percent or more of the business total. Johnson co-owns Miles AutoMotive with Jeff Yates, a veteran mortgage industry executive with sales and management experience in and around the Nashville area.

Johnson packed his car wash with equipment that assures truly clean results. Using Sonny’s and its area representative, Tec Car Wash Services, Knoxville, as his source, “We bought every available piece of equipment that we could squeeze into a 105-foot tunnel. We have neoprene wraps, two mitters, an on-line tire shine application, and wheel blasters. Our tire shine and wheel cleaning extra service sales lead the pack.” Tec also supplies all the chemicals and cleaning supplies. A DRB point-of-sale system accepts credit cards and provides other customer data.

To save on water bills and because of environmental concerns, Miles The Auto Spa employs PurClean and PurWater reclaim and spot free rinse systems.

The upscale look and accommodations of this wash match the affluent neighborhood of Cool Springs in Franklin, a suburb of Nashville. “From an income perspective we’re in a very lucrative zip code. Williamson County is probably one of the wealthier if not the wealthiest county in Tennessee, and probably one of the top 10 or 15 in the country. By default our location means we see a lot of high-end cars come through,” Johnson notes.

At the same time, he says, that can be a deterrent to some customers who are driving, say, a Ford F-150 pickup. “You may look up any one day and see a Bentley, a 911, and a Range Rover, but at the same time you’ll have a guy out in a Ford Taurus as well, so we’re getting better about that.” He points out that “yes, we’ll wash your car for as little as $5.”

Gift cards and special programs offer customer savings on washes at every level.

Another element influencing the customer mix at Miles the Auto Spa is the relocation of Nissan North American headquarters to Franklin. “They have a vested interest in having a bunch of Nissan products out on the street, all clean and shining. Working through their Human Relations department, we became the preferred vendor for all car wash services in our area.” Johnson worked with a vendor to produce special barcode access to his wash. Nissan employees are provided an oval key tag with the Miles logo on one side and a barcode with Nissan logo on the other side.

“That barcode tells us when scanned that this is a Nissan employee. It automatically gives the appropriate discount that we give all 2,000 Nissan employees. Not only is getting that account important to me but now I’ve got roughly 2,000 people in middle Tennessee carrying my logo on their keychain,” Johnson says.

Johnson concentrated on individual car wash customers when Miles The Auto Spa was launched, but has slowly developed some commercial accounts, including the city’s Parks and Recreation department. “We’ve also had some success with the city police department.”

“We’re only a year and a half old, so our first concern was to wash one car at a time and know that every customer would leave 100 percent satisfied. We did not go out after corporate accounts because we didn’t want to be distracted by it. We didn’t sign up any corporate accounts until we were eight or nine months into the business so we wouldn’t worry about how to treat a larger account and maybe neglect or slight the individual customer.”

Many car dealerships now may have some car washing facilities, but those in the neighborhood of Miles The Auto Spa frequently rely on its dedicated professional services. “We are surrounded by car dealerships such as Mercedes, Lexus, Infiniti, and Nissan. We do a lot of their cars as well as their customers’ vehicles.” Dealers may want to provide their own washes, but such service is an afterthought, not their main interest, Johnson says. It can also be overrun on a high-volume sales day when every customer expects to pick up a well-cleaned car. “We tell them we understand if they want to have their own service, but know that we’re here for you when you need us. That approach has worked well.”

About 90 percent of wash services are paid for by credit cards. Retail customers can purchase prepaid gift cards, which give them a 5 percent discount on any amount over $10. Drivers can also sign up for free membership in the Miles Club to earn points and discounts on services. The Miles corporate card, for which businesses apply, establishes their commercial account. The Miles Unlimited Card, which can be used for washes as often as desired, is available in one, three, and six month increments at any wash level.

Johnson realized that many in the car industry felt his approach of selling not only car washes but also gourmet coffee, boutique gifts, wheel/tire packages, and custom garage furniture in an upscale setting wouldn’t work.

“I obviously didn’t believe that, and I’m glad that we stuck with our guns. I think what we’ve created is a very unique brand. People don’t necessarily look at us as a car wash nor as a car lot or a wheel shop. They look at us as a unique business with a great experience, which, oh, by the way, happens to do all these different things. And so far so good.”

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

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