Profile in Success - October 2010

Prime Shine: 13 Sites in 20 Years
By Jim and Elaine Norland

The approach provides views of the tunnel interior and the vacuum islands.

A north central California chain that introduced express car washing to the state nearly 20 years ago is still growing. Now it’s building a 13th location on a site, and at a time, that again may surprise experts.

In December, worst car washing month of the year in that region, Prime Shine Car Wash will open in a 38,000-square-foot location in downtown Modesto. Traffic usually slows on weekends so car wash patterns may be different than those of most locations. The area is undergoing some revitalization with multi-story condos adding to other people magnets in the city’s heart.

Prime Shine’s other locations are all in a three-county area. Four are in Modesto, one each in Turlock, Ceres, Merced, Lodi, Oakdale, Riverbank, Atwater, and Manteca, forming the largest chain of car washes in the state. Each site features a glass-enclosed open-air tunnel, soft-cloth washing, spot-free rinsing, and powerful air drying that removes 98 percent of water on each vehicle.

Free self-serve vacuums are a recent addition to Prime Shine wash locations. The new downtown Modesto site will have 16 vacs, as does the Manteca unit, currently the company’s newest wash. The free vacuums are an added value at Prime Shine, a way of helping customers in a pinched economy.

Prime Shine was founded in 1991 by Norm Porges, a 20-year veteran of solving business problems for Fortune 100 companies. His 10th move in that career landed him in Modesto. He liked the city and vowed to “change the way people think about car washing.” His son, Evan Porges, now age 41, grew up in Los Angeles and Modesto, worked his way through Arizona State University where he earned a degree in political science. Instead of heading for law school, Evan joined his father in operating and growing Prime Shine Express. Norm Porges is company president and Evan is general manager.

A little friendly help in the loading process.

Prime Shine has also added quick lube and related services to its locations, offering the same convenience, speed, and quality that its car washes offer. Lube customers are treated to Starbucks coffee, tea, hot chocolate, or Prime Shine bottled water to enjoy while a television monitor shows them how their vehicle is being serviced. Finally, a service technician explains what’s been done and gives the driver a coupon for a complimentary Prime Shine Express wash.

Extras such as the beverage service, free wash, and free vacuums all add to the perception of value at Prime Shine. As they enter the wash, drivers are met with a sign describing three wash options: the $6 original Prime Shine, the $8 Platinum (“for maximum shine”), and the $10 Protex for maximum shine plus Rain-X surface protectant.

The company’s practice of personally greeting customers and complimenting them on some aspect of their vehicles provides an opening to suggest but not push an additional service such as tire gloss ($2) or exterior rain shield. Greeters have several scripts from which to choose, each delivered in a personalized, non-robotic manner, suggesting two or more items. Two of every five wash customers opt for one of the suggested services or upgrades, raising per-vehicle revenue significantly.

The Prime Shine way of doing business is primarily one of personal attention and customer recognition by smiling, clean-cut attendants. There are no automated machines to take customer choices and payments, just two to four attendants per site.

Their attention is focused on customers and their cars. Operations are fast and smooth — each vehicle is cleaned in about three minutes.

Getting and training people to fit the Prime Shine mold is a costly process. The company’s website offers employment opportunities ranging from wash/lube tech to management and starting wages up to $16 an hour. Few applicants can make even the first cut. About two of every 100 applicants will pass scrutiny.

Let the cleaning begin.
Eight producers provide efficient drying.

“Number one reason is our array of background checks,” says Evan Porges. A drug screen, criminal, and education checks verify each applicant. “What we’re trying to do is flush out the honest folks and the dishonest ones. It costs us about $100 per applicant to do all those checks, but we feel that investment is well worth it in getting a better person.”

“All new hires go through a full-day orientation at company headquarters to acclimate them to our system, the Prime Shine way.” That’s followed by scripted training procedures that managers handle. “It’s about a month-long system they go through.”

Prime Shine likes the Boy Scout look. “There’s no ear piercing, plugs, or tongue rings. And no exposed tattoos; those have to be covered.” In contrast with other types of car washes where some workers may be less exposed, all Prime Shine employees are out front to help customers.

Greeters help customers review the menu boards posted at the wash entrance, and each wears a lanyard with photos or artwork that show the results of premium treatments. Those visuals coupled with the verbal suggestions are a powerful selling tool.

One might assume those greeters are working on commission or upgrade bonuses, but no commissions are offered at Prime Shine. Tips are also verboten here. “We want every customer to get the same great service for the same great price,” Porges reports. “We’ve created a culture where employees want to be nice and friendly.”

Mystery shoppers as well as customer questionnaires submitted on the Prime Shine website also keep tabs on employee demeanor. Periodic performance reviews and pay raises are part of the system to make sure workers are doing what they’re asked to do and that management is happy with their performance.

About 100 full-time employees comprise the Prime Shine team. Key members of the management team include John Schneider, chief financial officer, and Tim Harms, operations manager. Others in the top management team, each with several years as Prime Shine employees, are Jay Jafka, director of information technology; Staci Coffey, human resources manager; and Aron Silva, service/engineering manager.

Many membership, fleet, and quantity discount programs en-courage repeat business and great customer value. Unlimited Prime Shine washes can be bought for a specific vehicle for as low as $22.95 a month. A barcode sticker on the windshield verifies membership. A bulk package of 100 Prime Shine washes sells for $500, or $5 each. Purchasers can use them as a reward for their employees, a thank you to customers, or to keep their own vehicles clean and sharp.

The vacuum islands also offer a token-accepting carpet shampooer (below).

E-wash, vehicle-specific unlimited, and any-vehicle cash cards can all be purchased online, and companies can get fleet cards from Prime Shine headquarters. The unlimited card can specify whatever level of wash the customer wants. Those who choose the original Prime Shine can upgrade to a Platinum or Protex wash by paying the difference for that level. Memberships can be billed monthly or semi-annually to a major credit card. Another offer is a book of ten coupons each good for a Protex wash on any vehicle, saving 50 cents from the usual $10 per wash.

Committed since its beginning to serving community needs in its territory, Prime Shine has a prominent presence in many groups. These include two local college/university campuses, a performing arts center, a workforce alliance, a center for human services, the First Tee program, Crime Stoppers, and the Modesto Chamber of Commerce.

Any legitimate school or charity group can raise funds with Prime Shine’s help. A responsible adult (over 21 and with a major credit card) can get Prime Shine car wash coupons for his or her group. They may sell them for whatever price their audience will support (suggested: $7 to enable the group to earn a $3 margin). At the end of the program, they return unsold coupons and a $4 remittance for each sold or missing coupon to Prime Shine.

An outside marketing agency helps Prime Shine aggressively introduce new locations such as the downtown Modesto unit opening in December. Some 20,000 to 30,000 free wash coupons will be distributed by direct mail within two miles of the new wash. “Just come on in and we’ll wash your car,” says Porges, “that seems to be the best way to jumpstart a new site.

“In addition, we’ll use traditional advertising such as radio, newspaper, and more direct mail to support new and established locations. We use bus sides and billboards also.” Current co-promotions work with local restaurants to give free Prime Shine car washes with certain meals, a program that is getting good marketing play.

Electronic marketing is also part of Prime Shine’s outreach, both through its website and individual customer communications. “We’re heavily involved in e-blasts which go out to about 8,000 people in our database — people who sign up for our happy birthday program get a free wash on their birthday. Twice a month those in our database get a fun little message about things that are new and going on with our company, to keep them coming in and build our relationship with them,” Porges says.

The Modesto area has taken a hit during the economic downturn, with unemployment about twice
as high as other areas. The year 2010 began with the wettest four months in the company’s history, but the late spring and early summer months “were very good for us,” Porges reports. Prime Shine is expanding, obviously confident that it will remain the favorite for speedy, quality car care in its region.

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

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