Profile in Success - September 2009

Reflections Refurbished
By Jim and Elaine Norland

To-the-point monument signage.
The process begins.
The tunnel exit.

Refresh a 24-year-old car wash/lube/deli operation with new owners, new washing clientele, and methods, and success seems probable. Bring back a familiar face with strong community ties and hands-on knowledge to manage the wash and the outlook is even brighter.

That transition has taken place at Reflections Car Wash in Turlock, CA. While exterior-only washes abound in the community of about 80,000, Reflections shines a little brighter than the competition because of its interior/exterior full service, its lube/oil change and related services, and its detail shop.

A conveyorized tunnel wash with automated friction washing until a few years ago, Reflections has converted to a 100-percent hand car wash, retaining just the tunnel and its conveyor. It has broadened its wash services, too, with equipment and workers to professionally clean motorcycles.

The deli emphasizes barbecue with a hollowed-out Corvette serving as the barbecue pit. Motorists and their passengers can enjoy a tri-tip or chicken sandwich while their vehicle is cleaned and hand finished under a lightly shaded canopy that looks like it was always part of the original structure.

The detail bays have become multi-purpose, one bay devoted to motorcycle washing and detailing. Another bay now houses window-tinting services. When the need arises, the special motorcycle stand can be moved out of the bay to allow auto detailing in a second bay.

Reflections was established in 1986 by Doug Gregory. Gregory had long studied car washes while professionally employed by Armour Food Co. He built his own wash on Geer Road, a main street of the city, when Turlock had about a third of its present population. His son, Niles, grew up in the business. The senior Gregory sold the wash/lube/detail and deli operation in 2006 to Param “Sunny” Saini and Ram Asra.

The new owners own a number of gas stations but weren’t as experienced in the car wash business. They removed the friction wash equipment but kept the conveyor in the long tunnel at Reflections. About six months ago, they contacted Niles Gregory to see if they could hire him for his wash management experience.

A 1995 graduate of Turlock High School and a 2000 grad of Stanislaus State University, Niles has a business administration degree with a concentration in human resource management. “I thought that would cover the gamut of whatever I might need for my position here.”

He had been involved in a pet care and pet food business, but competition from big box stores doomed that enterprise. While both Saini and Asra have sons working in Reflections, the new owners asked Niles about six months ago to come in as a manager. Now he co-manages the car care center with Binder Asra, Ram’s son.

Binder Asra is a welder and fabricator who created the motorcycle washing facility recently introduced to the Turlock community. A Reflections crew can put a bike on a stand created by Binder or assist the bike’s owner in doing so.

Under new ownership, the tunnel was converted to 100 percent hand wash.
Dryer stage. Note the al fresco tunnel.
This huge shaded finishing area was added when vacuuming was moved from pre- to post-wash.

Binder describes the professional care given to motorcyclists. “We let the bike cool down, especially if the rider has been traveling for a while, and then high-pressure wash it. We have all the pneumatics in the detail area so we can blow it dry. If the owner wants spray wax we can do that, and then everything is polished down with microfiber towels.

“The whole process costs about $18 and takes about 20 minutes to produce a really clean looking bike.” Motorcycles are increasingly popular in central California, and a satisfied bike owner may return to Reflections with several fellow bikers as they prepare for a ride. The bike service is starting to take off, Binder says. “No one in the area is advertising that they’re doing it, and it’s been working out well for us.”

RV washing adds to the variety of services and customer convenience at Reflections. RVs of any size are cleaned in an outside stall. The business is seasonal, and revs up when area weather becomes more favorable to camping. Portable pressure washers and special RV soaps enable a crew of three or four employees to turn out a sparkling vehicle in a couple of hours.

Owners Saini and Asra held a grand opening in April to introduce the new features of Reflections. Some 300 cars and more than 500 people came that day. Customers were impressed with the 100-percent hand car wash and a shaded finishing area that keeps freshly washed vehicles out of the hot sun, Gagan Saini, Sunny’s son, reports.

Hand washing is well coordinated — teams of workers each take care of a side of the car or truck. One duo handles pre-wash prep spray and starts the vehicle on the conveyor to engage high-pressure washing. Cars and trucks pass through an initial soap arch, and then two more employees, one on each side, scrub the vehicle from top to bottom with terry cloth mitts.

Further down the line, a set of metal stairs enables workers to hand wash the top of mid-size to large vehicles such as Trailblazer, Jeep Cherokee, Tahoe, Suburban, and Excursion. Any truck may need the higher reach, and vehicles that have any kind of alteration on the roof can be better cleaned with the stairs, Niles Gregory notes.

On-line Rain-X for the entire vehicle, an optional service, comes before a final spot-free rinse. Powerful blower drying removes almost all the water. Vehicles then move into the shaded drying and finishing area for wipe down and special services.

Customers, most of whom watch their vehicles as the finishing takes place, feel assured that their vehicle won’t be spotted by drying in the hot sun or be extremely hot when finished, Gregory says. Customers may wait outside or relax in comfortable seating in the deli area where they can watch a flat-screen TV or read daily newspapers.

Gregory developed a standard operating procedure for the wash and finishing process so workers know exactly where and how to proceed with every vehicle. Starting and finishing points are established, enabling not only him but also customers to see the progress on their car or truck. “If they see what’s being done at any point on their vehicle, they know about how soon it will be finished.”

The finishing area is four cars wide and can accommodate five cars down each lane, so a total of 20 vehicles can be there at a time. The finishing area accommodates interior vacuuming and cleaning — a big change, which enables speedier handling of vehicles and eliminates a former bottleneck. Vacuuming used to take place in the prep and pre-wash area. The new arrangement centralizes work so that about 95 percent of the labor is in one easily supervised place.

The central vac system provides ample drops to assure fast efficient service.
The lobby area offers a wide range of merchandise.

“Now everything is up front and very systematic,” Gregory says. “When I come out front, where I am most of the time anyway, I can look at a vehicle and know about how many more minutes it will take to complete. This has decreased our overall service time dramatically.” He says employees of the wash have thanked him for establishing procedures, saying, “Now we know exactly what needs to be done.”

He gives credit for many of the revised procedures to studying high-volume car washes in the Fresno. Saturday volumes of 600 to 800 cars were being efficiently completed at these washes in an average time of 17 minutes per car from the start of the wash.

He says that time is now being matched at Reflections. “My philosophy is to look at the best and learn from them.”

An exterior only wash at Reflections including towel dry and wiping doorjambs costs $10. (Prices all end in .99, but have been rounded up here.) The next wash level provides interior and exterior cleaning for $15. The top-level package is the $30 Reflections Wash, which includes clear-coat protection, triple-foam wax, on-line Rain-X application, undercarriage wash, Wheel Brite, and tire dressing.

The most popular package is the Super Wash at $18 including clear-coat protection and fragrance. Gregory created a special combination of the Super Wash and Blue Coral Exterior Supreme which would run $32 if priced separately. Reflections offers the combo on special at $27. About 40 to 50 of those packages are sold each day.

Average per-car revenue through the wash is about $15, according to Param Saini.

Detailing and lube services add both customer convenience and owner revenue at Reflections. The detail shop accounts for about 10 percent of total car service revenue. The Pennzoil 10 minute Oil Change operation rings up about 15 percent.

The oil and lube shop also offers transmission and radiator flushes and refills, replacement windshield wiper blades, and vehicle lights. The detail shop is managed by Odi Ato, who has been with Reflections for about six years.

Reflections is open from 8:30 to 5 Monday through Saturday, 9 to 3 on Sundays. Longer hours might be considered if volume warrants it, Gregory said, but the present schedule accommodates most motorists.

The new owners are strong supporters of local causes and community needs. “We try to help everyone we can,” says Param Saini. The cause may be as specific as helping someone with terminal cancer but as broad as working with the Cancer Society for Children and the Emanuel Medical Center in Turlock. Reflections aids in promotions for the local fire department and local schools as Saini and Asra continue the business’s tradition of giving back to the community.

With new features, services, and conveniences and standardized procedures to deliver vehicles that shine beyond expectations, Reflections Car Wash has seen the beginnings of a turnaround despite a down economy. New owners, experienced hands, and renovation are all part of winning new customers while renewing old friendships.

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

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