Profile in Success - September 2010

A Helping Hand
By Timothy Denman

The street view of Bake Hand Car Wash.
The 85-foot open-air tunnel can process a car in just three minutes.

When it comes to raising a wash’s profile, little compares to community involvement.

Veteran owners Ron Jones, George Godfrey, and Jim Mieras have been volunteering their wash for charity fundraisers for the past six years and have seen not only attitudes about the wash rise, but the bottom line as well.

The partners bought Bake Hand Car Wash nine years ago. To say the wash was a thriving business at the time would be a bit of a stretch — in fact there was a fence around the property — but the new owners saw potential.

The hand wash is situated off of busy Bake Parkway in middle/upper middle class Lake Forest, CA. The new owners decided to keep the hand wash format, and set their sights on improving what they believed could be a successful formula at the site.

“Hand washing is a prevalent option here in Southern California,” Jones says. “A lot of operators went to hand washing a long time ago, and it is still perceived by the public as the best option.”

The trio knew the format was right for the market; they just had to convince the community that the wash’s new ownership was unlike the old.

One way the wash disassociated itself from its previous reputation was the successful “Fun” Raiser Car Wash program started in 2004. The program allows local charities to conduct fundraising car washes at Bake after hours, helping to reduce parking lot car wash runoff and promote goodwill within the community.

Any local charity is welcome to participate in the program, although the majority of participants are high school sports teams. The groups are expected to sell a minimum of 300 coupons in advance for the $19.99 Silver Wash at a discounted price of $12. The Charity Ticket is only good for the night of the event (60 percent redemption rate), although the charity can sell tickets to drive-up customers. The organization receives $7.50 from each ticket sold.

The finishing area.

Key staff members are on site to handle the driving on and off, and work in the tunnel. The charity members are responsible for drying, vacuuming, and finishing duties. Typically a participating organization earns between $1,500 to $2,000.

“Operators should get involved in the community anyway they can,” Jones says. “Fundraising is a very good and easy way to get involved. I strongly recommend having some kind of fundraising going on. If nothing else you reduce one of your competitors (driveway charity wash), and bring in some people that would not normally come in.

The street view of Bake Hand Car Wash.
The 85-foot open-air tunnel can process a car in just three minutes.

It has been really well received. Afterwards the parents involved in the events always come around and thank us. We end up picking up some customers.”

No amount of community outreach can make up for a sub-par product — the ownership makes sure that each car that rolls through the tunnel comes out clean. The three-minute trip through the 85-foot open-air tunnel starts with a prep at the tunnel entrance and loading onto the conveyor, once inside cars travel under the pre-soak arch, soap arches, and optional single color polish. Next up is the signature hand washing performed by two employees, followed by pre-rinse, tri-color polish, Hydropel, rinse, drying agent, and optional chemical protectant. The drying is performed by two Proto-Vest dryers, and finished off by employees at the tunnel exit.

The wash offers both full-serve and express car wash packages. On the full-serve side, four options are offered: The Full Service Wash, The Bronze Wash, The Silver Wash, and The Gold Wash.

Over half of those choosing from the full-serve menu opt for The Full Service Wash, which promises a hand wash, vacuum, and spotless windows for $13.99. The Bronze Wash cost $16.99 and adds online wheel cleaning, polish conditioner, air fragrance, and tire dressing. The Silver Wash adds undercarriage blast, clear-coat protectant, and tri-color polish. The Gold Wash improves on The Silver with a Blue Coral Express Wax. The treatment is sprayed on at the end of the wash process and buffed in the finishing area.

Around 43 percent of the wash’s total business comes from express washes. The basic Express Wash features an exterior wash, exterior window clean, and a hand dry for $6.99. The Bronze Express Wash costs $8.99 and adds polish conditioner and tire dressing. For $9.99 customers can choose The Silver Express Wash, which features clear-coat protectant and tri-color polish.

The average ticket on the full-serve side is between $16.50 and $17 per car, and the express sports a $6.50 per car average due to extensive couponing. Overall the wash has an $11.20 average ticket.

In addition to the car wash, the business features a detail center, gas station, and convenience store on the 52,000-square foot lot.

The detailing center features both express and full-serve options performed by the Meguiar’s certified staff. “Meguiar’s came in and did a pretty significant training session with our detailers,” Jones said. “Six of them completed the course and they are now our key detailers. The training program teaches some very good processes that helped the staff a lot.”

Express detailing services are available.
The convenience store is kept well stocked by Chevron.

Although the wash closes daily at 6 p.m., the Chevron gas station and convenience store are open 24/7, producing a constant revenue stream. The 2,100-square foot store is an Extra Mileage Chevron location, and 90 percent of the inventory is controlled by Chevron.

“Chevron does a good job with the inventory,” Jones says. “They review the entire store twice a year and make changes to the stock as needed.”

The wash uses both traditional and guerilla tactics to promote its services. The wash sends out coupons in Valpak year round and can boast of an 8 to 9 percent return. In the spring the owners print up Post-it note like pads and send the staff out in the community sticking them on car windows. The notes knock $5 off The Full Serve wash, and helps jumpstart the busy spring and summer car washing season.

The site has both a VIP club and wash club, to help market to existing customers. The free VIP club has a buy nine get the 10th wash free feature, a free birthday wash, and a free wash on a second date of the customers choosing. The club allows the site to collect important contact information that the wash uses to both greet customers by name and market to them directly through e-mail blasts.

Customers pay a membership fee to join the wash club. The club offers members special pricing on express services, club discounts on full-service detailing, 20 percent off on a la carte services, and unlimited washing. The club comes in four levels representing the four available wash options, with The Full Serve option being the most popular at $34.99 per month.

“The wash club has been pretty good for us,” Jones says. “Membership is down a little with the slow economy, but we still have 200 members. The average member comes in 2.8 times a month, which is a good deal for us.”

Bake Hand Car Wash is dedicated to its customers, the community, and the local ecosystem. The owners saw potential in the once fenced-off site, and have reached out to the community to improve the wash’s image and ultimately its profitability.

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