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A FEATURE ARTICLE FROM

SEPTEMBER 2001

Wash Indulges Affluent in Alpharetta
By Jim & Elaine Norland

    Within a five-mile radius of one of north Georgia's newest car washes, 30 percent of the households have an annual income of $100,000 or better. Across the four-lane roadway that fronts this wash is Northpoint Mall, in the heart of an affluent area of North Atlanta. Upscale stores and services abound.
    That helps explain why co-owners Parke Day, Jeff Dudley and David Barrett invested $5.3 million in a three-acre car- and customer-care center called autoindulgence (the small "a" is deliberate), at 7000 North Point Parkway in Alpharetta. The business opened February 20 of this year.
    The beautiful exterior and custom interior as well as its landscaping,
featuring magnolia, oak and pine trees, varied shrubs and Bermuda sod, offer an attractive and luxurious welcome to cars and drivers.
    A 115-foot full-service tunnel wash is one of the key features of this
center, but autoindulgence helps
customers with dozens of other services, comforts and conveniences:

• Gas pumps that can fuel up to 20 cars at a time;
• A 4,000-square-foot convenience store;
• Freshly prepared and ready-to-eat food, including made-on-site pizza;
• Gourmet coffee selections;
• T-1 Internet connection;
• Lube and oil change;
• Detail services, including hand washing of vehicles;
• Minor automotive repair and maintenance;
• Leather seating for customers;
• Piped-in music in both customer waiting and work areas
• A Hummer limousine.

    The daily traffic count past autoindulgence is about 35,000 vehicles, moving at an average speed of 35 miles per hour, enabling passersby to easily stop in and sample the services of what its owners describe as "The Ultimate Car Care Experience." Turn lanes at both entrances and exits and a traffic light with a turn signal add to the ease of access.
    While the car wash itself is a key element in the autoindulgence mix, the center has enough profit centers to keep it busy no matter what the weather. Its 65 employees are virtually assured full-time work because of that mix.
    "We pump gas rain or shine, and our convenience store does a good business all the time, too," observes David Barrett, an owner who is almost always at the wash. In July, autoindulgence was already selling 250,000 to 300,000 gallons of gas monthly.
    
In fact, the busy gas pumps are a business magnet. "We use gas to market our services and promote other features," Barrett says. While selling gas regularly at $1.19 a gallon in July, autoindulgence offered it to oil change customers for 99 cents. Plus every oil change customer gets a complimentary car wash.
     Car washes here range in price from $7.95 for an exterior-only wash with towel drying to $29.95 for the top-line package. Four other offerings give customers a range of prices and services they most want, but the most popular is the $19.95 Gold Wash, chosen by 40 percent to 50 percent of all wash customers.
     The Gold Wash package includes full interior and exterior cleaning, Blue Coral polish and sealer applied in the tunnel, Black Magic tire treatment, turboblast wheel cleaning, undercarriage wash and rust inhibitor, and air freshener.
    Those and all other regular wash services are applied in the 115-foot tunnel outfitted with Belanger Soft Cloth/Neo Tec equipment. autoindulgence has five Vacutech vacuum systems, each unit offering 20 horsepower. Some are located at the front and others at the rear of the wash tunnel to enable changing the service configuration on busy days. (Additional vacuums are in the detail bays and lube center.)
    Water reclaim gets its proper attention here, too. An Aquamaster 3000 unit was installed as a cost-saving measure to save on water and sewer fees as well as detergent. A Dralco rug beater and six Thermax carpet shampoo machines complete the car-cleaning equipment lineup. An ICS Tunnel Master computer system is in control in the tunnel and also monitors wash traffic.
    Autoindulgence was designed and built with a custom, quality approach throughout. KRA, an Atlanta architecture and interior design firm, designed the structure, and Dudley Barrett Construction was the general contractor. (David Barrett is president and Jeff Dudley is a partner in that firm.) All the interior fixtures were custom designed and manufactured.
    The exterior combines brick and E.I.F.S. (synthetic stucco) in natural beige and earth tones, topped by a gray architectural shingle roof. The interior of autoindulgence combines light gray porcelain tile, black marble, a thin-line acoustical tile ceiling, and carpeting. Walls are lined with Gavilume corrugated metal and vinyl wall covering. Blue, black, white and earth tones are combined, both complementing the exterior and custom-matching the company logo.
    While the busy surroundings of autoindulgence includes many restaurants, customers who want to stay close to their cars while they're being washed, detailed or lubed can stay right there and enjoy a
variety of food and refreshment. The fare includes Seattle's Best Coffee selections and hand-dipped ice cream. Negotiations were underway at the time ALN visited with Barrett for a Blimpie's Express.
    If drivers need everyday groceries and other needs, they can shop for those on-site also at autoindulgence. The big convenience store carries
all the essentials expected in such a store plus magazines, newspapers, greeting cards, milk, soft drinks, beer and wine. Add to that a healthy assortment of auto accessories, including waxes, polishes, and fragrances. The store even offers cell phones and cigars.
    Some customers, of course, want to go elsewhere while their cars are being cleaned and serviced. autoindulgence gladly takes them home, to work, shopping or other destinations in style, not with an ordinary limousine but a Hummer, artfully covered with the firm's logo and graphics.
    The Hummer limo is an eye-grabber wherever it goes, so autoindulgence enjoys the advertising exposure while its customers enjoy the ride. The Hummer also goes to parades and other community and area events, making an unforgettable impression on every visit. "It gives us an excuse to be in places, and it draws attention wherever it goes," says Barrett.
    Vehicle service at autoindulgence goes beyond the ordinary offerings. Owners can get brake work, minor tune-ups, tire balancing and rotation, battery replacement, wiper blade and light bulb replacement. "We do serpentine belt replacement, starters and alternators, too, but no electrical, transmission or internal motor work," says Brian Nunn, general manager in charge of the lube center and car wash equipment.
    Nunn is one of three general managers who, with Barrett and Dudley, form a strong on-site management team. The other general managers are Mills Ruby, who is responsible for the detail center, and Dave Tazienza, in charge of the convenience store.
autoindulgence is open seven days a week, 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. for car wash, detail and lube operations and 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. in the convenience store.
    Every employee wears a uniform and a nametag, and autoindulgence is building customer loyalty by getting to know their names as quickly as possible, and giving them and their vehicles close personal attention. If certain services seem needed, such as detailing or a cooling system flush, an employee will point that out to the owner, but there's never any attempt to sell unneeded services just to boost revenue. "We work in partnership with our customers to maintain their vehicle," Barrett says.
    Employees often go beyond the expected in serving customer vehicle needs. One regular customer recently scuffed the paint on her van as she entered her home garage. A dealership had estimated $1,000 to repair the damage, but an autoindulgence detail center employee said, "We can take care of that for you," removed the paint and buffed out the affected area on the car exterior at no charge.
    Promotion and advertising at autoindulgence attract new customers and reward returnees, not only by properly cleaning and servicing their cars but also in savings. "Our customers get the tenth wash free," says Nunn, "and customers can buy prepaid wash cards to get one wash free for every four they buy." Annual and monthly discount cards are also in the works.
    To court new customers or bring back nearby vehicle owners, autoindulgence regularly mails coupons to homeowners in three ZIP codes, and also employs grocery-tape coupons and some newspaper advertising. The wash ties in with radio station and other business promotions to further build its customer base. Cooperating with one FM station with a frequency of 94-point-something, autoindulgence sold gas at 94 cents a gallon for an hour and a half one morning.
autoindulgence is building commercial business, too. "We service Alpharetta Parks and Recreation Department vehicles, and those of several corporations. We're working with two fleet leasing companies to refurbish cars as they take them back off lease," Barrett reports.
    Determined to build customer loyalty, autoindulgence owners know they're competing not only with other car washes, but also with busy customers' time constraints. They don't believe in rushing cars through any service. Rather, they are focused on service and convenience, doing what's needed as quickly as possible.
    "Many of the things we do, such as in the lube center, are what might be termed inconveniences," Barrett notes. "They're services your car needs, but you don't want to go here and there and wait to get them done separately. We package them into one facility and make it comfortable for customers to stay here."
    He and the other owners and managers are intent on building a loyal cadre of 10,000 drivers who rely on autoindulgence to take proper care of their vehicles. That will achieve an annual volume of 120,000 washes. The combination of convenience, comfort, and customer focus found here suggests that goal will be achieved quickly.

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

 

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