Convoy Hand Car Wash has been serving the people of San Diego for more than 30 years. The family-owned business built a loyal following over that time, but it was in need of an infusion of new services and tactics to compete in the modern age.
Ann Shamoun bought the wash from her in-laws 11 years ago and ran the handwash with the help of her family for more than a decade. Last June, she decided it was time to take a step back and enjoy life away from the day-to-day struggles of running a full-service car wash and sold a share of her business. She didn’t just sell a stake in the wash to the highest bidder, but instead decided to keep Convoy in the family and partner with her sister, brother-in-law, and nephew.
Christian Bahoura along with his parents Tanya and Bob, purchased a 50 percent stake in Convoy and took over the reins from Ann, who has embraced the role of silent power and has relinquished control to her three new partners.
For decades California has been synonymous with hand washing. Thanks to the availability of cheap labor coupled with the fear that automatic car washing would damage vehicles, the model remained the dominant force on the West Coast. But rising labor costs and improvements in the safety and quality of automatic wash equipment has triggered a stark decline in the number of hand wash locations.
Across the state, hand wash sites are being converted to express exteriors as the motoring public craves the convenience and speed of the trending concept. When the Bahouras took over Convoy they had a decision to make: Keep operating as a hand wash or switch the site to the express model. The new ownership group decided that remaining true to the wash’s roots provides them with the greatest chance of success — but with a few minor tweaks designed to help the wash compete with the new generation of automated washes that are taking California by storm.
The key to Convoy’s new approach is a commitment to digital advertising, marketing, and promotions designed to connect with a new crop of washers, a generation whose decision making is fueled by online experiences.
“Since we took over we spent a lot on advertising,” Christian Bahoura says of the brand’s new marketing efforts. “We have invested in a new website, Google ads, Facebook, Instagram, and Groupon.”
The wash’s relationship with Groupon is by far its most high profile and profitable promotional effort. Convoy offers massive discounts on the digital coupon site, presenting its $150 mini detail package for $80 to attract new customers to the site and infuse a new level of excitement amongst its loyal washers.
“We have been the top selling car wash on Groupon for the past six months in a row,” says Bahoura. “We sold over two thousand individual details on Groupon since we started.”
While most owners would shy away from discounting one of their most popular menu options by nearly 50 percent for a prolonged period of time, Bahoura says the positive benefits far outweigh the loss in potential revenue. Not only is Convoy building goodwill in the community and drawing in a new crop of consumers that can potentially become long-term clients, it is able to upsell a large portion of its Groupon customers.
“Some customers come in with a Groupon and their car can use a little more work,” Bahoura says. “We tell them to hold off on the Groupon and spend a little extra today to get their car looking just right. Spend another $30 and get a package that provides a little more benefit.”
The Bahouras new marketing approach is paying early dividends. Since investing in the site a little more than six months ago, wash volume has steadily increased and Convoy is processing an additional 30 to 35 cars a day on average, a sizeable bump. The increase in volume is even more significant since more than 20 percent of customers have been opting for detailing services.
When a customer pulls into Convoy they are meet at the front of the building by the ticket writer who takes their order and ushers them into the fully equipped indoor waiting area. The lobby features plenty of seating, a flat screen television, snacks, music, and more.
Once the customer is in the lobby, line employees begin the process by giving the car a thorough vacuuming followed by a hand rinse and scrub down before the car heads down the 70-foot conveyorized tunnel.
The touch-less tunnel rinses the car with high-pressure and applies a host of available polishes and waxes before the vehicle heads to the powerful array of dryers. Following the dryers a crew of towel wielding workers remove any remaining water and the wash customer is sent on their way.
However, if the customer has ordered any services from Convoy’s extensive detailing menu their car is whisked away to one of the detailing tents to receive its next level of clean. Convoy offers a slew of “express” detailing options as well as a full-service menu that includes hand wax, clay, sealer polish, wheel treatment, etc.
All of Convoy’s detailing services, including full-service, are provided on a first-come, first-served basis — no appointments are needed or taken. The site used to accept appointments but when the Bahouras came on board they streamlined the process for the 20 details they perform on average each day.
“We changed it because it inconven-ienced everybody.” Bahoura says. “We can’t predict how busy we are going to be and we can’t prioritize any customer before anybody else. When they come in we give them a wait time. The average wait time for details is 45-60 minutes depending on the condition of the car and the package.”
While a 60-minute wait time is short considering the level of service Convoy provides, many customers simply do not have the time to sit and wait for their vehicle to be detailed. To address this concern Convoy has recently introduced a shuttle service designed to entice busy customers to purchase a detail package.
Customers that choose a detail package valued at $200 or more can opt for the shuttle service and a Convoy employee will drop them off and pick them up anywhere within a 10-mile radius of the wash.
“We are the only detail center that provides that service,” says Bahoura. “Since we started offering it our detail business has been booming.”
The family-run Convoy Hand Car Wash has been servicing the people of San Diego for decades, but no business is immune to changing market conditions. As customer expectations evolved Convoy needed to transform in lockstep. Under its new ownership the proud hand wash is drawing in new customers and reconnecting with long-term clients and setting itself up for continued success.