For more than two decades Cobblestone Car Wash has been serving the Phoenix, AZ market, building itself up from a couple of locations to one of the city’s most recognizable car wash chains.
Anyone that knows the Southwest car wash market can attest that Phoenix is one of the most competitive areas in the entire country, with long-established brands battling it out for the hearts, minds, and wallets of the motoring public.
Partners Tuck Bettin and Mike Cahill started Cobblestone in 1997 with one goal in mind: to provide a clean car and a superior customer experience. They succeeded, building their Phoenix operation to a 31-location chain on the back of that market-leading experience.
“We grew at a measured pace for the first 10 years,” says Bettin. “Then we started accelerating roughly eight to 10 years ago and continue to grow.”
The partners began their car wash journey as full-service operators, designing and building two all-inclusive car care centers in the late 90s. Cobblestone’s approach to car care was simple, provide everything a customer needs to maintain their vehicle under one roof.
In the early years, the typical Cobblestone featured a full-service tunnel, a lube center, detailing operations, gas pumps, and a c-store — making it a one-stop shop for busy motorists on the go.
“We kind of cut our teeth on these projects learning the ropes,” Bettin says. “We built the business literally from the ground up and continued growing. We became a household name through hard work and a commitment to customer service.”
For the first half of Cobblestone’s 20-plus year run in the Phoenix market, full-service, destination locations were its primary focus. But as the industry progressed to meet changing market demands Cobblestone evolved with it, centering its attention on the increasingly popular express concept over the past 10 years.
“The industry has turned its focus to express car washing,” Bettin says. “But a lot of customers still appreciate and subscribe to full service. There is a balance, but we still choose to offer full serve and focus on doing a great job providing those options, including oil change.”
Around half of Cobblestone’s 31 Phoenix locations are full-serve sites, which Bettin refers to as ‘car care centers.’ These car care centers sit on as much as three acres of land and provide the kind of old-school service the community has come to expect from Cobblestone. They can get their car washed, or vehicle detailed while they visit the onsite c-store or relax in the well-equipped lobby.
While these mega sites are Cobblestone’s foundation, its express locations have become a vital part of the service mix and the emphasis for future expansion. “Around 2003 we started focusing on adding express car wash to our full-service locations,” Bettin says. “While our business is half car care center, half express only, all of our car care center locations have an express car wash option. Everything that we do has express, but the half that are car care centers offer full service and detailing areas for customers, with specil entrance and exit areas for express customers and free vacuums.”
With both the full service and express concept perfected, the partners have gone into full-on expansion mode over the past few years with an impressive development roadmap laid out in front of them. Additional locations in varying degrees of development are planned with Cobblestone scaling to a 45-location chain in Phoenix over the next couple of years.
“We are looking to fill in the areas of the city where we don’t have the strongest representation,” Bettin says. “We are also looking to expand into the fastest growing areas of the community.”
For the first 20-plus years of Cobblestone’s existence its owners were laser focused on the Phoenix market, aspiring to become ‘the’ car wash business in and around the city. And Bettin believes they are the “most respected and revered car wash operator in the market.” The partners continue to refine their operations and expand their holdings as they look to dominate the Phoenix market, but when opportunity knocks you must open the door.
“A couple of years ago we had a unique opportunity to explore the Denver Metro market,” Bettin says. “The Denver market got built out with a bunch of self-serve locations about 25 years ago. That is the main car washing service in Denver. We are capitalizing on that opportunity by introducing our brand of express wash to the market.”
When the partners entered the car wash business in Phoenix in the late 90s, they took a slow and steady approach to expansion. But after years in the car wash trenches perfecting not only their operational model, but development expertise the owners see no reason to take things slow in Denver.
Currently, they have five Cobblestone locations open in Denver, with another two under construction.
They have another 10 sites that are in some form of development, with the goal of having 18 to 20 Cobblestone washes open in Denver in the next two years.
“We are applying our longstanding performance and expertise in Phoenix and adjusting it a little bit for the Denver market,” Bettin says. “We have a strong operations team including a full maintenance department. Many of the business functions and capabilities including marketing, accounting, and finance are managed from our core Phoenix office. We have expanded our corporate office space and added two new people to our team to accommodate our growth and expansion.”
Cobblestone’s steady growth over the past 20 years and current development push would not be possible without a solid operational core and a commitment to ongoing marketing efforts. In fact, Cobblestone earmarks more than $1.5 million a year to marketing, attracting new customers and maintaining its positive relationship with current customers.
“Marketing is one of the things our company does better than the competition,” Bettin says. “We are a very strong marketing company and that includes some of the more traditional formats like print or billboard type media all the way to today’s world of search engine optimization and digital marketing.”
One of the keys to Cobblestone’s marketing success is its Rewards Club. The e-mail and text powered club membership has more than 500,000 active members. Rewards Club members earn points toward free services every time they visit a Cobblestone location. In addition, they are offered a free wash on their birthday as well as a 48-hour clean car guarantee among other benefits.
With an expansive marketing approach coupled with a commitment to customer service, Cobblestone is growing exponentially in two distinct markets. It has plans in place to double its holdings in just a few years, built on a firm commitment to putting the needs of the customers first and adjusting operations to meet changing demand.
Name: Cobblestone Car Wash
Location: Phoenix, AZ & Denver, CO
Owners: Tuck Bettin & Mike Cahill
Concept: Full Service & Express Exterior
Current Sites: 31 Phoenix; 5 Colorado
Sites In Development: More than 20