The idea of the unlimited wash club has been around for some time now. It is a great way to keep the bottom line healthy and build long-term loyalty in the community. While many washes across the country offer the service, very few have based their entire business strategy on the membership model — Quiky Car Wash has.
The San Luis Obispo, CA express exterior has built a loyal membership base and continues to add members to its QuikyPass club every month. In fact, the membership model has been so popular that around half of the cars the wash processes are wash club members.
Partners Rodney Cegelski and Hamish Marshall opened their first Quiky location in 2013, with the goal of building a membership base big enough to cover expenses. The idea behind the strategy was simple, have enough members to keep the lights on, and earn your profits from any business above and beyond the break-even point.
“We wanted to create a private car wash club, that was our strategy,” Cegelski says. “We figured if we could just capture a thousand members we would be able to break even. The community really connected with our concept and we currently have well over two thousand active members in our wash club.”
Cegelski and Marshall are real estate investors and developers, and in 2012 found themselves in possession of a nice piece of property in San Luis Obispo and were searching for a business to build and operate on the site. After speaking with a colleague that owned a successful membership-based car wash business in Arizona, the partners decided the model could fill a need in the San Luis Obispo market.
“The idea of a fully-automated car wash in this market was pretty novel,” Cegelski says. “There wasn’t anything like it in town. There is a traditional car wash operator here that has three high-labor, hands-on washes that pretty much owned the market but we were looking to go in a different direction.”
Like most areas in California, San Luis Obispo is hand wash country. The abundance of cheap labor and the perception that car wash equipment damages vehicles have worked together to engrain the hand wash concept in the minds of the motoring public. But, the state’s continued crackdown on undocumented workers coupled with modern wash equipment that will not damage a car’s finish have given rise to the express exterior concept in the sta
Quiky is a break with tradition in the San Luis Obispo market in more ways than one. Besides operating an entirely new concept, the wash’s unique branding efforts, membership model, and non- conventional site location clearly sets it apart from the old guard.
“I am a brand guy,” Cegelski says. “We came up with our Quicky name, and we ran with it. We focused on fast, clean, safe, and fun for the branding. We pumped it up with colors and really pushed the membership concept.”
Unlike traditional operating models, Quiky’s membership-based approach does not require an A-plus location in order to succeed. Since the first Quiky wash is not located on a main drag, marketing efforts were brought to the forefront especially in the early going. The partners took a focused, yet guerilla approach to their marketing strategy. They rely heavily on satisfied customers to spread the word and invite new customers to try the service. In addition, the wash contributes to local fundraising efforts to build goodwill and awareness in the community.
The wash also participates in cross-promotional marketing efforts with local businesses, including those on its own site. The partners built a truly multi-functional location when they developed Quiky. Sharing the property with the car wash is a furniture store and warehouse, a car rental office, and a single unit residential apartment — all on a relatively small space, approximately the size of three home lots.
On the heels of the success of their first location, the partners recently opened their second Quiky site just a few short miles away on the other side of town. Unlike the original Quiky wash, the second iteration is located on a highly visible piece of real estate. Located just off of Freeway 101, the new express site is visible from the freeway and draws in curious customers thanks to its interesting and unique architecture.
The wash was built on the site of an old Waffle House that was constructed in a Jetson’s era modern motif that the municipality has listed as a protected building. While the township approved the conversion of the restaurant to a car wash, some key architectural features of the building needed to stay intact.
“We were happy to keep the architecture,” Cegelski says. “We just punched a hole through the middle of it and created our tunnel inside. We were able to pump up all the colors and use the architecture to our advantage. Plus it is a great billboard. Obviously we weren’t looking for a waffle house to convert but we have done enough construction that when we saw it we knew it could work for us.”
Building a second wash in San Luis Obispo was an obvious choice for the partners as they look to expand their car wash holdings, with the addition of one wash a year for the next three or four years. The town is cut in half by Freeway 101 and much of the population is unwilling to cross the freeway simply to get their car washed. By having locations on either side of town the wash is able to tap into a new customer base, while leveraging its membership and marketing efforts for both sites simultaneously.
While the partners are real estate investors they view their car wash business as a long-term investment and are committed to growing its reach beyond the city limits of San Luis Obispo. They have already purchased the land the third Quiky wash will call home 20 miles north in Atascadero. Like their first location the Atascadero wash will not be located in an A-plus location but will once again rely on word of mouth to spread the news about the quality, fun, quick service the brand offers. Currently, the development is in the planning stages and the designs are in the hands of the city council for approval. The partners expect to break ground on its construction in late summer.
With two washes under its banner and a third in development Quiky is on its way to becoming a household name in California’s Central Coast. “The key is that our customers love using the wash,” Cegelski says. Thanks to an innovative concept and a growing customer base Quiky is proving that the membership model is a key tenet of building long-term loyalty and should be more than just an afterthought, it should be the focus.