I must admit, there are times when I yearn for the past. One location with only one tunnel of wash equipment. One small staff to hire. One base of customers that eagerly use “their” car wash. The one computer, a calculator, used to hand-audit the day’s receipts. The year was 1991 and Prime Shine Car Wash proudly operated one car wash in Modesto, CA. When I reflect back on those early days of our company I wouldn’t change a thing. I had good days and bad, great customers and challenging ones, super star employees and those that just didn’t get it. Without the experiences of those early days of Prime Shine, there is no doubt we would not be where we are today.
MOVING ON UP
I do have to remind myself, when I am feeling overwhelmed with the complexity of the business today, that fundamentally we are the same business we were in 1991. Cars come in dirty, we provide excellent customer service, and cars leave clean. It’s really that simple. Whether you operate one location or 100, this reality hasn’t changed since the beginning of modern car washing. But there’s no question, Prime Shine has changed significantly over the past 25 years of washing cars. Today Prime Shine is a multi-site business that operates 17 car wash locations (number 18 will open in June) in three counties of Northern California about 90 miles east of the San Francisco Bay Area. We employ almost 200 people and are open for business 363 days a year for 12 hours each d
We have administrative offices; IT offices; and two large maintenance, storage, and fabrication facilities. We have departments such as manufacturing, engineering, finance, human resources, chemistry, purchasing, customer service, training and development, operations, safety, and technology. We have middle managers, profit sharing, and 401K plans. We have almost 40 company vehicles, three trailers, and two forklifts. We have monthly manager meetings, holiday parties, and strategic planning consultants. We have employees with master’s degrees and a book club. We will spend more this year on our marketing budget than our entire first year of business gross sales. We have manuals and lots of policies. In short, we have become a real company — and it had to happen.
Transitioning from a small “mom and pop” company of yesterday to the regional retailer Prime Shine is today has required a significant evolution in the tools used to manage the multi-site operation. Although relatively tightly clustered, our footprint for the locations is about a 100-mile radius. This distance has required Prime Shine to employ technology and establish certain business philosophies in order to control and manage the activities and results of the car wash locations from afar. Some of the items are tangible and some are not. Let’s start with those less tangible ways we control the business through company culture and centralization.
Every company has one; some are great and others not so great. I believe that first and foremost, to successfully manage a multiple-site chain of any business, it is imperative that the organization have a strong culture founded on high performance expectations and respect for its employees and customers. It is this organizational culture that “manages” the business by providing the underlying expectation of how the business is to operate. I have visited hundreds of car washes during my career, and I can tell immediately when I step on property the culture of the company. What is difficult about culture is that business can’t simply go buy it. It takes years to establish a strong culture but, once a culture of high performance and respect is established, it makes running the chain much less difficult because all employees are working towards a common goal with understood standards.
Prime Shine has found that centralizing almost all of its business processes has been a way to improve quality and maintain consistency. By doing so, each location’s site manager can focus on the three items that we believe are most critical for the success of the location. Prime Shine’s site managers are responsible to ensure 1) the location is at or exceeds Prime Shine’s cleanliness standards, 2) the employees are trained at or above standard, and 3) the customers are completely satisfied. All other business operations are handled by the various specialized departments. Managers don’t have to concern themselves with items such as the equipment maintenance, hiring employees, computer issues, or chemical inventory. We believe in a “recognize and report” approach whereby the site managers are trained to recognize when a problem has occurred and then to report it to the appropriate department in order to allow them to respond and resolve the issue.
With a strong culture in place and centralizing the workflow of the company, each of Prime Shine’s departments has taken full advantage of systems, structure and technology in order to manage our growing company and stay on top of its performance.
INFORMATION AND TECHNOLOGY
It is appropriate to start with this department since it is here that truly the backbone of our ability to process, manage, and monitor all of the information within the company is made possible. We have invested heavily in technology to ensure large amounts of data can be exchanged with little downtime. Prime Shine has established an AVPN, or AT&T virtual private network to manage our private, secure, and robust network. AVPN can link locations efficiently and transmit applications such as voice, data, and video over a single connection. With the many cloud-based applications and remote tools we use to manage the business, this enterprise network is the foundation to our communication systems.
It is critical that we be able to remotely monitor the performance of the servers at the sites. Three of the more important applications we use are SmokePing to monitor network performance, Zabbix at the server and local system level to ensure certain processes and services run appropriately, and Observium to monitor the health of our network to include temperature logs, fan speeds, etc. Through these remote monitoring tools, we save hours of drive time and man hours by not having to be physically at a location in order to resolve an issue.
By establishing a solid network environment and utilizing tools that enable us to monitor and control our technology remotely, Prime Shine’s IT department achieves high levels of efficiency without leaving their offices.
Managing multiple locations within a 100-mile radius requires a combination of technology and excellent people. Prime Shine’s frontlines are wired so that district directors and the director of operations can see key performance indicators throughout the day. Our point of sale system provides real-time revenue and volume figures to our mobile devices that enable us to hold management accountable to up-to-the-minute results. District directors take advantage of cloud-based software Customer Prophet to provide them with an electronic tool to fill out forms for their mystery shops, location inspections, safety audits, and customer repair reports. All of these forms are filled out through iPads with the information accessible from any mobile or desktop device. Having all of this information available remotely saves a district director much time behind the wheel.
Mystery shops have become commonplace in the retail environment, and Prime Shine takes advantage of this important tool to ensure that locations are meeting system standards. All locations are shopped twice a month with the reports sent electronically to the district directors and the director of operations.
Perhaps one of the biggest challenges a multiple-site chain faces is how to maintain regular communication so that company dialogue can be spread to all levels within the company. In other words, maintain the culture of the company. The director of operations uses several tools to communicate his messages including weekly face-to-face meetings with his district directors, monthly managers’ meetings at headquarters, and regular visits to all sites. A simple but effective communication tool we have used for many years is a video monitor in every location’s lobby, to which headquarters can upload important messages. Whether the message is to celebrate birthdays of the month, safety messages, company success, or to remind staff of new or updated policies, employees enjoy seeing the new messages and this tool has helped us spread our messages with style and consistency.
Can you imagine how many keys one must have with 17 locations and multiple administration buildings? The answer: only one! Prime Shine has installed in all of its locations and support buildings electronic access systems from Elk communications in which all that is needed is a key fob to access any facility. Key fobs are programmable to allow access to locations for certain employees or vendors at specific times if necessary. We never have to worry about employees locking themselves out of the buildings anymore. Through the Elk technology software we can unlock the door from any mobile device. No more driving to a site to open the door.
Toilet paper and paper clips. These are just two of the hundreds of items that the locations require to operate day to day. Prime Shine has established a relationship with a local logistics company to be our central supply to both warehouse dry inventory and to deliver the goods to each location. Managers order through an online application form the items their sites require for the week. This order is routed to our purchasing department and the logistic company to be pulled out of inventory and delivered.
Outsourcing the storage and delivery of dry goods has enabled us to take advantage of buying in bulk and has eliminated company driving time.
As much as we want to rely on technology, Prime Shine is actually most heavily invested in our human capital. We are committed to making sure that we hire the very best and take great care of our employees. Our cloud-based HRIS (human resources information system) system, SilkRoad, has enabled the HR department to electronically manage the full lifecycle of the employment process. SilkRoad is a complex tool that tracks and manages all of our employee activity from recruiting and onboarding to reviews, benefits, and payroll.
Prime Shine has centralized its hiring process through its own internal recruiter. The recruiter uses a series of tools including a cloud-based ethics and profile test from Profiles International, which all potential recruits take to ensure they meet the “Prime Shine” profile before moving to the interview process.
Prime Shine University (PSU) has been established in order to control the training and development of our employees. Training and development of our employees is a critical part of the Prime Shine vision. We strongly believe that it is our company’s responsibility to develop our employees into better people not just better employees. The director of PSU has created multiple curriculums to help develop our managers into true leaders. Successful completion of PSU courses is required for employees to be promoted.
SERVICE, MAINTENANCE, AND CHEMISTRY
For Prime Shine’s service and maintenance department, standardization has been the key to maintaining the Prime Shine chain of locations. All locations have virtually the same equipment setup. This has been critical to achieving a highly consistent wash product amongst the 17 locations, as well as essential to limit the number of parts we are required to inventory. Additionally, maintaining similar wash equipment at each location has helped with the training of service techs by limiting the amount of varying equipment knowledge with which they need to be familiar.
Multiple site operators know the challenges of maintaining car wash equipment. Today, Prime Shine operates three departments under the umbrella of engineering that is responsible for limiting our downtime and ensuring our locations look their best at all times. The service department is responsible for preventative maintenance and repairs when a location has a failure. Our project management team is responsible for new builds, remodels, and current location facilities updates and repairs. Lastly, our chemical team is tasked with the delivery of wash chemicals from our central warehouse to all locations. This team is also responsible for the titrating of the chemicals as well as ensuring all applications are at standard and the end product meets Prime Shine’s expectations.
Multiple site operations are becoming more common in our industry as express exterior washing has grown in popularity. Prime Shine has been able to achieve success with the number of locations it operates because we have established a culture of performance and respect and have invested significantly in systems, technology, and professionals to operate the company efficiently while being able to monitor and control from a mobile device or a centralized location.
Evan Porges is president of Prime Shine Car Wash based in Modesto, CA. With 17 locations, it is the state’s largest independently owned car wash company. Prime Shine offers an affordable, high-quality wash using state-of-the-art water conservation systems.
For more, visit www.primeshine.com or www.savemoneysavetimesavewater.com.