Despite its reputation as a water and energy plunderer the car wash industry has reinvented itself over the past few decades into an environmentally cognizant and responsible industry. Thanks to municipal, community, and financial pressures most washes participate in some form of eco-conservation and are not only making a positive impact on the environment but bolstering the bottom line as well.
Through the use of next-gen technology, operators are able to significantly cut water, sewer, and energy costs. But where do those saving go? In most cases the financial benefits of environmental stewardship find their way to the bottom line, but
Sheldon and Judy Ferkey of WaterWorks Carwash & Detail are passing the saving onto their customers.
Once a week — on Saturday no less — WaterWorks’ customers are treated to half price exterior washes as a way for the owners to say thank you to the community for supporting the business and its environmental initiatives.
“It is part of our business model to save money on water, sewer, and energy costs by being environmentally responsible,” Sheldon Ferkey says. “There are a lot of companies that do that. But we do it to the benefit of our bottom line as well as passing the savings onto the customer. You can either have a fatter bottom line, or you can do as we do and give that back to the customer on a weekly basis.”
On half price Saturdays WaterWorks is predictably packed, with double-stacked lines flowing through the quarter mile stacking area and out into the street. Like most sites Saturday is the wash’s busiest day, and would be with or without the half price discount. It would make both financial and logistical sense to stage the half-price promotion mid-week when a bump in car counts could be more seamlessly handled, but WaterWorks is committed to making sure all members of the community can reap the benefits of the program, not just those able to wash their cars on a Wednesday afternoon.
“The reason we do it on Saturday is because that way it is available to almost everyone,” Ferkey says. “I don’t think it would be fair to cut out a large portion of our customers. Most places would probably do it on a slow day, but we do it the opposite to make sure that everyone that supports us is able to get the savings.”
The list of environmental equipment at WaterWorks is impressive: energy efficient wash equipment, LED lighting, water conservation systems, and hydraulic units that have been converted to run on biodegradable, food-quality hydraulic fluid. But it is not the wash’s equipment that marks it as unique, it is its redistribution of utility savings to its customers that makes it stand out from the crowd.
The Ferkeys started in the car wash business 10 years ago with a two-bay, in-bay automatic site. The couple ran the one touchless and one soft-touch wash for over six years until deciding to expand their operation with the purchase of the Wisconsin Rapids, WI location. The site has a full-serve tunnel, a touchless in-bay automatic, and a full-service detailing center. In addition to the Wisconsin Rapids location WaterWorks recently expanded its holdings with the purchase of a vacant full-serve tunnel in Stevens Point, WI that the Ferkeys renovated and reopened early this year.
The locations are 20 miles apart and are both the only full-service tunnels in their respective markets. The Ferkeys have already ripped and replaced all of the decades-old legacy wash equipment from the Stevens Point facility and installed their signature water and energy conscious equipment. As the weather slowly turns to spring in the Midwest, stage two of the renovation process will begin with the entire grounds and exterior of the wash getting upgrades to improve the aesthetics and match the color and design theme of the Wisconsin Rapids facility.
Once the renovations are complete the Ferkeys will have two similarly equipped washes in vastly different markets. Wisconsin Rapids is a rural community with around 15,000 residents, while Steven Point is a more populated and progressive community that is home to the University of Wisconsin — Stevens Point.
WaterWorks keeps its eco-friendly marketing messages and promotional material consistent across both communities, but the messaging is received differently by the distinctive populations. Although the residents of Wisconsin Rapids are responsive to the wash’s eco-consciousness, they are most intrigued by the aggressive price structure and are less concerned about how the company is able to produce those savings. Stevens Point — which consists of a large eco-conscious community, thanks to the environmental studies program at the university — connects with the wash on a more altruistic level.
Regardless of the root cause of their connection with the business, both communities are deeply aligned with the brand. Since opening the Wisconsin Rapids site a little over three years ago the Ferkeys have enjoyed 20 to 30 percent growth every year. The stellar growth rate is thanks in no small part to WaterWorks commitment to reinvesting profits into the wash, evident by the half off Saturday promotion, the purchase of the Stevens Point location, and the introduction of a touchless in-bay automatic at Wisconsin Rapids a little over a year a
The Washworld Razor unit allows WaterWorks to offer both touch-free and “velvet touch” options and cater to a much wider vehicle array. The in-bay unit has been customized to handle vehicles up to eight feet tall, basically any vehicle that can fit in the door can be processed, including large dually pickup trucks. The automatic unit is a bit of a technical wonder as it customizes the wash process for each individual vehicle based on its size and shape and the current weather conditions. “It is the most efficient machine you can get and it does a great job,” Ferkey says. “We wanted to have increased efficiently in our labor. Having the automatic unit allows us to cut an hour of labor in the evening and stay open 24 hours a day.”
The addition of the in-bay automatic might have helped shave a few hours from payroll, but it has done little to reduce the massive number of hours the Ferkeys put in at their two sites as they look to grow their business. Judy works over 60 hours a week in her role as company accountant and general business manager. Sheldon is logging 80 hours a week doing anything and everything that needs to be done from the operations side of the business to keep the sites in top form, delivering a constantly superior product.
The Ferkeys work ethic is not unique in an industry dominated by mom-and-pop businesses run by jack-of-all-trades operators. What does set the couple and their business apart however is their willingness to return a portion of their hard earned revenue to their customers. While many operators would scoff at the notion of sharing any increased profits from improved operations with customers, the Ferkeys continue to keep passing out the green.