Car wash owners come from all walks of life. When you ask one how they got their start, nine times out of 10 the story begins outside of the industry. Such is the tale of James Benton.
While Benton is a car wash veteran with nearly 15 years of experience under his belt, car washing is a second career for him. The express exterior owner started his professional life in education, rising all the way to middle school principal before answering his car wash calling.
At first blush being a middle school principal doesn’t seem to prepare an individual for the car wash trenches, but the leadership and organizational skills Benton acquired during his time in the principal’s office set him up for car wash success.
“A lot of my skills transferred,” he says. “I had a staff of 90 plus at the school. Managing a large staff was routine for me. The leadership stuff has transferred over nicely into running a car wash. That has helped me a ton in building this business.”
When contemplating making the leap from educator to car washer Benton was intrigued by the express exterior model. The low price points, minimal labor, and high capacity of the modern-day express was appealing to the budding entrepreneur. But as luck would have it, it was not an express tunnel that would end up being Benton’s first foray into car washing, but rather a traditional full-serve location.
“Opening an express location made perfect sense to me,” he says. “That was really what I was trying to pull off. But a full-serve opportunity came along sooner. So we opened that up and branded it Speedy Bee Car Wash.”
Benton jumped in with both feet into his Southlake, TX full-service location, transforming the site into a highly efficient and profitable location, all the while plotting his entry into the express exterior market. His opportunity came a few short years later when he purchased some land in the affluent Flower Mound community and set to work developing the plot into an express wash with all of the modern bells and whistles, but the process was anything but easy.
The site had no utilities. Benton had to bring in his own electric and water infrastructure, which required a slow half mile march, easement by easement, toward the future wash site. The slow and steady process took a couple of years, but Benton eventually got his express wash built, opening its doors in 2010.
The site features a 135-foot, well-equipped Belanger tunnel, with free vacuums and plenty of space for customers to give their cars some finishing touches if they desire. And like all expresses, the site operates with minimal labor, versus the 30-plus employees the first Speedy Bee Car Wash in Southlake required.
“I love the express exterior model,” Benton says. “You don’t have to have as many people. But you do need key people. And I’m blessed with having very capable employees that can manage the car wash and run it like it’s their own. There has been stability here for 10 years. My manager has been with me since before day one. Flower Mound has a small town feel to it, and the community appreciates a friendly face.”
Benton operated his two washes simultaneously for almost eight years, until in 2018, his business took the next step in its evolution. He opened up a second express exterior location in Rockwall, while selling his Southlake location and exiting the full-service game.
“Our full-service location wasn’t even on the market,” Benton says of the events that led to the sale of his full-service wash. “We had all three of them going and we were quietly looking for a fourth site. But the phone rang, and the price was right. It just felt like it was the right time to make a move and focus all of our energy on our two exterior sites.”
Benton’s plan to focus his attention on his two exterior sites was short lived. He is currently under contract on a property in Denton where he plans to get back into the full-service game, on a much smaller scale, with the development of a flex-serve location.
“The city of Denton has a lot of express washes,” Benton says. “We thought it would be a good opportunity to do a modified flex and differentiate.”
The plan is for the new site to offer a full express menu like the other two Speedy Bee locations, with just one interior “full-service” option. The interior option will operate like a mini-detail, performed by two-man teams trained to get the job done efficiently and quickly.
“The service will be done in under 10 minutes,” Benton says. “Once the car exits the tunnel it will pull up to the station and we’ll hit it with two people. The plan is to start out with one, two-man team that quickly scales to three teams. There will be some commission involved instead of straight hourly pay. So there’s a motivation to do it right and do it fast.”
As Benton looks to expand his holdings and develop a new operational model, he still as his nose to the grindstone operating his two express washes and building his local customer base. Speedy Bee relies on ground-level marketing to get the word out on its services. It is extremely active in its local communities especially the school systems, where Benton’s first-hand experience is a great asset.
“I have a lot of knowledge about how the school systems and local communities work,” he says. “I use that knowledge to market my business. I have marketed heavily through the schools.”
A key component of Speedy Bee’s community-based marketing efforts is its on-site fundraising for local organizations. For example, instead of just writing a check for the high school’s drum corps, Benton invites the band down to his site to put on a concert for his customers. It raises awareness for the band while simultaneously drawing in potential customers for Speedy Bee, and of course the group gets a piece of the wash’s take for the day.
“In the express business everybody has about the same price and the same equipment,” Benton says. “What it comes down to is how well you treat your customers and how well you maintain your equipment. If everything is working as it should and you provide customers with quality, dependable service they will continue to choose you over the competition.”
CAR WASH OVERVIEW:
Name: Speedy Bee Car Wash
Owner: James Benton
Location: Flower Mound and Rockwall, Texas
Concept: Express Exterior
Tunnel Length: 135 Feet
Wash Equipment: Belanger