You have to love car washing to do it right. Most successful operators pour their heart and soul into their washes — to them it is more than a business, it is their identity.
Chris McKenna has put more than a little bit of himself into Rock n’ Roll Car Wash in Hermosa Beach, CA. The former professional rock drummer and his partners have built a one-of-a-kind, rock & roll themed wash that has resurrected a formerly neglected facility and continues to gain market share at an incredible rate.
The wash has grown sales by over 60 percent since opening its doors a little more than a year ago, and continues to grow its customer base with each passing day. When McKenna and his partners took over the wash it was in poor working order. The once well-regarded site had been neglected by an absentee owner for the past 12 years and was in dire need of a renovation and rebranding.
McKenna, drawing on his 27 years in the car wash business, understood what needed to be done to resurrect the wash, but knew it was not going to be easy. “Overcoming the stigma the wash had built over the past 12 years is a lot harder than you think,” McKenna says. “It is easier to build a new wash then to take over an existing wash that has been neglected.
McKenna wanted to do more than just restore the wash, he wanted to make a statement and build an over-the-top tribute to his two loves: car washing and rock music. The highly successful car wash consultant had always wanted to design a rock & roll themed wash and he finally got his chance when he and his partners bought the struggling hand-wash location just steps from the Pacific Ocean.
“We gutted the hand wash,” McKenna says. “It was a bold move, and people said it was crazy, but we went from a hand wash to full on brush. I lost some customers initially but I gained a lot more than I lost.”
California held onto hand washing long after much of the country turned to automation, but even the last few strangleholds of the labor intensive format are beginning to loosen their grip on traditional washing methods. Rock n’ Roll still offers hand washing for those customers that are unwilling to embrace the modern format, but with less than five percent of customers opting for the service it is clear that McKenna’s automated gamble has paid off.
Retooling and reformatting the wash was a calculated gamble, but one thing was certain: if it was going to be a success cars needed to be perfectly clean and shiny when they rolled off the lot. To ensure customers were happy with the end result, McKenna stacked the NS-equipped tunnel with all of the latest and greatest car wash technology.
Despite all of the modern car wash wonders residing in the tunnel if customers never turn off of the Pacific Coast Highway onto the site the cleaning prowess of the equipment would do little to convert former hand wash customers into loyal automated washers. That is where McKenna’s rock & roll theme comes into play.
The wash simply screams rock & roll. The black and red color scheme and bold flame-wielding signage draws customers onto the site. Even those strict hand washers have to stop in at least once for a peak at the destination wash, and once they are on site it is up to McKenna and his crew to make sure it is more than just a one-hit wonder.
Rock & roll is not just window dressing, the entire site is engulfed in rock memorabilia, furnishings, and signage. There is a life-size statue of Elvis playing guitar next to a ‘59 Cadillac that has been converted to a couch. Even if customers close their eyes for a moment the sound of AC/DC and Van Halen being played at high volume will guarantee they don’t forget that this wash was designed and built with rock on the brain. And for those true die-hard Rock n’ Roll Car Wash fans T-shirts, cups, hats, and other merchandising are available for sa
The menu board continues the rock theme with wash packages featuring musically inspired names. The $13 entry-level “Vocals” package is a basic full-service treatment, while the $25 top-of-the-line “Full Band” treatment features sealer wax, wheel clean, tri-foam polish wax, tire dressing, air freshener, Rain-X, and Simoniz Polish. The detailing options are all rock themed with the “Platinum Record” signifying a mini detail, the “Arena Gig” an exterior, and the “Full Stadium Gig” the complete full-service option.
Customers have embraced the concept and the theme quickly, but with plenty of full-serve competition in the area McKenna has had to work tirelessly to make his dream a reality.
“It has taken a year of me being here every day,” McKenna says. “I go out and vacuum cars, I write tickets, I dry cars off. I work alongside my guys. I don’t just sit in the office. We are very much hands on owners. In doing that, this past year it has really paid off and this car wash has really turned the corner.”
Rock n’ Roll Car Wash is the third wash the partners have built over their 20-year business relationship. Although they have sold the other two washes they owned in the past they plan on holding onto their latest creation long-term and building upon their theme-based holding.
Fueled by the success of Rock n’ Roll McKenna and his partners recently broke ground on a ground up car wash build just three miles away in Redondo Beach. Despite the overwhelming popularity of the rock-themed wash, the next wash the partners build will not feature a music motif but instead a surfer theme. The new site will however feature the same full-serve equipment as its sister location.
“Although it is just three miles south it is a completely different demographic,” McKenna says. “We are going to pay tribute to some of the famous surf breaks that are around here. All our packages will have beach and surfing names and the entire place will have a beach feel.”
In addition to the thriving Rock n’ Roll Car Wash and the under construction beach location, the partners have two other sites they are currently developing. They have property in both Malibu and Orange County and will be building a flex-serve in Malibu and an express exterior in Orange County. But for now McKenna will have one eye focused on continuing to grow the customer base in Hermosa Beach and the other on the construction of the Redondo location.
“The response to the Hermosa Beach location has been overwhelmingly positive,” McKenna says. “The community really appreciates the wash. That is what makes us happy. We want to build places that are fun for us and fun for the customer.”
If McKenna keeps coming up with interesting concepts like his rockin’ wash there is little doubt that smiling customers will continue to stream in and out of his washes.