Traditionally car wash ownership is a lifelong pursuit. The industry is filled with stories of owners and operators that cut their teeth scrubbing fenders in their teenage years, working their way up through the ranks to eventually take the reins of their own wash.
Times are certainly changing. The high cost of entry has forced many would-be owners to pursue alternate careers and opened the doors for investors that have made their marks in other fields to take a crack at car washing.
Bill and Debbie Johnson both had highly successful, decades-long careers in the corporate world before turning their attention to car washing. While not raised in car wash tunnels, the husband and wife ownership team are every bit as committed to their new careers as they were to their old, and bring a fresh, business first perspective to the industry.
Bill, the former CFO and management consultant, and Debbie, a former finance and planning executive, know what it takes to run a business and specialize in turning a struggling enterprise into a market leader.
When the Johnsons purchas-ed Cleaner Quicker Carwash in Sedona, AZ in August of 2014 it was in shambles. To say the wash was a neglected mess would be an understatement. Nearly all of the equipment in the tunnel was inoperable, the building was rotting from the inside out, and employees were not provided with even the basic supplies to properly clean and detail vehicles.
To resurrect the near comatose wash a two-month ground-up renovation was required and the complete retooling of the wash equipment. Since the high desert site reopened six months ago the Johnsons have been working 14 hour days, every day to restructure operations and recapture market share.
“When we took it over nothing worked in the tunnel,” Bill Johnson says. “I had never worked in car washing before, but I have been involved in a lot of manufacturing and I knew right away the equipment needed to be replaced.”
The tunnel of the flex-serve wash was outfitted with brand new Peco equipment from front to back and the entire building and grounds were gutted and rebuilt. In fact the only things that remain from the wash’s previous incarnation are the concrete floors — which required six workers three full days to get clean — and the site’s long-time manager.
Being new to the car wash business the Johnsons knew they needed high-quality managers to help keep the operations side of the house performing and they tagged two industry veterans to fill this important role. Chris West, the wash’s previous manager that somehow kept the doors open despite being denied basic equipment and supplies, and Sean Gilpin, an operations manager with a long car wash history and a stellar local reputation, were chosen to help the Johnsons turn the long-suffering site around.
“When we took over we were literally starting from scratch,” Johnson said. “We had no equipment and no procedures in place. We built the business from that level on up.”
Over his long successful career Bill has overseen the turnaround of hundreds of businesses and knows firsthand that one of the most important aspect of a business revamp is to take a long hard look at operations. The old systems of doing things were thrown out the window and the Johnsons and their team looked at every procedure from stacking, to the proper way to wipe down a car to ensure Cleaner Quicker Carwash lived up to its name.
Every service the wash offers was broken down to a series of small tasks and the proper procedure and ideal time it should take for each was defined. For example, the Platinum express detail is comprised of 70 different tasks with an average time of 25 second per item. Clearly defining what is expected of workers and the time each task should take allows the Johnsons to effectively train staff and ensure customers receive a consistently superior product.
Bill runs his business on the CAPTAN approach and expects every worker to have the strategy engrained in their psyche and to perform their jobs up to a high standard. CAPTAN stands for Customer satisfaction, Attitude, Product excellence, Teamwork, Accountability, and Nimbleness. The six-pronged approach to the business is the first thing employees are taught when they come on board at Cleaner Quicker, in fact it is such a vital part of the business approach it is even prominently displayed on the wash’s website.
The company’s web presence is impressive. Its website offers visitors a complete and detailed look at all services and provides countless photo examples and customer testimonials that outline the vast array of services offered.
The wash offers three
exterior options, with the majority of customers in the high-end Sedona community opting for the Platinum treatment. The top wash features triple foam, two wheel treatments, RainX, spot-free rinse, and much more.
“The Platinum is our most popular wash,” Johnson says. “Once people figure out what the package entails and the amount of hand work we do on the vehicle before and after the tunnel they are hooked. It is probably a $50 value and we charge just $16.99.”
Every car that pulls into the drive is inspected prior to service to make sure that the appropriate level of clean is selected. Being in a desert community vehicles often come in covered in dust from a trek down an unpaved road or encrusted in bugs after a long highway trip. Employees give each vehicle a quick, yet thorough inspection and help customers select the appropriate service level for their particular needs.
The inspection process continues after the service is complete and each customer is given a completed checklist when they are presented with their clean vehicle. Workers let customers know what has been done to the vehicle and make sure they are completely satisfied before driving off.
The Johnsons may have just entered the car wash industry less than a year ago, but they have already become fully engrained in the car wash culture and have no plans to drive off into the Arizona sunset.
“The biggest problem I have seen in turnarounds over the years is people get out of touch with the business,” Johnson says. “The guys that are actually running the business had better be on top of it all of the time.”
Falling out of touch with the business is not a concern for Johnson. He is on site 14 hours a day seven days a week to ensure quality, consistency, and customer service remain the hallmarks of Cleaner Quicker.
Despite a long history of turning businesses around with the goal of selling for a large profit, Johnson has no immediate plans to cash in on his investment. In fact the Johnsons have taken a shine to the car wash industry jumping in with both feet and are in it for the long hall, carefully documenting every step of the rehab should they decide to open a second location.
But for right now they are happy to continue to refine the wash process and provide each and every customer that turns into their drive the Cleaner Quicker experience.