The most successful businessmen are able to learn from their mistakes and take no shame in admitting a misstep. When Turner Brock was looking to upgrade a couple of his self-serve/in-bay automatic locations he received some good advice that he just didn’t take.
The 22-year car wash veteran was planning to upgrade two of his existing sites and Autec president Tom Hobby recommended he tear down both his in-bay automatics and self-serve bays and start fresh with standalone express tunnels. Brock opted to keep his self-serve bays intact and retrofit the in-bays with Autec express wash equipment.
“The retrofits are not producing the numbers we wanted them to,” Brock says. “The equipment is performing better than our old touchless automatics service wise, but we are just not generating the revenue numbers we have heard other operators are doing.”
While the Dothan, AL Finish Line locations are producing clean, shiny cars they have not been homeruns, a situation Brock plans to rectify when he knocks the older of the two sites down in late December and puts in a full-on standalone Autec express tunnel set to open in February 2017. “I am going to go and do a complete redo,” Brock says. “Other than my equipment room, I am going to tear it completely down, rework my parking lot, and just go ahead with the tunnel. When Tom Hobby said to tear it down and start over he was right. It was the thing to do. Honestly I wish I was out of the self-serve car wash business all together.”
Brock has reason to believe that starting over in Dothan is the way to go. Earlier this year he and his brother Mack opened a standalone Autec tunnel in neighboring Bainbridge, GA and the location has been growing by leaps and bounds since it opened its doors.
The brothers acquired a premium piece of undeveloped real estate in Bainbridge in a 20-acre retail center that features numerous chain restaurants and a well-visited Walmart anchor store. They built their soft-touch Finish Line Express Wash on the highly visible location and have enjoyed increasing wash counts since they opened for business.
Unlike most Autec express tunnels, Finish Line does not feature an all-glass tunnel. Instead the Brock brothers opted for no walls at all. The open-air concept works well in the warm southern climate and helps the brothers save time and money on keeping the glass clean and shiny.
Bainbridge is a small town and when the Brock brothers were planning their express wash they were coming into it with modest expectations. “Initially when we were building I said we will never do more than $25,000 in revenue a month here,” Brock says. “Just four months in and we did over $30,000 and we are on pace to go over $40,000. I know that is not a big number in comparison to some other places but when you factor in the population of the entire county is only around 30,000 people it is pretty amazing.”
At his self-serve/in-bay locations Brock was accustomed to washing 200 to 250 cars per week, but his express tunnel is now routinely processing over 1,000 a week, helping to cement his plan to go in and do a ground-up renovation on one of his self-serve locations.
The early success of the open-air express tunnel is even more amazing when you consider that Brock did virtually no paid marketing to spread the word about the business. Instead he relied on the wash’s premier location and the equipment’s ability to provide consistent, high-quality results.
“We put up a couple of banners and I did a small cross promotion with our lender,” Brock says of his minimalistic approach to marketing. “The only other thing I did was a presentation at our local chamber of commerce. We didn’t do any videos, TV spots, or ads in paper. In terms of money spent on promotion it was less than a thousand dollars.
In addition to its ideal corner location within shouting distance of a high-traffic destination like Walmart, Brock points to the fact that the community was already conditioned to tunnel washing, albeit in a less modern and convenient package. There is a 20-year-old tunnel location in town that features aging equipment and is only open around 40 hours a week. Finish Line Express in contrast sports a well-lit, modern atmosphere with 24/7 access, ensuring that when customer demand strikes the wash is in position to meet it.
The express wash features four menu options priced at $6, $8, $10, and $12, with the average ticket coming in at just under $10. The $6 entry-level Deluxe Wash features presoak, spot-free rinse, and an 45-horsepower dry. The $12 Ultimate Plus in contrast treats the customer to triple foam, tire shine, clearcoat protectant, and Express Shield.
“The menu is set up nicely but I am actually toying with the idea of adding another level,” Brock says. “Maybe going up to $14 or $15 and adding a little bit more show with additional triple foam and a lava foam application.”
There are two complimentary vacuum stations at the express site that are activated by inserting a token.
At the automated pay station customers are asked if they would like to use the free vacuums, and those that say yes are dispensed a token — currently only about 20 percent of customers opt for the free vacs.
“I think this new generation is too lazy to get out and vacuum,” Brock says. “I am not going to have vacuums at our next express site. It is fine to have the vacuums if you have the room but if you don’t have them I don’t think it is the end of the world. In fact it is a much smoother operation without them.”
Despite being a 20-year car wash veteran Brock continues to tweak and reinvent his business and is not too proud to admit when he might not have made the best decision. His live and learn attitude has served him well throughout his career and serves his customers even better as they enjoy his well-run and well-equipped washes.