The car wash landscape is quickly evolving. Full-service locations have given ground to express exteriors, and operators are searching for innovative, profitable ways to differentiate themselves from the crowd.
Miles Auto Spa and Express Carwashes recently went live with a new one-wash, one-price location that simplifies operations while simultaneously providing customers with the most popular tunnel services. The new Mile15 site offers just one menu option, a $15 express exterior with no vacuum stations or auxiliary amenities. It’s just a simplified, high-quality express wash.
“We’re not asking customers to look at a menu with 20 different options,” says Miles Auto Spa founder Miles Johnson. “They pull up, pay for the wash, and get all the items they would normally have had to pay for individually. The tunnel is about 75 feet, so it is perfect for someone who just wants to be in and out. We have it packed with wraps, mitters, wheel blaster, tire shine, everything that we could fit into those 75 feet. The car comes out very clean and dry.”
The one-price, one-wash concept is new to the market, but Johnson and his team are no strangers to evolving their offerings to meet changing customer demand. Johnson launched Miles Auto Spa in 2007 as a full-service luxury car wash and has evolved his business over the past 15-plus years to match the changing car wash market.
“I was going to car washes as a consumer forever,” he says. “But I was going there reluctantly, not because I wanted to go there, but because I needed a car wash. I wanted to create a luxurious place that people want to go to.”
The original Miles Auto Spa location made good on his vision. The full-service wash had a well-equipped tunnel with all the bells and whistles to ensure a car exited clean and shiny. In addition to its impressive technical capabilities, the wash had the creature comforts to turn it into the destination Johnson envisioned. The impressive lobby had comfortable seating, plenty of places for customers to read a book or catch up on emails, refreshments, televisions, a fireplace, and more. Fueled by these amenities and the capabilities of the wash tunnel and staff, Miles captured the community’s hearts, minds, and wallets.
“We created this really nice full-service facility, and it was wonderful,” says Johnson. “And then, in 2017, we began to have labor issues. We struggled to find people that could provide that full-service customer experience. All the while, we watched as the industry moved toward express washing.”
Not to be left on the outside looking in, Johnson purchased an express wash in 2018 and began to see firsthand the benefits of the low-labor, high-throughput model. “The wash took off, and it was enlightening for us,” he says. “We started thinking that perhaps this is where the rest of the business should go. Particularly since we could only fulfill around 60 to 70 percent of our full-service labor needs.”
Johnson and his team struggled to recruit and retain the 30 to 40 employees they needed on-site at the Auto Spa to keep the place humming on a busy Saturday afternoon. Finding workers was not the only challenge, rising labor costs were forcing Johnson to raise his prices to unviable levels.
“We really struggled to continue to offer a $30 top wash,” he says. “With the increase in wages, we couldn’t see how the concept was sustainable without moving our prices into the $40-plus range. We had seen firsthand how successful express could be and we just sort of fell in line with the rest of the industry. We decided to change our mindset from lower volume, higher price to a more volume-centric model.”
In 2021 the decision was made to convert all of Miles Auto Spa locations to the express model to lessen the labor burden while simultaneously providing modern wash customers the speed and convenience they desire. Currently, Johnson owns four express locations, including the newly minted one-price Mile15.
While Miles has solidified itself as a force to be reckoned with in the express category, it has not completely turned its back on its Auto Spa roots. Detailing is still available at its two previous full-serve locations. Customers who crave a full-service experience can make an appointment for an express detail, which starts at $69 for an interior cleaning and includes a deep cleaning, mat shampooing, vacuuming, etc. For $30 more, customers can opt for an express interior and exterior detail that adds a hand buff and wax and exterior vinyl and rubber treatment. Full-blown traditional details are available and start at $189.
Miles evolution from full-service to express was an iterative process that began when the first full-serve location opened in 2007. There was always an exterior-only option on the Miles Auto Spa menu board, which was extremely popular with customers, and as the regional chain expanded beyond its first location the exterior concept expanded with it.
“When we bought the Mallory Station location, which eventually became our Mile15 site, it was a full-service wash,” says Johnson. “We did not think it was a viable full-service wash. It was a mile from our first location, and we bought it because we didn’t want anybody else to buy it. Based on our data points, we were confident that this would be perfect as an exterior wash. And that’s how we launched it.
“Then we ended up building our Royal Oaks location, which was an express wash with free vacuums. And we converted our full-service wash in Cool Springs to that same model. The Mallory Station location became an issue for us because it didn’t have the same product offering. It didn’t have vacuums, and it didn’t have free towels and cleaning products, but we still had the same price points for those washes. It was a little bit problematic in terms of marketing.”
During the pandemic, the decision was made to close the Mallory Station site and offer the property for sale as anything other than a car wash. The site drew some interest, primarily from rival operators that wanted to continue running it as a car wash, but Johnson was unwilling to allow a competitor to open up so close to him. The site remained closed until Johnson and his team had the novel idea to re-launch the site as a one-price, express location.
“Looking at our statistics, the average ticket on most of our car washes was around $15, and around half of our customers didn’t use the vacuums,” he says “We thought, if we can open something that gives the customer a quality wash without all the extras we might be on to something, so that is exactly what we did.”
The Mile15, one-wash, one-price concept has been a hit with customers since it launched in August. And with the site being just one mile from the original Auto Spa, it gives customers two equally impressive, yet distinct, express locations to choose from.
The car wash market continues to evolve, and Johnson and his team are not afraid to change with it. From full service, to express, to a one-price concept, the team at Miles Auto Spa is willing and able to give customers what they want.