Rob Madrid has helped build dozens of washes and consulted on hundreds more, but the most environmentally friendly wash he has ever seen is his own.
Gleam Car Wash in Denver, CO is Madrid’s first foray into car wash ownership. He and partner Emilie Baratta opened the urban flex serve in August of 2016 and have seen car counts steadily increase month after month at what they claim is the greenest car wash in Colorado.
“I believe we are the greenest car wash in the state and one of the 10 greenest in the country,” Madrid says. “It is not trademarked or anything and we are not going to try to prove it. There is no metric for the ‘greenest’ wash. But I have been in this business for over 10 years and have worked on hundreds of washes and have never seen anyone even close to us in terms of our eco-consciousness.”
There are certainly plenty of environmentally-friendly washes around the country but you would be hard pressed to find one that combines all of the initiatives that Gleam has implemented to streamline its eco-footprint. When Madrid and Baratta teamed up around two years ago it was Baratta’s dedication to environmental pursuits that helped shape Gleam’s green future.
“She is really the reason behind how green we are,” Madrid says. “We call her ‘Captain Planet’ because she is so eco friendly. She is the reason why we are the greenest car wash in Colorado.”
The heart and soul of Gleam’s green initiatives is its SoBrite water reclaim system. Madrid and Baratta went all out withthe system, opting for a top-of-the-line unit that is capable if recycling 100 percent of Gleam’s water. While every drop of water that is used in the wash is run through the system, about 90 percent can be reused. Around six percent is lost to evaporation and four percent is discharged into the city sewer. Gleam uses about 15 gallons of fresh water per car, primarily in the final rinse.
“Nobody has a reclaim system like this in our area,” Madrid says. “Most people have smaller units and use about 30 gallons of fresh water per car. And their filtration is not as good. We can get down to 5 to 7 microns. Our nozzles aren’t getting clogged and we can use the treated water in more ways. We even use it in some of our soap applications.”
In fact, Gleam is so water conscious it has been named the official car wash of Denver Water, the city’s water supplier, for its efforts.
In addition to its commitment to recycle and reuse as much wash water as possible, Gleam has a host of solar panels installed on its roof to help lower its dependence on the local power grid. The 138-foot tunnel roof is covered by 41 individual solar panels that not only help alleviate the wash’s traditional electric consumption but act as a visual reminder to the community of the wash’s eco-commitment.
“Car washes use a ton of electricity,” Madrid says. “We are still monitoring the system’s output to figure out exactly what we are saving but it is around 13 to 14 percent.”
While the initial outlay to install the solar system was significant, Madrid is forecasting for a quick return on the investment, and is even considering adding another 60 panels on the roof of the detail center to further reduce the wash’s energy costs. Colorado has some very enticing tax breaks that help lower the cost of installing and maintaining the system, making the expansion plans even more appealing to Madrid.
The citizens of Colorado are known for their eco-consciousness and Gleam’s environmental initiatives have certainly helped the wash connect with the local community. Car counts have been steadily on the rise since the wash opened its doors in August 2016. Madrid and Baratta projected the site would wash 120,000 cars in its second year of operation, but Gleam is on pace to reach that milestone in year one.
A big part of Gleam’s early success is thanks to its large-scale marketing push.
“We knew that we had to be very aggressive at least initially,” says Madrid. “For our first year we did a lot of half-off type promotions. We have coupons on the receipt tapes in four local grocers, do a lot of direct mail, and are looking into a billboard campaign. We want redemption. The purpose of our initial marketing efforts is to let people know we are here and to get them to come in and try us out.”
Gleam’s big marketing blitz is focused on not only getting customers to come in to try out the new wash in town, but to get them to sign up for one of the three available unlimited wash programs. “We understand the value in memberships,” Madrid says. “I have been in this business for a long time and I have not only taught people how to do this, I have learned from my clients. We definitely try to push it.”
The promotional investment and dedication to selling the membership plans is paying clear dividends. In the wash’s first eight months of operation, 1,800 customers have signed up for an unlimited package. The wash’s unlimited membership packages cost $34, $45, and $55 per month depending on the level of service selected.
While signing up nearly two thousand members in its first year of operation is certainly impressive, even more remarkable is the fact that 90 percent of customers opt for the top-of-the-line $55 dollar per month option.
For their investment customers get all the bells and whistles. On the exterior side the package includes triple foam, undercarriage protectant, tire shine, Buff ‘n Dry, lava treatment, hot wax, and more.
Following a trip through the tunnel, customers pull into one of the wash’s 12 indoor and four outdoor finishing spots for an interior treatment that includes: vacuuming, window cleaning, dashboard dusting, doorjamb cleaning, leather seat wipe down, and an air freshener.
In addition to the runaway success of the unlimited wash program, the wash’s non-member customers are opting for the top-of-the-line $18 exterior only wash at an impressive 56 percent rate.
“Can I duplicate that kind of success for someone else?” asks Madrid. “I will certainly try for my consulting clients, but I am not sure that I can. We have done 30 percent, which is pretty good, but never 56 percent.”
While the early success of their first wash will be hard to duplicate, Madrid and Baratta are certainly up to the challenge. In August, a year after opening their first location, the partners will break ground on their second Gleam site and plans are in the works for the third to quickly follow.
If the community acceptance of the first Gleam site is any indication the people of Denver will embrace the new eco-friendly locations and help usher in a new era for the state’s greenest car wash.