When Jeanne Schmidt Herron and her husband opened Cruiser’s Car Wash in 2007 they weren’t planning on being on-site, hands-on owners. In fact, they had dreams of building a mini chain of washes and spending most of their time developing their sites.
When the financial crisis of 2008 hit, however, plans changed quickly for the Herrons. Rather than expand their operation during uncertain economic times the owners decided to concentrate their efforts on their single location with Jeanne taking a key role in its operation.
“In 2008 we decided to just take care of our investment and put the expansion plans on hold,” Herron says. “I went down to the wash to keep an eye on things and simply fell in love with the business. I was looking for a way to make myself more useful and the wash more profitable. I know a lot of car wash owners are absentee. And I could turn over the day-to-day stuff to someone else. But I like it too much.”
What makes the Auburn, CA wash unique is not its ability to produce a clean and shiny car — although it can. Nor is it its high-end, state-of-the-art equipment — which it has. No, what makes Cruiser’s unique is its owner’s commitment to her customers and the community.
Cruiser’s is well known throughout the city of Auburn for both its quality services and its philanthropic efforts. This combination has positioned the wash as a leader both inside the community and across the industry. In fact, in 2014 the Western Carwash Association honored Jeanne for her charitable efforts with the association’s Community Service Award.
“We put money into the community,” Herron says. “Any organization that asks for a donation we give them one. I always say yes, I am a yes person. Even if it is the same organization that has asked three times in the past year we will still contribute something to their cause.”
In addition to contributing to local fundraising efforts in the form of free wash certificates, Herron also donates her time to the causes she holds most dear to her heart, helping out at charitable runs and food drives in her spare time.
“Receiving the WCA award was an amazing honor,” Herron says. “I am here at the wash every day. I am here for the customers and the community.”
Herron’s charitable efforts go above and beyond expectations, as does her car wash services. The flex serve sports a 160-foot well-appointed tunnel that is impeccably maintained and regularly updated to ensure customers receive a superior wash and experience each and every time they pull into the lot.
Cruiser’s Car Wash started out as an express only operation, but once Herron was onsite full-time it quickly morphed into the flex serve it is today. There are four wash packages to choose from, as well as a host of detailing services designed to meet all needs and budgets. While the site was not designed and built with the flex-serve concept in mind, Herron has done an admirable job adapting the wash for the model — the detailing business now represents over a third of the wash’s revenue.
Cruiser’s relies on its commitment to building and maintaining customer loyalty to consistently grow both wash and detail counts. The wash has numerous programs in place that reward customers for their patronage and encourage return visits.
On the car wash side Cruiser’s employs a punch card system that rewards customers that purchase the top package with a free $12 wash after four visits — a great value and a departure from the typical punch program that requires a customer to accumulate 10 punches before earning a free wash.
In addition, customers that purchase a pre-loaded wash card are rewarded with a 25 percent bonus. For instance, if customers purchase a pre-paid card for $25 they receive $31.25 in value. At least twice a year the cards — which can be purchased online or via an onsite vending machine —are loaded with a 50 percent bonus.
“Around the holidays and the wash’s anniversary in September we double the bonus,” Herron says. “Anytime someone puts money on a card with my name on it I am buying their loyalty. It is a win/win. They get a discount and I know they are not going to go anywhere else to get their car washed.”
Cruiser’s commitment to building long-term loyalty continues on the detail side of the house. A similar punch card program is employed, but with a unique twist. Customers of the popular $25 In-and-Out package receive a punch every time they bring their car in for service. After five purchases they are entitled to a free In-and-Out service, or they can trade their card in for a 50 percent discount on a full-service detail. The top-of-the-line detail service can run north of $350, so as Herron says the discount can equal quite a big “chunk of change.”
In addition, customers that return within three weeks of getting an In-and-Out service can get a $5 discount on their next wash. “People ask me how I can justify giving such a big discount for return visits,” Herron says. “For me it is simple. A car that keeps coming in every three weeks or so is a much easier and faster to clean.”
While offering promotions and incentives to return to the wash is a great way to build loyalty, without providing quality services it will have little effect. Herron continues to invest in the wash to keep up with industry trends and provide the kind of superior experience customers have come to expect.
After over six months of planning and construction the wash recently unveiled its latest additions to the tunnel: liquid wax and a bubblizer. The liquid wax application costs $5 and is designed to appeal to customers that want to get a next-level of protection for their cars, but don’t have the time for a detail service. Although a liquid wax, the product is relatively durable, offering around three to four weeks of protection.
The detail staff hard at work putting the final
In addition, customers that opt for the liquid wax application are treated to a bubblizer effect following the initial rinse. When coupled with the wash’s recently added light installation the bubblizer provides quite a show designed to entertain children as well as adults.
As a California wash Cruiser’s is dedicated to eco-consciousness and has installed numerous solutions over the years that are focuses on lowering the wash’s environmental impact. The wash has 130 solar panels installed on its roof, helping Cruiser’s save 22 cents per car on utility costs. In addition, the wash reclaims 98 percent of its wash water and the Division of Public Utilities recently confirmed that the wash uses the least amount of water per car of any wash in Northern California.
While Jeanne Schmidt Herron didn’t enter the car wash industry to be a full-time
operator she fell in love with her business and has been at the helm for over eight years. Under her leadership Cruiser’s Car Wash is setting the standard for excellence in Northern California not just in car wash performance but in environmental and community stewardship.