Laser Auto Wash
By: Lisa Loewen
Being a business owner often comes with unforeseen challenges and not-so-obvious rewards. Financial risk, volatile economic conditions and evolving technology can make even the most straightforward business endeavor more complicated than expected. Greg and Francie Fagan have discovered first hand how a business that from an outside perspective seems quite basic—a car wash—can actually be quite complex.
As the owner of two Laser Auto Wash locations in Topeka, Greg has had to learn the hard way just how much work is required to keep the water flowing and the equipment working properly.
“People think all you have to do is fill up the soap dispenser and back the truck up to unload the money,” Greg said. “They have no idea the technology behind the scenes.”
In essence, Greg has spent the last 15 years learning to be a part-time plumber, electrician, HVAC specialist, computer wizard and marketing guru so he can keep the car washes functional and profitable.
“You don’t realize how much is involved with this business,” Greg said. “You have to take the city’s hard water, soften it so the cleaning chemicals work properly, take everything through reverse osmosis and maintain a precise water temperature so the spot free rinse works right. So many things are out of our control.”
Just keeping the bays clean can be an issue. Think of all the mud that people are washing off of their cars. Add a few off-road adventurers to the mix and things get dirty really fast.
Greg admits he had no idea what he was getting into when he purchased the two car washes 15 years ago. He ran the numbers, researched the profit potential and decided it would be a good investment.
It wasn’t what he expected. The learning curve was pretty stressful, and it wasn’t a business he could just let run itself. And, this wasn’t Greg’s only venture. With a full-time job and several rental houses, Greg found himself spread a little thin.
If you go down on a Friday afternoon, you can’t just wait until Monday to get it resolved,” Greg said. “You have to figure it out. You have to be available to help that customer who is having issues.”
Greg hired a full-time manager who had experience in property management, plumbing and maintenance to help run the day-to-day operations. However, the major business decisions were still left up to Greg.
One of those decisions involved a significant investment in upgrades to equipment and technology. Greg replaced the machinery in the automatic wash bays with a more efficient system that also offered a better design on sprayers and blowers to provide more effective cleaning and a better end result for the customer. This new technology also allows the automatic bays to process 15 cars per hour instead of 10. In the self-serve bays, they added triple foam guns and air dryers.
In addition to upgrading the washing equipment, Greg also upgraded the payment system, allowing customers to pay by credit/debit card instead of coins. Card readers can now be found in every bay, and a new pay-by-phone option is currently being implemented.
“We recognize that millennials expect the technology to be in place to pay for everything with their phones,” Greg said. “We are going to make that happen.”
Francie lets Greg handle the car wash business—she handles the rental houses. However, she said she is amazed at how much time and energy Greg puts into making Laser Auto Wash a success.
“Watching Greg interact with the customers has been amazing,” Francie said. “He is so patient and really takes care of his customers. He makes it right—no matter what.”
Part of “making it right” means giving customers the best experience possible. They have improved the lighting in all of the bays to improve safety and security. They have begun offering value packages to reward frequent customers. They are working with the local community to offer fundraising opportunities. They now offer reloadable wash cards and fleet payment options.
Greg says he wouldn’t have been able to make all of these improvements if it weren’t for the strong support they have received from Envista.
“When we were looking for commercial financing, we approached Envista to see if they could help us,” Greg said. “They bent over backward to help us succeed. It is a different culture there. It really is all about what they can do for us. We were so impressed that we moved all of our accounts there.”
Photo by David Vincent
Article written by Lisa Loewen
Lisa Loewen teaches journalism at the University of Kansas since 2004 and is editor-in-chief of TK Business Magazine. Her extensive writing experience includes magazine, newspaper and broadcast, advertising copy for print and television, as well as academic articles.