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    Adding Gears

    Country Food Stores knows its customers have need for speed. That's why the San Angelo, Texas-based chain designed Total Car Care Center to be fast. The company's newest and biggest location offers busy, quick-moving motorists a three-bay lube center, a conveyor car wash, an 8,700-square-foot convenience store and gas station, and a Country Cookin' foodservice outlet.

    Country Food Stores knows its customers have need for speed. That's why the San Angelo, Texas-based chain designed Total Car Care Center to be fast. The company's newest and biggest location offers busy, quick-moving motorists a three-bay lube center, a conveyor car wash, an 8,700-square-foot convenience store and gas station, and a Country Cookin' foodservice outlet.

    Our strategy is to be the place where people come to get things done all at one time. They can get an oil change, eat while they're waiting, zip through the car wash and then pick up a loaf of bread and gallon of milk," said Kevin Tims, director of the company's Total Car Care division. "Everybody in the world is in a hurry now and needs convenience."

    Total Car Care, which is situated less than five miles from Town & Country headquarters, has been a vision in the making for nearly three years. Executives at the 153-store chain have described the project's execution as one of the most concerted construction, marketing and planning efforts in the company's 40-year history.

    After much anticipation, the complex, spanning 2.3 acres, opened for business in June at a heavily-traveled intersection in the southwest section of San Angelo. The center employs between 60 and 65 workers, each dedicated to a particular profit center. It is like nothing else in Town & Country's portfolio. "This is very unique," said Tims, who joined Town & Country two and a half years ago after five years in the lube and car wash industry.

    In addition to the Country Cookin' foodservice outlet, the store features a grab-n-go case with freshly-made sandwiches, salads, fruits and desserts; the chain's proprietary "The Cold Front" fountain area; and its "The Hot Spot" coffee, cappuccino and steamer bar. The Cool Zone cold vault covers an entire wall of the store and includes a walk-in beer cave for self-service multi-packs of ice-cold beer.

    Also offered is a dining area with numerous tables and chairs, a spacious seating area for oil-change customers and an indoor playground for children. A special "tunnel vision" seating section looks into the actual carwash tunnel, giving customers a panoramic view of their vehicles as they traverse the fully-automated wash tunnel.

    While seven of the chain's stores currently have car washes – all in-bay automatics – Total Car Care features a conveyor wash by A.V.W. Equipment Co. Inc., of Maywood, Ill. At 160 feet, it is one of the longest carwash tunnels in the state of Texas.

    The company opted for a conveyor wash because the in-bay automatic is limited in how many cars per hour it can accommodate. A conveyor can process cars faster and cleaner, Tims said. Total Car Care now cleans between 300 and 400 cars on a typical day.

    Drivers have their choice of four exterior washes. The least expensive is the Blue wash, a soft cloth wash priced at $5. For $8, a customer can get a White wash, a soft cloth wash using high-pressure water. The Red wash, which also costs $8, is a protection wash, during which waxes, polishes and rust inhibitors are applied. The Patriot, the most popular and expensive at $11, is all three washes in one.

    Car wash customers have the option to purchase interior service as well. "They ride through [the conveyor] and if it's just exterior, they keep driving. If they want something additional, they pull up under our canopy," Tims explained.

    Adjacent to the car wash is the three-bay lube center, a brand new profit center for Town & Country. As part of its promise of speediness, Total Car Care is designed so that even on the busiest day, both a car wash and oil change can be completed in 15 minutes or less.

    In addition to a basic $29.99 oil change, the lube center offers check/top-off of vital fluids, tire rotations and rock/chip windshield repair. On average, it services 50 cars per day.

    In the Loop
    To maximize Total Car Care's multiple profit centers, Town & Country has developed a "Loyalty Loop," which encourages customers to use all four businesses at the site. For instance, when a customer purchases fuel at one of the 16 pumping stations, he or she receives a discount for the lube center. When customers go to the lube center or car wash, they get a discount on fuel. Discounts are awarded with proof of receipt.

    For added emphasis, the chain promotes the Loyalty Loop at its fuel pumps through Gilbarco's Smart Merchandising solution. Each pump has a 5-inch viewing screen where coupons are continually scrolled while the customer is pumping gas. One coupon, for instance, offers customers a free corn dog when they purchase a Patriot carwash that day.

    Total Car Care does much cross-marketing with its foodservice concept as well. Tuesday is Hamburger Day – customers get a free burger, fries and a drink when they purchase a full-service oil change at the lube center.

    "That goes a lot further than just giving $3 off the oil change," Tims said, adding that the chain is working toward having a special for every day of the week.

    The Loyalty Loop is yet another way the Total Car Care Center lives up to its motto of "Save Time. Save Money. Have Fun," according to Tims.

    In the first seven months of operation, the fuel offering and car wash have proven to be the biggest traffic drivers to the site; Tims wouldn't comment on which profit center provides the best margins. "The more diverse that we can be with additional profit centers, the better we're going to be in the long-run," he noted.

    Total Car Care will surely be part of Town & Country's future, but before the chain begins construction on another, Tims said the company is focusing on the current operation and achieving the standard of excellence to which Town & Country is accustomed.

    "Good is not good enough. We want to be the best."

    Other C-Stores Diving Into Car Wash Pool
    Town & Country Food Stores is not the only convenience store retailer who sees the addition of car washes as an opportunity for growth. Tulsa, Okla.-based QuikTrip Corp. recently announced that it is continuing to test the waters of the car wash business at two of its stores in Wichita, Kansas. Meanwhile, Sheetz Inc., of Altoona, Pa., planned to add car washes to nine more stores by the end of 2006, for a total of 43 car wash locations.

    QuikTrip is building brushless conveyor-style car washes at the two Kansas locations as part of a second phase of its test-marketing project to decide whether there's a market for upscale car washes chain-wide, according to media reports. Phase one was a car wash built two years ago in Glenpool, Okla. that the company has dubbed "a tremendous success."

    Both of the new washes, which the chain is shooting to have open by April, will include free vacuum services and free air for tires, already a QuikTrip staple, reports said. Company executives plan to monitor usage closely and if they perform well, car washes could be added to its other stores in Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Iowa, Arizona and Georgia.

    Sheetz, which has already realized the benefits of car washes, said in a recent company newsletter that its goal is for each car wash to clean 100 cars per day. To meet that goal, the chain is offering customers four different car wash packages, priced in line with the area competition, and new technology like car wash touchscreen units, which tie into the vacuum unit allowing every car wash customer to receive a free vacuum.

    To improve logistics and save store managers administrative time, the company also reported that it is changing the way car wash chemicals are distributed to stores. Soon, all car wash stores will get their chemicals from a direct-store-delivery (DSD) vendor, as half do now. The other half have been ordering their chemicals from the distribution center. The DSD vendor will be responsible for ordering and replenishing all the supplies.

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