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From first glance, it's easy to see that Grand Prix Car Wash is not your typical drive-through experience. Its two locations — in Buffalo Grove, Ill., and Deerfield, Ill. — feature a racecar theme, down to the employee uniforms. The lobby showcases authentic racing suits and pit crew shirts behind glass cases on the walls, as well as framed racing photos and actual racecar parts.
"We got the idea for a theme from the themed restaurants in our area and opened our first wash in 1997," said co-owner Juli Jacobs. "I think the benefit of a theme is your establishment becomes a destination where children and adults want to come for the wash but also for reasons beyond that. Maybe they want to buy one of our great greeting cards, or maybe they just want to be entertained."
While their cars are being washed, customers walk through the establishment to see television monitors broadcasting racing events, along with memorabilia including an actual race car tire bolted to the wall with the Grand Prix logo. Oversize windows allow children as well as adults to see their cars being washed.
"Everything is highly visual," said Jacobs. "Everything is in racing colors, and we even have our employees wearing the same shirts the pit crews wear at the car races. We got local businesses to sponsor the shirts, and we embroider the sponsor's logo on the front and arms of the pit crew shirts, and put a Grand Prix logo on the back."
Corporate sponsors get special discounts throughout the year and get two cars washed for free all year. "We do it on an annual basis, and usually have between 20 and 25 sponsors," Jacobs explained. "Then at the end of the year, the sponsor gets a shirt with their logo."
A Quality Wash
The motto at Grand Prix is "Redefining the Sport of Clean." Aside from the entertainment value, the bottom line is providing a high-quality wash, according to Jacobs.
"I think the most important thing to remember about operating a car wash is you have to get the cars clean," she said. "A lot of things go into a successful business, but if the cars are not clean and you are not providing good customer service, you are going to fail. Getting the cars clean is what gets people coming back time and time again, and a big part of that is the right equipment and chemicals."
Grand Prix uses the highest quality chemicals, and pays more for them because they do a better job, said Jacobs. They also use triple soap and prepare the car by hand before it reaches the tunnel.
"We spend more money on our chemicals so the cars stay cleaner longer," she noted. "We have had customers call us and say their cars have never stayed clean for so long. The triple soap also works toward this end, and when a car comes in our employees vacuum it and hand-soap it to loosen the dirt, all while the car is slowly moving into the tunnel. They also use a high-powered spray and hand-clean the wheels and the rims beforehand."
Once inside the bay, the equipment is semi-touchless soft cloth from A.V.W. and the dryers are manufactured by Worldwide Drying Systems. "The soft cloth gets your car cleaner than when you just use standard towels," said Jacobs. "I think it's even better than a hand wash. We use lambswool, which is the softest. We also won't let rusty cars go through the tunnel because the rust can get on our brushes and ruin the next car behind it."
The complex also features a detail center called The Finishing Line, also designed with the racing theme. Detail packages range from $59.99 for the Starting Line Up to $189.99 for the Grand Prix Detail.
Training and Service
Each new employee is trained by a supervisor, who spends a week with them before allowing them to work on the line or on someone's car, Jacobs said. They are trained on procedures as well as rules such as not wearing jewelry to work, which could scratch a car.
"A lot of our original people have stayed with us, and I think it's the camaraderie the manager created and how we treat our employees," said Jacobs. "When we first started, everyone got personalized gifts for being there a year, and now we reward them for milestones like three years or five years too. One year we gave them watches. Also, we purchase and dry clean their uniforms and jackets so they just need to show up in a black shirt."
Additionally, there is an emphasis on customer service during the training process, especially for the greeters at the car wash entrance and the cashiers inside. "Even with a great wash, you will go unnoticed if you don't offer great customer service and have a great team providing it," Jacobs noted. "We have a superior crew that delivers customer first mentality. If a customer is not happy with the wash, we will wash it again. If a person has to leave before they are able to get a wash, we will give them a Pit Pass for a free wash."
When customers pull up for a wash, greeters will enter their license plate numbers into a handheld device from DRB Systems to pull up the history of each car. The greeters welcome customers and ask if they would like something new today or the same wash as last time.
"We like to get to know our customers and remember them," said Jacobs.