Brent Wignall's entry into the car wash industry is like that of many others: he recognized an opportunity.
Wignall had recently returned home from a deployment in Iraq and was spending time with friends and family at a Christmas party when the idea came up.
"A friend mentioned that if anyone opened a car wash across from a particular Walmart, they'd make millions," Wignall said. "He said it to a group of us, but it stuck in my head." A few months later, Wignall attended what is now The Car Wash Show, felt comfortable about the return-on-investment possibilities and saw this as an opportunity he needed to pursue.
But, getting started wasn't easy. Wignall ran his own construction business with more than 120 employees. It was 2008, and the economy wasn't in a great place. Wignall decided that he needed to shut down his construction business and go fully into car washing.
Before pursuing his own location, he went to work for minimum wage for a local competitor, just to see if he liked the idea. "I needed to see if this is what I wanted to do with my life," he said. "When I realized that I just absolutely loved the industry and loved car washing, I knew I had to push forward."
The battle for financing was difficult. "Most thought we were crazy and that we'd go bankrupt, especially as first-time operators," Wignall said. "Finally, a good friend went to bat for us – multiple times – and was able to get us a loan. When we pitched our performance estimate of being able to wash 300 cars a day, they didn't believe we could even get to that in a month.”
Wignall’s estimates turned out to be very conservative. “Once we did get opened, we bootstrapped and did everything we had to do, and had a 1,200-car day within six weeks,” he said. “It felt really great showing the bank branch president that report."
Despite the challenges in getting financing and the other struggles that come with a first-time business, Wignall never gave up. "Honestly, I just knew in my gut. When I first heard about it, I honestly thought conveyor car washing was a totally new thing," he said. "After doing research and learning it had been around for decades and was all over the country, I knew Utah was prime for it. The opportunity was there, and I just needed things to fall into place. Plus, I'm someone who once he has his mind set, I keep going until it kills me."
Wiggy Wash is now up to four locations, all in Utah. Wignall attributes a lot of their success to the networking he's been able to do with others in the business. "It's been great to be able to talk about a business of this magnitude with employees of this magnitude," Wignall said. "I get to talk to a lot of business people who've been in it for years and they're able to mentor me. I love sharing my knowledge too. I'm very open about what we do and how we do it. I want the good practices out there and for our industry to be a great one."
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The majority of their success, though, comes from the customer experience they create. “We go out of our way to help a customer and they're blown away,” Wignall said. “I love checking the feedback we get online because there's so much about our fantastic customer service."
At one Wiggy Wash location, the team has a "no door handle" policy, meaning that no customer should have to touch any door handle, ever. "We open their car door for them, walk them to the lobby and open that door, and hold the door for them when we call their name and have their car door open when they get there," Wignall said. "That's the kind of thing I don't think people are used to and expect. To us, it's just common courtesy. It's had a tremendous impact on us and the loyalty people have with us."
Loyalty and loyalty promotions are something Wiggy Wash has been focused on this past year. "We've kind of dropped all other promotions and coupons and taken our most popular wash and most popular unlimited program and lowered the price,” Wignall said. “We locked the price until 2020, so customers are guaranteed that price as long as they don't cancel."
That dedication to the unlimited program has helped the company focus more on training employees to be professional car washers, instead of tracking coupons and promotions and myriad sales offers. "It's been huge,” Wignall said. “We're able to focus more on the training of our employees to educate customers about the deal and enhance their ability to be professional car washers. That’s our job – we're here as the professional car washers."
Wiggy Wash makes sure that customers who sign up for the unlimited plan – VIPs – get other perks as well, including a special lane for those VIPs. "After a big Utah snowstorm, there will be cars stacked out 50 deep," Wignall said. "We have a special lane for our unlimited customers that allows them to bypass the long line. Customers will say the price for the plan was worth it just to bypass the long line.”
Providing a great customer experience doesn’t just happen with promotions and programs. It can't happen without great customer service from great employees, and Wiggy Wash is well aware of that.
"We've concentrated really hard for the last two years to develop a foundation that ensures all of our team members know our vision and values," Wignall said. "We started with our leadership and then brought it to all employees. We've had input from the entire company."
Wiggy Wash also has to work hard to find the right staff. "Utah's unemployment rate is really low. You can walk down the road and walk into five different places that are hiring and they'll offer you a job on-the-spot. Despite this, we haven't changed our standards," said Wignall. "We've been shorthanded [at some locations], but our team members know and appreciate the fact that we're working hard to fit their culture and that we're not going to lower our standards."
Developing that culture starts at the leader level. Wignall feels strongly that there's a difference between managers and leaders. "I don't hire managers," Wignall said. "Most all of my property site leaders have started at the bottom. There weren't hired because they had experience somewhere else or special education."
One of Wiggy Wash's most successful employees is their current general manager. "My general manager started with us the very first day at the first wash and has worked his way up to general manager of our four locations," said Wignall. "Now we're looking to hire another general manager and promote him to president of operations."
General Manager Brad Hailstone figured out early on that his work at a car wash was going to be more than just another job, primarily because of his passion for people. “I feel like we’re in the people business we just happen to wash their cars,” he said. “What makes it fun and exciting and what makes it a career vs. just a job is that people aspect of it.”
While finding people to apply in a state that boasts one of the lowest unemployment rates in the United States can be difficult, the culture at Wiggy Wash is a draw. Wignall says they’ve spent the time to create a culture that fosters positivity, collaboration, and a feeling of family.
“We’re a family here,” said 18-year-old Site Manager Ashlee Daley. “Even though I’m really young and a lot of the team is older than me, I’ve learned so much. We’re always developing and figuring out new ways to do everything and we always involve each other. It’s nice to feel like you’re part of the decision.”
Even though the talent pool can be a challenge, getting a job at Wiggy Wash takes a certain level of personality. It’s much more difficult than filling out a paper application. "We have applicants do five to six personal videos so we're able to watch them, instead of reading their answer, and get real life feedback about their body language and everything else," Wignall said. "We can weed through them pretty quickly and focus on those who we want to bring in for a 45-minute interview."
Creating a customer-centric culture is a critical piece to their success, but one Wiggy Wash location also has a pretty cool component that makes it special: A command center.
"Our command center is awesome," said Wignall. "My business partner Chris is the one who thought of the idea. We had some extra space that's elevated about 14 feet. We've got windows on the sides so you're able to see all six stacking lanes. On the other side, you can see the entrance to the tunnel. At this height, there's nothing that can get past us."
The command center allows staff to see everything that's happening and address any issues right away, before those on the ground even know something's happened. "If there's an issue, the person in the command center can radio to those on the ground," said Wignall. "It's like having one person run two tunnels, and on top of that, we've got amazing cameras that do all sorts of fun stuff. If there's something happening in the tunnels, our command center operators can stop it from the control room and radio down for help."
Having the two tunnels has been revolutionary for the business but has also created some tension on the home front thanks to a football rivalry.
At the Orem location, there is one blue tunnel and one red tunnel, which matches the team colors for a major college football rivalry in Utah between Brigham Young University and the University of Utah. "I'm a Utes fan, my wife’s a BYU fan, so we're always at odds with that," Wignall said. "My wife even said we should have waited for football season to start before getting married, so she would have known which college football team I liked and whether to continue with the wedding."
During rivalry week, the double tunnel express exterior plays it up and turns the dual tunnels into dueling tunnels. “We let our staff show their support of their preferred team by dressing up in their colors and gear, and then customers can pick which tunnel they prefer based on their favorite team too,” Wignall said. “At the end, whichever team wins, we'll pick one of the vehicles that went through that tunnel and buy them tickets to the next home game for their team."
Wignall has loved his time in the car wash industry but acknowledges it's a lot of work.
"It's not a set-it-and-forget-it business," he said. "From day one, we've been investing money back into the business and improving what we can, from equipment to functionality to new customer experiences. We're constantly testing and adjusting and looking for new ways to add value for our customers and make it more of an experience."
Wignall's greatest piece of advice, no matter someone's car wash industry experience, is to never stop learning.
"Information is power," said Wignall. "There are a lot of car wash owners and operators who are willing to share that knowledge. Go find them. This business is a big investment and it's a lot of time. If you enjoy doing it, it's going to be the best career you've ever had."