Bullish on Car Washes

With 15 in place, Rutter's exec sees several reasons to continue expansion

Steve Holtz, Editor in Chief, CSP Daily News

YORK, Pa. -- Two years after launching an ambitious development project to add 11 car washes to its storeseven as the economy was running out of steamRutter's Farm Stores has reason to pat itself on the back.

"We were concerned about the economy there for a while, thinking that maybe people would wash their car at home more often or wash their car less, but we really haven't seen it," Scott Hartman, president & CEO of Rutter's Farm Stores, York, Pa., told CSP Daily News. Now with 15 car washes at its 55 convenience stores, Hartman said the company has found [image-nocss] a profitable use for excess land, while opening the door for future property investment to build on new properties.

"As we saw the success of those [first few test sites], we began buying properties and designing washes into the new properties. So we've gone from zero to 15 washes on about four years or so," he said. "So we're pleased with that."

And rather than the economy chasing customers away, Rutter's has seen the car washes draw customers in at new times of the year.

"It runs counter-cyclical to your business," Hartman said. "For us in the Northeast, the high sales [on car wash] are in the winter time, and that's when your fuel sales and inside are down, so it works well there. It brings people to your property; it's complementary to the fact that they're already in a car, whether they're fueling or stopping at the location, so to wash it is good."

Rutter's allows customers to purchase car washes at the pump. The car-wash bays are open 24/7. And with the Houston-based Jim Coleman Co. equipment used, customers can choose from among four wash types: touch-free no-dry, touch-free and feather touch for $8 each, or an ultra combination for $10, according to a recent blog post on Rutters.com.

"We believe in offering both [friction and tough-free] types of washes," said Hartman. "The friction wash is used by a much higher percentage of our customers, but there's a customer base out there that will only use a non-friction wash. This way at our locations, we can offer them both. And we think the economics are good with providing that."

And with Rutter's Rewards, customers are rewarded 10 cents per gallon toward gas purchases for each wash.

So with numerous reports of consumers moving away from spending on non-necessities, why does Hartman think his car washes have been successful over the past two years?

"Maybe it was the harsh winter," he said, "but maybe there are some other ancillary things, like people are expecting to keep their cars longer. If they're going to keep a car an extra year or two, they want to keep it from rusting and keep it in good shape.

"I'm not sure what's driving these consumer behaviors, but car wash has been good. We're please with it."

Click hereto read CSP magazine's previous report on Rutter's Farm Stores' car-wash expansion.

Steve Holtz, CSP/Winsight By Steve Holtz, Editor in Chief, CSP Daily News
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