Operator Spotlight: Shammy Shine
With 14 locations across Western New Jersey and the Lehigh Valley of northeastern Pennsylvania, the Shammy Shine chain of car washes has been serving the region for over four decades. Expanding from a single location in that time, they have seen an incredible evolution of the car wash industry. Over the years, they have seen the massive change from the days of attendants running full-service washes to today’s highly automated, scientific washes.
For Kevin Knight, who has been with the company for 35 years, he sort of fell into the job. A small-engine mechanic by trade, he moved from Oregon to Pennsylvania, and Shammy Shine was his first – and last – stop. “Basically, I needed a job. The first place I stopped when I got to Pennsylvania was Shammy Shine. I walked in, and I started the next day.”
While he started as an attendant, he moved up quickly, becoming an assistant manager at their Clinton location. The next step was to move up to management, and tackle parts procurement across the company. He’s seen the industry evolve over the years – “We’ve changed quite a bit… we no longer prep, more automated, computers basically run everything. A lot less employees, while the equipment has gotten better.”
Al Rogers, who manages the automation and build-outs across the company, notes there have been massive changes over the years. Most notable where it comes to chemicals, soaps, and everything else you use on the vehicle. “There’s been a lot of advancement in the metering and tracking of chemicals, a lot more chemistry and education on why you use high pH or low pH, why you should have a little bit of both.”
Matt Grouleff is another 30+ year veteran of the industry. He heads up maintenance, repair and installation across Shammy Shine’s locations, and notes his role has changed over the years. In his early days maintenance was easy, but the modern wash chain relies on a small team. Grouleff works with two other full-time employees on the maintenance team.
He points out that the managers at each location are major contributors as well, being involved and proactive. “All our managers are hands-on… they’ll work on equipment, they’re able to see when things are wrong.” By having managers that tackle these issues head-on, they can keep every location up and running the way it should, even when the maintenance team can’t respond immediately.
Evolving the Shammy Shine Business Through the Years
What actually attracts the customers is another massive change over the years that Shammy Shine has seen. The automation and the ability to be a membership-driven business has kept clients returning again and again.
Shammy Shine cites their success as a result of a number of factors. One is their locations, in the commuting communities across upper New Jersey and Pennsylvania. These are areas where professionals are driving in and out of New York City and the surrounding region regularly. As Rogers indicated, “Convenience has become a big part of it… a lot of people here commute into the city and back out. Their time is precious to them, so getting in, getting out, not waiting on an attendant to come out and help them.”
By providing them quick, efficient, automated experiences, they make it an enticing proposition. Commuters don’t want to tack on an extra 10 minutes to their hour-plus drives. For Shammy Shine, that means making sure they are in, out, and back on the road in short order. Quick turns thanks to a smooth process and no down equipment is what keeps them coming back.
Rogers points out that they’ve paid close attention to what draws in customers. “Free vacuums is a big thing for us… doing memberships, for us, is a huge part of [the business], we didn’t think it was anything people would want ten years ago but now it is a huge part of our business.” By reading what their customers wanted and evolving their business, even when it went against their first instinct, they were able to retain and grow their share of the customers across their communities.
Staying Involved with the Community
Shammy Shine has also found success by being highly invested in the local communities. This includes putting on events throughout the year and donating everything from gift cards to trays to their communities. It’s a smart move for any car wash, engaging with the communities you serve.
Working with Grace for Vets on Veterans Day, the industry’s efforts to provide Armed Forces veterans with free washes as thanks for their service, is a highlight of the year for the team. Rogers feels that they get as much out of the effort as the veterans who visit do, saying, “Just interacting with veterans, and how appreciative they are… seeing them out, especially the old-timers with all their military hats on, it’s a good time.”
In addition to this major event, Shammy Shine donates across their various communities. Everything from sponsorships to providing giveaways to schools, police departments and more. They’ve gone above and beyond in recent times. In response to COVID-19, they set up stations at all of their locations featuring disinfectant, towels, wipes, and more for first responders or just anyone in the communities to use as needed. By providing this valuable service, they cemented their washes as go-to spots for those looking to keep their vehicles clean and virus-free.
Dealing With COVID-19
Shammy Shine has been around for decades, and that hasn’t come without its fair share of difficulties. In 2012, their Raritan location suffered a catastrophic fire. It was so fierce, it put the automated section of the wash out of business for months. Still, the COVID-19 pandemic was unprecedented and unexpected. The team had to evolve the business on the fly, putting in the effort to keep the washes running with minimal impact.
Shammy Shine tunnels are pay station operated, so they know they must close attention to the touchpoints. Knight spoke of his daily efforts – “In the morning, that’s the first thing I do, I take my alcohol out there and spray down the auto-sentries, anything that can be touched… we stopped selling clubs [memberships] when it first happened, because we just didn’t want the contact. Now we reopened that, we have a procedure where we wear gloves, we wear masks, we spray down the clipboard when we’re done, we’re just kind of keeping things rolling.”
Unfortunately, it was also necessary to shut down the lobby and bathrooms to customers. Eliminating these transferal areas was an excellent way to minimize risks to both customers and workers. To keep vacuums open, they made gloves available to anyone who inquired about them. They stepped up cleaning efforts, spraying and wipe the vacuums down whenever they saw them open. These actions have helped position the Shammy Shine locations to perform throughout the pandemic and into the recovery phase.
Loving the Business
All three of the team members at Shammy Shine are more than happy being part of the carwash business. They spoke of the sense of satisfaction they get from seeing customers head in one end with a dirty car, and come out the other end happy, with a clean car. Rogers is a big fan of the learning aspect of the industry, saying, “I like tinkering around with stuff, little settings, by changing this by a couple of inches to go on here, we become more efficient, or the bearing will last longer if you do it this way.” The ability to always be trying new things to improve, and not staying stagnant, is a great draw for the curious mind.
Whatever it is they like about the business as individuals, working for the Stem family is something they all feel has been a positive part of their careers. As Kevin says, “The company is what it’s about, he [Stem] is a good guy to work for, we’re paid well, I’ve got complete freedom with nobody breathing down my neck.”
Even in rough times, the attitudes, curiosity, and commitment to customer satisfaction have the folks at Shammy Shine positioned to be part of the industry for well into the future. That’s part of the reason why, even with the pandemic, they are preparing to open their 15th location in 2020! With forty-plus years under their belt, there’s no doubt they’ll continue to be a success in the industry for decades to come!
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