Today, it takes eight.
As the mobile on-demand car wash operator announces a major expansion into Dallas this month, those numbers are significant. They represent the painstaking time and engineering required to build a technology-enabled service that can scale around the nation and eventually, the world.
The goal of Spiffy, and really any service linked to technology, is to make some aspect of life as simple as possible. And according to the startup’s serial entrepreneur CEO Scot Wingo, “If we’re trying to make your life simpler, then we should be working on that all the time.”
The constant improvements in customer and user experience, combined with expansion into new cities, is happening since Spiffy landed its first institutional capital earlier this year. Armed with $5 million from investors like Bull City Venture Partners, Idea Fund Partners and Industry Ventures, the company has streamlined the technology that powers its car washing service, while focusing on three key expansion opportunities.
First, there are new markets, which require a lot of strategy and thought. Spiffy expanded to Atlanta in 2016 through a key partnership with real estate development Ponce City Market and to Los Angeles earlier this year through an acquisition of a local mobile car wash provider. The funding allowed Dallas to happen in a different way—by pre-selling large office building owners this spring in anticipation of putting 10 car wash vans to work on their campuses in August 2017.
Spiffy planned to provide its services to employees at 25 office complexes. Instead, it landed 50.
By pre-selling rather than bootstrapping, “it allows us to get profitable in a city faster and dramatically reduce the amount of time it takes to launch a city,” Wingo says. Spiffy’s 10 vans in Dallas will quickly be busy 12 hours a day, seven days a week, requiring the fleet expand much faster than in Atlanta, where 10 vans are servicing 30 complexes and the surrounding residential community a year after launch.
Wingo and team are projecting to launch in Dallas at half the expense of Atlanta too.
Funding means faster, cheaper expansion
The Dallas experiment will inform future expansion into Spiffy’s target markets—30 cities with over a million residents in the warmer, southern half of the United States. Class A office data will determine which cities are next, as up to 70 percent of Spiffy customers in each market have their vehicle washed while at work.
Second, there’s expansion in existing markets. Though the Triangle is its oldest and largest market, Wingo says Spiffy is still growing “torridly”. 25 vans are servicing complexes and residences across the region. And outside sales teams are now working here and in Charlotte, Atlanta and Los Angeles.
And finally, growth will happen through new services. In the Triangle, some Spiffy technicians have started providing mobile oil changes to both residential and corporate customers (like car rental shops and a moving company).
Growing interest has prompted Spiffy to outfit its first van with a new technology to change oil in an environmentally-friendly way. The machine effectively suctions old oil out of the engine and then pumps in new oil, eliminating spillage and removing “all the goop” that typically remains after a traditional change.
As interest in the service grows, future vehicles may be outfitted with the technology.
Creating the first national car wash brand
Spiffy’s growth into a national brand will continue to be about standardization and innovation.
Innovation, to make things more simple and easy for customers. Like for example, adding a geolocation feature that recognizes when a customer has pulled into work and automatically pulls up that complex’s promo code and key exchange instructions. That’s already in place.
But if Spiffy wants to expand to a colder locale, like the Northeast, it’ll have to find a technology to keep water from freezing. And if it wants to explore a smaller city, like Fayetteville, N.C., the team may have to consider franchising, licensing or an alternative strategy, Wingo says.
Standardization is what will allow Spiffy to deliver the same quality of service whether a customer lives in Atlanta or Barcelona.
Wingo’s model there is Starbucks, which delivers the same customer experience in Raleigh and Berlin, while offering its employees’ opportunities to contribute to company culture, as well as career advancement and benefits.
“Starbucks does a lot of things that we admire around their baristas (…),” Wingo says. “When I go into Starbucks, they seem like pretty happy folks and that is an important part of the service, that people delivering it are happy.”
Different from a lot of tech-enabled service companies, Spiffy tries to control every aspect of the service. It leases vehicles and equipment and hires W-2 employees as technicians to operate them and service clients. By providing uniform training, competitive salaries, benefits and career opportunities, it hopes to avoid the quality issues and culture crisis companies like Uber, Airbnb, Instacart and now defunct Homejoy have experienced.
So far, Spiffy employs 80 technicians and 20 corporate workers, including a GM and two supervisors/senior technicians in each city. Eventually, the corporate team will grow to include an expansion team, helping to implement a “cookie cutter” growth strategy regardless of region.
When that’s the case, expect another round of investment.
“It’s still very early days for us, but I think we have a Starbucks level opportunity here,” Wingo says. “People love this service, and as long as we can solve cold weather and things we haven’t yet, I see no reason we couldn’t be in 50 to 100 cities and even more internationally.”