ecowash mobile - Franchisee in Action

By Business Franchise Magazine

This article appeared in Issue 3#5 (July/August 2009) of Business Franchise Australia & New Zealand


ecowash mobile Franchisee of the Year is reaping the rewards of his environmentally friendly car washing franchise.  “Obviously I’m out cleaning cars; a lot of people ask if I get sick of it but I don’t.  I enjoy the work.  I’m my own boss and that’s what I want to do.”

Establishing itself as the number one mobile waterless car washing franchise in the world, ecowash mobile has changed the face of car care.

Founded in Australia in 2004 by Jim Cornish and Stewart Nicholls, there are over 120 mobile units in Australia, New Zealand, the Middle East, Europe, Central America and the USA.

Ben Edwards, 25 years, bought his ecowash mobile franchise in Townsville (QLD), in April 2006.  His previous work experience includes manager of McDonald’s in his hometown Rockhampton, and a radio station promotions co-ordinator in Townsville.

“I wanted a change”, explains Ben.  “The job working at the radio station was fun but I wanted to be my own boss and get into my own business.  ecowash really sat well with me for a number of reasons:  it wasn’t a high entry cost; it was in the car industry, which interests me; and it was a franchise.  I thought a franchise would be a good thing, especially for my first business, just to have that support and backing.”

Considering Ben’s age and lack of assets, his father acted as guarantor.  Although Mr Edwards senior has his own accounting business and assisted Ben with his choice, the young franchisee insisted on doing his own due diligence.

“I did most of the research myself”, says Ben.  “My father was able to have a look at everything, but I’m pretty independent.  I like to do things myself and I’m not afraid to ask for help if I need it.  It was a big step for me to go out and buy my own business, but I thought it was something I was well and truly ready for.”

He continues, “ecowash is far superior to any other product out there.  It is a premium service, it’s not a quick wash and go - it’s a proper service.  I looked at a fair few franchises and being mobile is brilliant.  It’s a pretty inexpensive business to run; therefore your profit margins are pretty high. 

“For me personally, you can’t really beat the profit margins that you can achieve in an ecowash, just because there’s no rent to pay.  And the franchisee fee is a fixed fee.  Once you earn over $11,000 a month you’re paying less than the standard 8% franchise fee.”

Managing and operating the franchise himself, Ben says help is available in busy times:  “I’ve got one casual staff member who helps me on weekends and some afternoons, but I try not to use him - obviously to keep the profits in the business.”

Ben says his franchise proved successful very early on:  “Within my third month I was breaking even.  It’s a similar story with a lot of the ecowash franchisees.  The whole franchise is so well done - the marketing materials, the bright orange car, the website - all that stuff is so well done that the work breeds itself.”

In fact, Ben has recently experienced his best ever quarter.  “Each quarter is still growing for me here in Townsville; it’s just getting bigger and bigger.”

Being an Australian franchise is an added bonus, admits Ben:  “Some people are actually surprised that it’s Australian.  I think it’s good to be involved with a company that starts in Australia - absolutely.”

And Ben insists the ecowash franchise is a simple system to operate:  “I don’t have any formal business qualifications but I can run it fine - it’s not an issue.  With a franchise like ecowash, the support is really good, but I’m a big believer in attitude.  If you get out there and get yourself known, then the work will come.

“I believe Townsville is a different market to Brisbane.  Townsville people are very locally orientated and want to know who’s cleaning their car and who owns the business - they want to have that local contact.

“It was just basically getting out and seeing and meeting people, whichever way I could.  Whether it was noticing they had a filthy car or a nice car and dropping in and saying hello - to joining business and networking groups - all that sort of stuff.  It’s about getting yourself out there and getting people known about you and also about ecowash.”

Ben’s personality has obviously added to his success, “I love getting out and chatting to people and seeing how their business is going and what they do, what products they sell, or what their business is about.  I just enjoy it.  That’s not a chore for me, it really does interest me.”

He says most of his clients are commercial - probably 70% business people, 25% government and fleet cars, and the rest private vehicles at people’s houses.  He explains, “For instance, organisations that have some company cars that are sign-written or they may have 10 cars that I do every fortnight for them.  Regulars – that’s what I target – the people that have a nice car but don’t have the time and just want it looked after.  That’s my main market; that’s what I spend 90% of my time doing.”

Being repeat work, Ben says most businesses have a standard booking every 1-2 weeks, and around 4-6 weeks for government vehicles.  “At the end of every day, I rebook all my regular clients, whether they’re weekly, fortnightly, monthly - whatever.  I just rebook them all so I know what I’ve got coming up and then I can fit my casuals in around them.”

Although Ben’s primary concern is cars, he has ecowashed other vehicles, “I’ve done a few boats and interior details of planes before.  It’s not really our target market but they wanted it done so I did it.”

ecowash mobile’s Franchisee of the Year awards are not based on business size or revenue.  The criteria includes operational efficiency and proficiency, team contribution, business growth, general attitude and workshop/conference attendance.

Ben is almost coy about being awarded ecowash’s National and QLD Franchisee of the Year 2008:  “It was a big surprise to be honest - I didn’t even know I was nominated!”

He laughs, “I suppose I must be doing something right!  I don’t do things for awards but it’s nice to be recognised.  I’m really happy with how I’m going, so that’s a good thing for me.”

Since his first 18 months in the franchise, Ben has not actively chased work.  He says, “I’ve got the business to a point now where I’ve got enough of a presence here in Townsville.  Whatever spaces I have free that my regulars don’t occupy, I always get phone calls and they just fill up.  I suppose people out there know about me and then there are the people that approach me on the street - I get a lot of bookings from them as well.”

ecowash mobile operates in every State and Territory except the Northern Territory.  Brian and Nejla Rawnsley are the master franchisees in Brisbane.  Ben explains they have assisted him greatly:  “I did a week’s training in Brisbane in the classroom (invoicing, admin etc) and then a week up in Townsville.

“Brian and Nej came up here and stayed for a week.  We went out on the road and they just fine-tuned everything.  I had training on how to do all the different services, but it was just putting everything I learnt into practise, making sure I was all okay and then letting me loose basically.”

Ben has recently expanded his business with a second ecowash franchise in the Brisbane metropolitan area.  He has employed and trained a manager to run it on his behalf, and is looking forward to breaking even as soon as possible:  “Once I get that breaking even, then we can sort of dive in deeper and really tear it up in Brisbane.”

Ben’s hours of work in Townsville varies.  “It can range anywhere from 40-80 hours a week.  As a rough guide, I’d average 45-50 hours a week, both on and in the business.  It’s the sort of business that if the works on, I get in and do it, because there are some slow periods.  For instance, some weeks you might do 90 cars a week and you work Monday to Sunday.  Then other weeks you might do 40 cars in a 4-5 day week.

“I tend to work with what sort of work is coming through.  I don’t mind working weekends at all, that’s just me.  I’ve got a few big government jobs that I do that are done on weekends just because during the week the cars are always out (being used).  Saturdays and Sundays is when they’re available, so that’s when I do them.”

However, a work/life balance is important to Ben:  “The best thing about owning your own business is you can take a bit of time off and maintain a lifestyle.  If I’m not working on a weekend, I tend to go away somewhere just because that’s the lifestyle I like to live.  In saying that, I didn’t take a holiday for probably the first 2½ years!”

Ben regards his customers highly, “I continually strive to have an even better relationship with my clients.  They don’t mind if I take a week off here and there or if I’m a day out - they understand.  Being mainly corporate professionals, they too go away.  When I’m here I work really hard, but then I enjoy the time off as well.  That’s the lifestyle I like to live.

“I’m really ‘head down and bum up’ whenever I can to make the sales and get the job done, but then I’ll go away for a week or a weekend - I can afford to do that.  I’m definitely a fisherman and I like the beach – just relaxing – anything outdoors.  I usually head down to the Gold Coast for the weekend or to Brisbane or back home to Rocky.”

Ben is also a regular gym member, visiting 3-4 times a week.  “The job keeps me pretty fit!” he laughs.  “I’m out and about all day every day so I’m using energy.  I don’t have to do heaps at the gym, but I do like to get there and wear myself out - that makes me feel really good.”

He cites his major obstacle being the beginning - the natural fear factor of starting your own business.  Ben says, “The biggest challenge was right at the start.  It was just a big step for me.  Although I had all the support and backing there, it was still obviously nerve-racking.

“I trained with the Hervey Bay franchisees, and we were the first two Queensland franchisees outside of Brisbane.  I was introducing waterless car washing to Townsville.  It wasn’t just a new business and new brand, but a totally new concept.  That was probably the most difficult thing, that initial period of getting out there and seeing people.”

ecowash mobile has a 1800 number.  When a potential customer rings from anywhere in Queensland, the call goes direct to the master franchisees.  They then disperse the work to the individual franchisees.  However, Ben also handles direct queries.

“Once again, Townsville’s a really local place and it’s about who you know.  When I speak to someone on the street, I always give them my personal business card because if I was in their position I would give some value to that.  I say if they’ve got any queries or questions, to give me a ring on my direct number and have a chat.”

Offering clients an environmentally friendly product has proved very profitable for Ben.  “The government people love it”, he says.  “It’s waterless and it’s good kudos for them.  My corporate clients love it as well because it looks good for them to be associated with an environmentally friendly business.”

Ben would clean around 90-95% of his clients’ vehicles in car parks or other places where there is absolutely no access to power and water.  He comments, “As well as being a very good product, it’s also very convenient, but most of them love it because it’s a far better service than just a quick wash.”

The future is bright for Ben, wherever his next business decisions take him.  “I can go ahead and buy some more franchises in Brisbane and expand that way”, he says thoughtfully, “Or I can go overseas and work for ecowash or buy a master franchise somewhere.

“There are a lot of different options for me.  As far as which one I want to do, I don’t know to be honest with you but first things first for me.  I need to get my franchise in Brisbane breaking even and not costing me anything.  Once I’ve done that, then I’ll look at branching out.

“I’d like to stay with ecowash; they’ve been really good for me and I know the business very well.  I’m happy and content.”