UPPER TOWNSHIP — Chuck Baker listens to his customers, and he has proof — handfuls of survey sheets he consults when he considers making a major change at Shore Clean Car Wash & Express Care Center.
These customer polls were behind some significant investments for the 17-year-old Upper Township business, including adding express oil changes several years ago.
“A lot of people don’t have the time to leave their car all day long. We’re trying to get the customers in and out of here as fast as they can so they don’t have to tie up their car,” he said. “I knew this by talking to my customers. We do a lot of polling.”
The business plans to build a new car wash early next year.
Baker, 47, used a recent poll before deciding to offer use of its vacuum cleaners for free when the new wash opens, he said.
“We approach the customer, we give them a form and ask for their opinion on the service we want to provide,” he said.
The business recently added express brake service to its list of services, and is planning to add tires and mufflers in the spring, he said.
Investments in these — from a new car wash to increased services — are substantial, particularly in an economy that has prompted people to cut back on discretionary spending.
“It’s a big investment. You’ve got to keep up with the times,” he said. “People are keeping their cars the extra three, four years, so maintenance is big on them.”
Baker said preventive maintenance on these older cars is especially important.
The average vehicle on the road today is significantly older than it was a decade ago.
Southfield, Mich.-based R.L. Polk & Co. last year estimated the average car and light truck on the road is about 11 years old.
In 1995, by comparison, the average age was slightly above eight years.
Baker owns Shore Clean Car Wash & Express Care Center with his wife, Regina. Their sons are Brandon, 14, and Cody, 10. Baker moved from Philadelphia to Ocean City at 18, and he spent more than a decade working a trio of jobs — laying asphalt, managing concession stands for Gillian’s Wonderland Pier in Ocean City, and owning a balloon business.
He cited his experience working with Gillian’s in Ocean City as an inspiration of how to run a business.
So in 1996, Baker said, he recognized a need for a car wash in Upper Township. His growth was slow.
“In 1996, we had a car wash and I sat in my truck waiting for customers, I worked by myself for a long time until everything got going,” he said.
Now, the business has six full-time employees and about three part-timers, and is planning major renovations.
His business advice relates to his customer polls.
“Don’t be scared to improve and spend money to keep up with equipment, to keep your customers happy,” he said.
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