Magic nozzle

Wizard auto care service conjures up touchless automated car washes to please finicky Thai drivers.

Most people did not consider the Asian financial crisis an opportunity. But Chaiya Suriyapornpun did after founding Wizard auto care service in 1996, which he says is now among Asean's leading car care service franchises.

‘We’ve positioned Wizard as a premium car care service with a modern image, offering a lifestyle and not just a service,’ says Mr Chaiya. PHOTOS BY THANARAK KHOONTON

He started 17 years ago, then 23 and a fresh civil engineering graduate from Kasetsart University, starting a car wash company using his family's money.

"I was determined to work hard _ at least 16 hours a day _ at a time when everyone else was backing out due to the crisis, which started the following year. I moved cautiously but was eager to learn new things about the business," he said.

The company started out as an original-equipment manufacturer for car cleaning products. He later created his own brand for the products called Wizard.

"The first time we sought to put our products on the shelf at department stores, we learned how costly it was. That led us to ask, 'Why don't we sell directly to customers?' which is where the idea of Wizard auto care service came from," said Mr Chaiya.

He is the managing director of TR Product & Marketing Co, which produces and distributes Wizard car care products. Mr Chaiya also leads the franchising for the auto care service business under the Magic by Wizard brand.

Auto servicing is labour intensive, but the company is keen on automatic washing machines.

"Our strategy is to have 80-90% of the products used at our car care centres run by ourselves or franchisees. We also have outlets to sell the products," said Mr Chaiya.

He said Wizard has the highest number of branches for this industry in Asean. There are 30 outlets in Thailand, and the first foreign branch opened last year on the edge of Vientiane. By mid-year, another two branches will open in Laos. He also plans to expand into Cambodia.

Auto servicing is labour intensive, but the company is keen on touch-free automatic washing machines.

"Automatic washing machines are widely used in countries with labour shortages," he said.

Thailand's labour shortage is projected to be more severe over the next decade as population growth declines.

"Automatic car washing machines cost more than using manual labour, but they save time, and that's why we're successful," said Mr Chaiya.

He attributed the success to a willingness to take a different line and innovative focus.

"We look to the US for innovation but still have to know what locals want, as a successful service in the US may not meet Thai demands," said Mr Chaiya.

For example, in the US after a car receives an automatic wash, the transaction is usually finished. But in Thailand, since a vehicle is more pricey than in the US, Thais tend to care more about exterior maintenance. Automatic car washes are not widely popular here due not only to the fee but also because owners believe they can scratch their cars.

Wizard solved this problem by introducing a touchless machine that uses high-pressure water nozzles instead of conventional brushes. After a car passes through the machine, staff check the car again for nicks, which helps to gain the trust of owners.

"The service business generates a higher profit than just staying on the production side," he said.

"We've positioned Wizard as a premium car care service with a modern image, offering a lifestyle and not just a service, similar to global coffee chains."

Auto servicing is a 10-billion-baht business in Thailand, with 10 million cars on the road. Wizard's Asean expansion will be a joint venture with PTT Plc to latch onto its aggressive petrol station escalation. Mr Chaiya acknowledged the high risk of expanding to other countries bu said he considers it an opportunity.

"Even though we're not really ready to expand, we have to take the chance. If we waited until we were ready, the day would never come. We feel that once we dare to step forward, we'll see many more opportunities," he said, adding that not every first business has to be a bad experience.

About the author

Writer: Wichit Chantanusornsiri
Position: Business Reporter