Mercer Island Spotlight: Auto Spa

Back in the early 1990s, Suzanne Skone was working as an engineer.  In her workplace, there was a lot of discussion surrounding water quality and how pollutants affect local fish populations.  She was also a Mercer Island resident, and owned a piece of property on the corner of 80th Ave SE and SE 28th St.  Skone wanted to utilize the land to bring a business to the island that would be of value to city residents, plus would benefit the Lake Washington environment. In 1995 she did just that, debuting Auto Spa in the island’s downtown neighborhood.

Something as simple as driving around with a dirty car can leach toxic road grime, oil residue and other harmful chemicals into local streams and lakes when it rains.  Also, when people wash their cars at home, even with products that are supposed to be better for the environment, the soaps flowing into the storm drains can cause problems with the gills of the local fish. “The smallest amounts of soap, even those labeled biodegradable and low phosphate, are toxic to fish, damaging their gills…” Skone explained.  The soap clings to the gills and decreases the amount of oxygen the fish can absorb—this leaves them vulnerable to bacteria and parasites, as well.

When drivers bring their cars to Auto Spa, they are keeping all the grime, and all the soap, out of Lake Washington.  All the water used in Auto Spa’s self-serve area, automatic car wash and detail shop goes through a process where the greasy pollutants and heavy sediment are filtered out and collected in a tank, which is emptied on a regular basis. Skone said the road grime collected in the oil/water separator tank is a quite the gooey, greasy sludge!  The water then flows into the sanitary sewer system (of which the city has 500,000+ lineal feet of pipe around the island!), to one of the 18 sewage pumping stations on the island, and then carried off-island by series of pipes and treated at a sewage treatment plant.  In addition to preventing pollutants from entering local waterways, using the facilities at a professional car wash, like Auto Spa, conserves water in comparison to washing a car at home.

For the convenience of their clientele, Auto Spa offers a whole menu of services.  The self-serve car wash and vacuum bays are available to use 24/7. They are coin operated systems, and various detailing products are available from coin machines in the self-service area. The automated car wash, Auto Spa’s most popular service, is available from 8 am to 6 pm 7 days a week. If a client would like professional detailing, they can select specific treatments from Auto Spa’s a la carte menu, or get a free estimate for what they need done.  Need that latte spill cleaned from your carpet and upholstery?  Auto Spa can help—they also provide a variety of removal services.

Sense of community is very important to Skone, and the employees at Auto Spa.  For years, island sports teams and school clubs have been welcome to host fund-raisers at Auto Spa, with all proceeds from the car washes benefitting the organization.  Skone said Auto Spa typically has 1 fund-raiser on their calendar each month. Skone is an active business owner in the Mercer Island downtown core; she loves to encourage people to shop locally.  She worked with the group that coordinated the Island coupon book that was available during the 2011 Mercer Island Farmers Market season.  To help support the “shop local” initiative, plus promote environmentally friendly gift giving, Auto Spa has gift cards available for purchase. The gift cards can be used for either detail services or the automatic car wash, and they can be loaded with any dollar amount.

When asked what Auto Spa clientele liked most about their services, Skone replied, “ 9.99 out of 10 times, clients say they love how they are treated by the employees.”  Auto Spa staff has experienced low turnover over the years, which means long-standing customer relationships have been established.  The staff learns (and remembers!) the preferences of their clients, and takes pride in making their customers happy.  Skone said that the two most important reasons why Auto Spa customers keep coming back are, “the professional staff and sense of community.”

Where else can you connect with Auto Spa, besides their downtown Mercer Island location? They have a Facebook Page and a website; if you’d like to review them, they have a Yelp business profile and a business page on the Mercer Island Patch.   Plus, two Mercer Island organizations already have fund-raisers scheduled at Auto Spa this summer.  On July 22nd, from 9 am to noon, the MIHS JV Cheer Squad will be holding a car wash; on August 22nd, the MIHS Drill Team will be hosting a car wash 9 am to noon.

When asked what kind of trends she’s seeing in the auto detailing business, Skone replied that  protecting the longevity of a vehicle and preserving its resale value is really important to people.  By making the point to offer an a la carte menu of services, as well as providing estimates for larger detail jobs, Auto Spa is responding to this trend.  Clients can get the specific services they need to help their vehicles stay in top condition, whether it’s their Sunday driver or daily commuter. Take minute to drop by Auto Spa, to see their amenities and look at their menu– they would love to meet you!

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