Inside the haunted tunnel of Quick Jet Car Wash
With Halloween getting closer, the amount of haunted car wash tunnels in the US is staggering. But how do you go beyond a few blow up skeletons and set up a proper Haunted Car Wash? Josh Watkins of Quick Jet Car Wash in Sevierville takes us through the process. “Scaring people builts a little character.”
For those who have never heard of Sevierville, the little town in Tennessee happens to be the birthplace of country singer and living icon Dolly Parton.
So Sevierville sees an endless stream of tourists. Not only to visit the nearby amusement park Dollywood or the Dixie Stampede but also because the inviting Smoky Mountains are just a stone’s throw away.
No wonder the town is saturated with car washes. According to Josh Watkins, general manager at Quick Jet Car Wash, you’ll find at least seven express tunnels in a 5 mile radius.
With so much competition, it’s important to do everything right. “I want to be the best car wash in town”, states Watkins. “So we take the customer experience very seriously and we decorate for every occassion, be it Easter, Christmas or Halloween.”
Quick Jet Car Wash (on the busy Dolly Parton Parkway, near a Walmart and Burger King) opened in May 2021 and quickly became loved in the area. “We beat our first year pro forma by half a million dollars, so currently we are searching for a second location”, Watkins reveals.
Already in summer, Watkins started planning the Haunted Tunnel for his car wash. “Halloween is my favorite time of the year”, he smiles. “I like scaring people. In fact, I think scaring people builts a little character.”
“I like scaring people. In fact, I think scaring people builts a little character.”
Outside business hours
The general manager grew up in Ohio, “the capital of scare”, as he calls it. “Every year during Halloween, we would hop from attraction to attraction, from hayride to hayride. Some of them I remember like they happened yesterday. So I think it’s a beautiful thing to give people a similar experience while they’re getting the car cleaned. We give them something to talk about.”
First of all, it’s important to have a motivated staff who is willing to walk the extra mile during Halloween. Because often, a haunted tunnel starts outside normal business hours. “Right now I have a staff of 13 people. Everyone of them is present during the event. That means long hours for some of the team, because we open at 8 o’clock in the morning. On Halloween nights, I am the person opening the business, together with my assistant general manager.
We close for washdown at 6 PM, just to get ready. Then we set up the whole thing and open again at 8 PM. But last weekend we even started an hour earlier. The last one goes home at midnight or 1 o’clock in the morning. So these are long days.”
Zombies and fake blood
Watkins is a bit reluctant to put an exact figure on the Halloween investments. But it must be at least a few thousand dollars, when you hear the amount of machines and gear they bought. “To be honest, I haven’t seen any other car wash that puts in the same amount and effort as we do.”
Can you give us an insight on what you’re spending the money on?
“I purchased a few animatronics from a company called Spirit Halloween . Probably paid about 400 to $500 per animatronic. For instance I got a scarecrow that tells a story while everything moves. It looks awesome. Behind him I got hay bales stacked up, to give you the feeling you’re on a farm. I also bought a zombie and a few zombie animatronics coming out of the ground.
Besides that I have got an authentic gutter from the 1930s. Then there is an animatronic called the soul sucker. He holds a little girl in his hands, while green smoke is coming out of her mouth. Throughout the tunnel we hang up body bags and smear our white walls with fake blood. All over the property you’ll find severed heads and half zombie bodies. Plus we have some projector lights around the building. And let’s not forget the 18 fog machines and 12 strobe lights we purchased.”
If you don’t want to be scared, it’s probably not for you.
All of your staff is dressed up, I’ll take it?
“Yes, we bought all our staff scary masks. They had to buy or make their outfits themselves. Personally, I invested in a full face, 6 1/2 pound silicone mask which cost me $637.”
Did you ever have to stop the show because kids or grown-ups got too scared?
“It’s important to tell your kids beforehand that it’s all fake what they are seeing. They have to realize: it’s fun, it’s scary and it’s not real.
So far, we got nothing but positive feedback. Except from one email this morning, where a woman complained the decoration was scaring her children.
Well, I’m sorry she feels that way but we won’t stop the show so easily. To make our customers aware of what to expect, we made a PSA (an instruction video) with clear instructions. It includes things like: put your car in neutral, hands off the brake and things like that. But we are also warning for the use of strobe lights.
If your kids get scared, simply roll up your windows and we won’t bother you. We will scare you from a distance. Most people that arrive with rolled up windows, leave with them being rolled down. They think it’s awesome.
If you don’t want to be scared, it’s probably not for you. There are plenty of other car washes in town that present a more friendly Halloween version. With only a few blow-up skeletons and pumpkins.”
Pay to play
According to Watkins, the secret of a successful Haunted car wash tunnel is a good team and a good owners group, willing to walk the extra mile and to invest. “At the end of the day you gotta pay to play.”
October 28-31st, 7-11pm, cost is $20 per car.
Quick Jet Car Wash
1217 Dolly Parton Parkway