Sometimes carwashing runs in the blood. Many carwashes are family-owned, and each generation contributes in some new way to the carwash. The same can be said of 7 Flags Car Wash, now three generations strong and aiming to continue the growth and success it has seen over the last several decades.
A carwashing heritage
In the early 1960s, Jack Anthony Jr. and his wife, Margaret, owned and operated a market on Tennessee St. in Vallejo, California. At that time, one of Jack’s close friends suggested that he consider going into the self-serve carwash business. In true entrepreneurial spirit, Jack built his first self-serve location in 1964 on Springs Rd. in Vallejo, and within 18 months, he and Margaret built two additional self service carwashes in Northern California.
Jack Anthony III, the couple’s son and current CEO, began working at the self-serve carwashes when he was in high school by cleaning and maintaining the site equipment. After graduating from California State University Chico in 1975, he worked for the carwashes full-time.
When he started, 7 Flags had four self-serve washes. Since then, Jack III helped 7 Flags not only grow in number but also expand its service offerings. Today, 7 Flags owns and operates three flex service washes, seven self-serves, two express exterior washes and one express lube facility.
In addition, Jack III has served on the International Carwash Association’s (ICA) board of directors, as the ICA president in 2005 and on the Western Carwash Association’s (WCA) board of directors.
Jack and his wife, Cathy, the company’s CFO, have spent the last 30-plus years growing and nurturing the company. Now, Jack III’s sons, Jason and Kyle, are part of the family business as vice presidents of 7 Flags Car Wash.
Jason didn’t start out thinking he would help run the carwashes. While at college, he walked onto the Fresno State Golf Team, earned a scholarship, became Team MVP his senior year, won Second-Team All Western Athletic Conference and then went on to play professional golf on the Canadian Tour.
But after four years of playing professionally, Jason explains, “I realized the living-out-of-your-suitcase lifestyle was not for me, [so I] joined the family business six years ago and love every day I come to work and the people I get to work with.” This year, Jason will also be serving his first year on the WCA board.
Kyle graduated from California State University Chico and spent time as an accountant in San Francisco before recently joining the business.
Scrubbing the old name
7 Flags didn’t always go by this name. Originally, it was called Wash-O-Mat. “Thankfully, my grandfather and father got together [and] realized that name wasn’t going to be good for the long haul,” Jason jests.
So, where did the name 7 Flags Car Wash come from? Jason answers, “There was a local historian who wrote an article about the seven different flags that have flown over the city of Vallejo. My grandpa liked the article so much that he adopted the name 7 Flags Car Wash.”
If you’re curious, while several historical variations of these nation’s flags have flown over California, the seven countries that at some point lay claim to California soil are: Spain, England, Russia, Argentina, Mexico, the California Republic and the U.S.1
Managing a diverse family business
With so many types of washes, it seems at first glance that 7 Flags would be a difficult company to manage. Jason asserts that the managers of 7 Flags make it possible. “I owe a lot to our Operation Manager Todd Hildenbrand. Todd has been with us for 26 years and he is like an older brother to me. [We] work as a team to tackle all of the different brands that 7 Flags has. That being said, there is never a dull moment during my weekly schedule; as soon as I lean back and think I am caught up, there are 20 other
things that need my attention.”
Each type of carwash has a very different operating procedure. For instance, at the seven self-serve carwashes, one part-time employee works at these locations for five hours a day, seven days a week. Although the labor is minimal, this employee must keep the equipment maintained and make sure the site is clean.
On the flip side, at the company’s flex-serve washes, summer crowds can mean there are more than 30 employees on the schedule for each location. Since 7 Flags’ flex-serve washes focus on customer and employee services, it is especially important that management focuses on handling various personalities by exhibiting both stellar motivational and leadership qualities.
“[Working with several carwash models means] taking on many different hats, but it makes my days that much more fun to have to adjust on-the-fly,” Jason says.
7 Flags’ employees are a key component of the business, according to Jason. Everyone on the business’ management team has been with the company for at least six years, and most have been with it for over 10 years. “Having a group of managers that has been with the company for so long and realizes that 7 Flags is a family business makes my job much easier,” Jason says.
The fact that 7 Flags is a family-owned and -operated business is what Jason considers to be one of the perks of working there. While he admits that working with family can come with challenges, especially when similar, strong-willed personalities clash, overall, he enjoys the family business life, considering it an opportunity to be able to learn every day.
“I consider myself a very, very lucky man to have the opportunity to work with my family on a daily basis,” Jason says. “Not only do I get to learn from my father, who is one of the most knowledgeable and well respected people in the carwash industry, [but] I also get to work with my mother (CFO), Kyle (future CFO) and grandmother, who still works four days a week.”
While ownership of the business may remain strictly within the Anthony family, the Anthonys consider their employees as part of their extended family. According to Jason, 7 Flags Car Wash has a great employee retention rate for this very reason. They try to promote from within the company to keep employees moving forward.
“We have the best employees a company can ask for, and it makes it a pleasure for me to come into work every day,” Jason says.
Commitment to customers and the world
For the 7 Flags Car Wash team, commitment to customers is the key priority. “We feel that anyone can wash a car, but our customers come to us because of our quality and [because] we make them feel like part of our family,” Jason says.
In fact, 7 Flags has learned from the past to create a more successful future. 7 Flags’ Vacaville Express Wash was 7 Flags’ first express wash. Originally, it was a full service hand wash that, according to Jason, “had a terrible reputation,” so after they “rehabbed” it, it was a struggle to build the new wash’s customer base.
It is only a mile away from one of their flex service locations, but the freeway that separates the two carwashes ironically ended up creating a sort of dividing line that created two separate customer bases for them, which ended up profiting 7 Flags. The Vacaville Express Wash has been open for four years now, and, Jason notes, it’s one of 7 Flags’ busiest locations.
To create customer loyalty, not only does 7 Flags Car Wash focus on quality carwashes and customer service, but it also offers a “Fastpass” unlimited washing program at all its conveyor washes for exterior customers and a free rewards program for its full service customers.
This rewards program includes such features as a free seventh carwash after six purchases; a 24-hour clean car guarantee, where customers can have a rewash or re-cleaned interior in the event that it gets dirty within 24 hours of cleaning; a free rainy day rewash, allowing customers 72 hours to come back for a recleaning if it rains within 24 hours of receiving a wash; a 15 percent discount on an additional full service wash within a 30-day period after purchasing an initial full service wash; a monthly email highlighting car care tips and discounts; and a free birthday express wash.
In addition, 7 Flags Car Wash coordinates with several charitable organizations, such as Susan G. Komen Sacramento, Helping Hands, Grace for Vets, Giving Angel Tree, Christian Help Center, The Leaven, Mission Solano, Toys for Tots, Lions Club as well as all of their local chambers of commerce.
7 Flags also prides itself on having been the first green-certified business in Solano County, California, according to Jason. All of 7 Flags’ conveyor carwashes are now green-certified, and there is a water reclaim system at every site that allows each wash to reuse over 80 percent of its water. In addition, four 7 Flags locations are solar-powered.
“Moving forward, we hope to continue to be at the forefront of eco-friendly practices for businesses,” Jason explains.
For a carwash with a history of growth, growth is still the plan for the future, adds Jason. And, he says, this carwash will continue to advance with the latest in equipment technology that is mindful of energy usage and the environment.
“We will continue to strive to make every one of our customers have a great experience,” he concludes.
After all, it was through this family-wide commitment over the last half century that has made 7 Flags Car Wash the successful business that it is today.