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Business Operations

Profile in success: One big happy family

April 04, 2011
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If you’re wondering about the recipe to success, look no further than the Auto Wash family in Long Island, NY. According to this company, it all boils down to three main ingredients:

Experience: The chain of washes, which has included 22 New York locations over the years, from Hampton Bays to Staten Island, was started in 1962 by Peter and Vincent Gulotta and George Santelli and his son who is also named George.

Al Carrabis, grandson of the late Peter Gulotta, took over the family business with the younger George in the early 1990s after the founding fathers had passed away. Since then George has retired and visits often to give his advice. Carrabis remains senior partner and now shares his role with new partners, Al Pennacchia, Jason Gamba and Chris Lally.

Today the chain is comprised of three main locations (two in Long Island and one in Queens) and 19 satellite locations, but the experience with a myriad of wash types and market areas has given them a competitive edge in operations.

Make it a family affair: The washes started as a collaboration with two families, the Gulottas and Santellis, and today employees of the chain are treated just as if they were also members of the family.

Demetrios “Jimmy” Barlis and Evan Papandrea recently joined the auto wash family to expand their locations to new areas and to offer up new ideas. A lot of credit is given to their area managers, too. “Without all of them, including Javier, Rovin and Pepe, the Auto Wash dream could not live on,” said Papandrea.

Satisfaction guaranteed: Auto Wash locations pride themselves on offering a consistent service — satisfaction guaranteed “or your dirt back!” This applies to all their washes, from the $7.99 basic all the way up to their more inclusive automatic washes and hand washes.

The basics
As Papandrea, area manager, explained, Auto Wash customers come from many walks of life, but do share this common sentiment: Most refer to their wash as a mini-detail and their visit is viewed as an event. Customers can also choose from a myriad of services, from a basic exterior-only automated carwash to a conveyorized hand wash experience.

“We are constantly doing new and fun things for our customers,” Papandrea added, such as daily specials that entice customers with unique deals and special programs to reward certain types of customers (like college students and taxi drivers). The washes feature extended hours of availability which helps distinguish them from other full-service carwashes in the area.

Also, the carwashes take part in Blue Coral’s Beyond Green program as the environment is very important them. And, they try to reach out to the community regularly. “We are heavily involved with our local junior and high schools, as well as all the local churches and temples,” he explained. “We have never turned down any charity know matter what their size.”

The Internet is also a key part of Auto Wash’s success. “We have a huge customer base in the 18 to 30 range,” explained Papandrea. “Our websites are our virtual home and we link them to Facebook. The Internet is a great way to give people an idea of what you have to offer.”

“But at the end of the day it is our service that we pride ourselves in,” Papandrea concluded.

Contending with Mother Nature
With three locations in New York, the Auto Wash family is familiar with a wide range of weather conditions.

“Handling the weather is an obstacle for all operators; since you can’t control the weather we try to have other market centers out of our locations,” Papandrea said. Among some of their profit centers are a quick lube, a convenience store, a repair shop and a gas station.

“We own all of our equipment and we are constantly doing maintenance,” Papandrea added. “Our locations must always look new because our ‘founding fathers’ have instilled in us a good motto that we always follow: We sell clean so our locations must represent that.”

For the last 10 years, the washes have been looking forward to New York’s pollen season, which brings in a steady volume of cars covered in gold dust. “Before then it has always been the winter season, but to counter the unpredictable weather we have our other profit centers to keep us going.”

A family affair
“We call ourselves the Auto Wash Family because that is exactly what we are: A family,” Papandrea explained. “We are all with each other more than we are with our own familes and the only way that works is if everyone has the same goal in mind.”

The company websites feature numerous photos of staff members smiling with gleaming cars in the background. Workers wear bright red shirts with the carwash name and big smiles.

He continued, “With beautiful working conditions, respect for one another, a busy location which brings high gratuities and incentive programs, everyone is happy. Also knowing that someday any worker can buy into the corporation; there is always a future with us!”

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