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Last month, Professional Carwashing & Detailing quizzed Paul Fazio, president of Sonny’s Enterprises, about the company’s acquisition and rebranding of Compuwash, a line of point-of-sale and tunnel controllers now known as Auto Pilot Carwash Control Systems.
Not surprisingly, we found Fazio had a lot more to say beyond his experiences rebranding and growing Auto Pilot. And so we decided to continue the discussion, with a focus on the economic recession and looking ahead into 2010, in this month’s Touch-Up column.
PC&D: How do you motivate staff during an economic downturn?
Paul Fazio: We have spent a significant amount of time and money redoing the factory over the last four years. In that time, we also changed every process we were doing to improve efficiency. Those that could handle and welcome the change are still with us and loving it. Those that couldn’t or wouldn’t change — well…
The people with us today see a modern, efficient, exceptionally clean facility where they have specific duties and a lot of empowerment to do their jobs. They see the investment we have made and continue to make in new manufacturing equipment. They also see that we are expanding into other areas and have purchased three companies in the last year and a half. We continue to celebrate the new successes — like the new sales number we hit in one of our new product lines. So we are finding things to celebrate and be excited about.
Another big factor is that I share with them the future I see for the industry and our companies. I have explained to them that I don’t believe now is the time to worry — at least about their jobs or the company’s success – but that if I see that changing I will let them know. We post our goals and discuss on a regular basis where we are at and what needs to be done to move forward. So communication, I think, goes a long way in today’s environment.
And for those of you that know me, I think I’m a “glass half full” kind of guy and hope that rubs off on those around me.
PC&D: What sort of future do you envision for the carwash industry?
PF: I do think we, as an industry, will come out of this strong. I am very positive about the industry and where I expect it will go in the future. Since I started back in 1980, and my family in 1949, the industry has become more and more professional and the new owner profile has changed. That is why we have continued to build and add to our company, and not only with this product line but also with another product line we have purchased.
It is times like these that sometimes create the opportunity to expand at a cost that is far less than what it might be in better times. Since we are so bullish on our industry we have taken advantage of some opportunities and believe we will be taking advantage of a few others before this slump is all over.
PC&D: How has the current state of the economy affected SONNY’s?
PF: At Sonny’s we are fortunate that we have been in business a long time and because of that we have no debt. That gives us the flexibility to adjust to whatever the market brings us. I can tell you that being debt-free makes it much easier to sleep at night in this environment.
This is my third “economic downturn” since I have been running SONNY’s, and it is by far the most challenging. Planning in this environment is very difficult. And unlike many, I don’t believe it’s even close to being over.
You have to know I am very conservative in my planning so I prepare for the worst and hope I’m wrong. We were lucky that SONNY’s was positioned well at the start of this downturn. We are well known, and have a substantial market share. Because of that and our financial strength, I think we outpaced the market for 2009 in sales.
That’s not to say we grew over last year, but instead I believe we outpaced the shrinkage I see in the market. I don’t doubt that 2010 will be even more challenging for the OEM side of the market if the banks don’t loosen up the lending requirements.
PC&D: Is anything new happening at SONNY’s that you would like to share with our readers?
PF: Like everyone, we are watching what is happening very carefully. As I said earlier, we are very optimistic about the future of the industry and that is why we have continued to invest in new product lines as well as expanding into software solutions. We think the industry will continue to evolve and become even more professional.
The multi-location operator will be the standard profile and we are looking at how we will best be able to serve them and the existing operators of today. We have worked hard internally to modernize our factory. It is through that modernization that we can compete against products from other countries.
We like the idea that we actually produce the equipment we sell here in America. It gives us total control over quality and the flexibility to do customizations for our clients. As always, we invite anyone from the industry to visit the plant.