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It’s almost that time of year again, when veterans are recognized for their military efforts. This year, Veterans Day falls on a Sunday (Nov. 11) and the people behind the scenes at Grace for Vets, a program that organizes an international “free washes for veterans” day, are hard at work and looking to break records. The program started back in 2004 when Mike Mountz, CEO of Cloister Carwash & Lube, and a U.S. service veteran, made it his mission to see to it that his washes and washes throughout the country did their part to thank and honor the men and women who bravely served in a branch of the United States military. In 2011, 119,317 free washes were given away which was about 18,000 more than 2010. And, this year, it looks like there will be even more carwashes participating. I recently had the privilege of talking with Sharon Ramp, the director of marketing for Grace for Vets. Ramp let us in on this year’s numbers and said how other carwashes can get involved if they have not already.
Debra Gorgos: How is this year’s Grace for Vets program shaping up?
Sharon Ramp: We’re gearing up for another great, record breaking year. We have had some contact from military service already asking if the free washes will be offered again this year. With the program getting more and more recognition each year more military service are becoming aware of the opportunity to visit their local carwash to receive a free wash. It’s important for washes to register under the Grace for Vets program if they are giving free washes as there are so many military service and veterans that search the site to find out where they can get a free wash on November 11th. It’s the one place that each participating wash can be found.
Debra Gorgos: Last year, carwashes in Australia and Canada were involved — are they involved this year? And, if yes, why do you think they became involved? How many carwashes, outside of the United States, are participating?
Sharon Ramp: Yes, we have participating washes from Australia, Canada and New Zealand as well as the United States. The Australian Car Wash Association is a great supporter of the program. Their members rallied around the cause immediately after founder Mike Mountz spoke about it at their annual convention last year. They can’t say enough about how great of a day it was for them and are looking forward to doing it again this year. They really believe in honoring those that have given so much and as many feel, they feel it’s a small gesture on their part to say thanks.
There are currently 75 washes from outside the U.S. We are hoping this number increases this year. It’s amazing how this program has expanded in the last two years. It is a true reflection of how this industry can rally around a cause together as one and not as individual operators for one day to say thanks and show support of our past and present troops. It makes all of us involved in the program proud to be involved.
Debra Gorgos: What’s happening behind the scenes right now at the Grace for Vets headquarters?
Sharon Ramp: As in past years, we are working very hard to try and get national recognition of the program. There are a lot of corporations that have joined the bandwagon of giving free stuff to veterans and military on November 11th, however the unique and amazing thing about the Grace for Vets program is that it’s not a corporation behind the free washes, it is individual wash operators who can be anywhere from a single site owner/operator to a multi-location operator extending this offer. I’ve personally heard from smaller operators who might have a few hand bays who open them up for free washing and even bring in volunteers to spray down and wash cars for free on November 11th, now that’s something to be proud of.
In an effort to increase participation and have more military service honored with a free wash we’ve begun to contact washes that currently aren’t registered to educate them on the program and understand the benefits of getting involved. We have volunteers who are helping to make these calls in addition to having our partners reach out to their contacts to let them know how they can register. The one thing washes need to understand is that they don’t have to offer a full-service wash, or offer it all day if it’s too challenging for them. Just a simple outside wash for even a few hours is better than nothing at all. Smaller operators can reach out to local Boy Scout Troops, homeless shelters or even their local veterans associations for volunteers to help at their washes on November 11th.
Debra Gorgos: What’s different this year compared to last year?
Sharon Ramp: November 11th is on a Sunday this year and because of this some countries are observing the Holiday on Monday the 12th. We’ve heard because of this some operators are giving free washes on both the 11th and 12th; however under the program guidelines they are only required to give the washes on November 11th.
Debra Gorgos: How much work goes into making Grace for Vets a success?
Sharon Ramp: For the wash operators, it can be as much or as little as they want. Grace for Vets does provide marketing templates to help promote the free washes being given on November 11th so they don’t have to recreate the wheel. New participants should start promoting the free wash six to eight weeks out, those that have been participating only need about four weeks as their local community is most likely aware of their support.
We encourage washes to use their local VFW’s, AMVETS, Legions etc. to help spread the word. Get press releases out (samples also provided on the Grace for Vets website) this is a great opportunity to get PR for your wash. Send media releases out to the local TV stations as well.
As far as the Grace for Vets organization, we work all year around with limited resources. We value our partners, such as Professional Carwash & Detailing to help spread the word and educate washes about the program. The more washes across all nations we can get registered under the program, the more military service personnel we can get recognized. We couldn’t do what we do without our partners.