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This month's tip is about being the best you can be and living your life to the fullest. I know a lot of people in the car wash industry had a chance to meet Sonny Fazio and know firsthand of his larger than life personality. For those of you that never had that chance, you missed meeting someone incredibly special and I hope this article provides you with a glimpse of what he meant to the car wash industry.
Born in 1926 to immigrant parents from Italy, Sonny was the first generation to be born in the United States and he was very proud of his heritage. As Sonny used to say "my life as a boy was tough, but my parents loved me the best way they knew how". Even as a young boy, Sonny's drive to succeed was strong. He did everything from sell newspapers to shining shoes to make money. At the age of 17 he joined the US Navy. "I looked so young the women would cry because they thought a child was going off to war". After being honorably discharged, Sonny began working at a dress factory pressing dresses. I can still hear him saying 'I lifted many a skirt in my day'.
While working at the dress factory Sonny met the love of his life, Gloria. One evening while at a dance he saw a young woman across the room and asked a girl named Agnes if she knew who that young woman was. Agnes answered Sonny, telling him that young woman was her little sister. Sonny proclaimed to Agnes that someday, he was going to marry that girl. Agnes just laughed and told Sonny to 'go away little boy'. As luck would have it one of his coworkers at the dress factory knew Gloria's family so Sonny bought the finest flower he could afford, put a note with it and asked his coworker to deliver it to Gloria for him. A short time later Sonny married Gloria and the two remained together until she passed away.
The reason I tell you about Gloria is because she was the one that kept Sonny in line and gave him the desire to succeed and chase his dreams. While working in the dress factory Sonny's sister-in-law called him to ask him if he was going to press dresses for the rest of his life. He said "don't laugh, but I am waiting for a machine to come out to wash cars". She laughed and Sonny went back to pressing dresses. Later his sister-in-law saw an article in the September 22, 1947 edition of Life magazine on the Minit-Man Automatic Car Washer and told Sonny about it. Sonny borrowed $12,000 from his father-in-law and got the rest of the money he needed to purchase one of these new-fangled machines from various other sources. This was his dream.
In 1949, just outside Boston, Sonny opened his first car wash. In his early days it was hard and he had to work countless hours just to put food on the table. Eventually the car wash would become successful and start to make money. Sonny had one word that he would grow to hate and only used it a few times in his life. That word was - impossible. When Sonny heard there was a car wash that could wash over a thousand cars in one day he said 'that's impossible'!
Sonny would get on a plane and fly to Detroit to see Paul's car wash. As he got close to the location he saw a sign that said right lane for car wash only. Sonny said "the car wash was so busy that the owners' son would stand out front with a stack of dollar bills and if someone would complain, he would give them their money back so they could leave fast". He couldn't believe his eye's and was so amazed with how the car wash processed cars that he went out and hired a camera man to come record how they were able to process cars.
Sonny flew back to Boston and showed the film of Paul's car wash to his employees barking out orders like "Jon you do this, Ted you do that and Joe you got the front". It was like a game film play-by-play. The next day they washed over a thousand cars and were waiting for more. Sonny would tell me "you don't have to be the smartest person, you just have to be smart enough to copy them. Take a can of white paint and paint your brain white so it's blank then watch someone who is doing it right and copy it". Sonny was the most passionate man I ever met when it came to car washing and business. He was determined for other people to have the same passion and drive he did. He was going to make sure his kids would be successful. He used to say "after dinner I would round them up and it was time for real school. We would go down to the cellar and they would have to do the counts on the gas sheets and count and band the money. He would tell them, 'if you guys make a mistake daddy will go to jail'." Talk about motivation! He could be a tough guy but he loved his family almost as much as car washing. All his children went on to become successful, some in car washing others in different fields. Sonny, with the help of his family, would go on to own twelve car wash locations.
He left the retail car wash business in 1973 and moved to Florida. He was retired for a short time before he drove Gloria nuts and she made him go back to work. He did some work outside of the car wash industry for some time but found it to be lacking. In 1978 he opened the company that would come to be known as Sonny's. Sonny and his family continued to work hard to offer the best prices and service in the industry. I have met countless people that Sonny helped as they were getting started in the car wash business. He would often tell people to take things they needed and pay him when they could. Sonny would go out of his way to help people succeed and fight for what was right.
Sonny's story, a man who came from humble beginnings and became one of the largest figures in the car wash industry is truly a story of success. Sonny touched the lives of many people and motivated people to make a difference. I could go on forever with all his stories but there is not enough space here to do so. One thing he used to say that made an impact on me was "If you going to do it, be the best or don't do it at all". He may be gone, but his legacy will live on every day. Sonny taught his son Paul how to treat customers right and since Paul took over the business in the mid 1990's it has become the largest supplier of conveyorized parts, equipment and supplies in the world. Sonny will be missed around the industry, but know this - he is watching us wash cars with a smile on his face and love in his heart.
Robert Andre is the President of CarWash College. Robert can be reached at RAndre@sonnysdirect.com. For more information about CarWash College certification programs, visit www.carwashcollege.com or call the registrar's office at 1-866-492-7422.