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TALKING WITH INDUSTRY LEADERS Exclusive interview with Paul Fazio of SONNY's The Car Wash Factory

Sonny's charges on, Part 1

June 20, 2013
KEYWORDS Paul Fazio / SONNY'S
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Like father, like son. In this fast-paced interview, filled with fact, industry insight and analysis, Paul Fazio speaks with the same passion and love of the carwash industry, and true respect for all carwash operators, which made his father such a trusted and beloved figure.

It is clear from Fazio’s vision, conviction and enthusiasm, that Sonny’s, The Car Wash Factory will continue to be a premier parts, equipment and service provider in the industry for many years to come.

1. Mike Perry: Given your experience in the industry, what do you know now that you wished you had known earlier about the carwash business?

Paul Fazio: I was lucky. I had great teachers so it didn’t take me long to figure out that washing cars professionally is harder than it looks. It is truly a science to get the proper blend of equipment, chemistry etc. and consistently put out a great car. I have watched guys dedicate their whole lives to this one goal. I was lucky enough to know a lot of these guys personally and to watch them build what we now know as the carwash industry. Anyone can buy a carwash. It can take years to really learn the business.

Mike Perry: What has impressed or surprised you the most about the carwash business the past five years?

Paul Fazio: Impressed me: How the express and flex models have continued to develop and progress. Surprised me: The lack of consolidation. With the down turn we saw in the economy and the market I would have believed we would have seen more manufacturers either get bought or go away.

3. Mike Perry: Can you talk about the hiring and training process of Sonny’s customer support staff? With the large volume of parts orders you have to complete each day, this has to be a huge part of your continued success.

Paul Fazio: For the hiring, it’s about attitude. We look for people that like to serve others and then we use the Carwash College to train them on the equipment so that they will get an understanding of the parts and the terminology we use in our industry. We then team them up with our equipment sales guys (who have carwash experience) so if there is a question that they can’t answer there is someone close by that can. With time, this adds to their ability to become self-sufficient. We have a large client base that we support through the catalog side of our business so in that sense yes, it is a large part of who we are and where we are going.

4. Mike Perry: What business model makes the most sense to you and to your customers?

Paul Fazio: First the facts. In round numbers the last few years 80 percent of what our clients asked for and built was express, 15 percent was flex and 5 percent was full service. If you look at the study done in 2011 by the ICA, once again the single biggest factor that the public says keeps them from washing more often is price. I believe it was 39 percent of those surveyed that gave that answer. Then 20 percent said it was too time consuming. Given those answers I would say a model that is perceived to give great value in a short time makes sense. Now, in the real world I would investigate a site and see what makes sense at that particular location based on the market research. But it is obvious from my first set of statistics which way most clients are hoping that survey will point.

5. Mike Perry: What role do you think suppliers can play in the success of any wash?

Paul Fazio: It depends on the client and in fact I think this is one of the criteria that prospective clients use in picking a supplier. Some clients don’t want anything but to be supplied. Others want a relationship that goes well beyond just supply. So I like the way the question was worded “can play”. Depending on the role a client wants the supplier to play, it is important to make sure the supplier is really capable of fulfilling that role. To us, the ability to truly offer much more than just hardware is what we are all about. This is the critical role of a supplier. We believe that since we are from the industry and have decades of hands on operations experience we can give a much deeper level of support to our clients. That was the reasoning behind the 4 divisions of Sonny’s. The equipment division has great depth to offer support before, during and after the sale. Just look at the 50+ pages of site specific drawings that we deliver with each job. No one has that level of detail. The college is designed specifically to help with training, operations and marketing support. We have taken what we learned over the years as operators and put together training programs designed to make our clients better, more efficient operators. AutoPilot offers software that delivers business and management tools through the Internet in line with the teaching of the college. And finally, Sonny’s parts catalog and fulfillment warehouse is second to none in client support for all their supplies. Put it together and you have a total support system specifically designed to help our clients be successful. So to us, it goes way beyond just providing equipment.

6. Mike Perry: Sonny’s has a legendary reputation for being “best in class” in supplying carwash parts on a short turn-around. Why did you pick that vital business process during a time when the economy was recovering?

Paul Fazio: That was our business process from the very beginning. We started as parts suppliers and then grew into large equipment manufacturing. Coming from the industry we knew that most locations don’t stock parts so when we get a call our clients need us to ship them their order now. That is why we have such a large inventory in support of our clients. We were a case study in a book written by the National Association of Wholesaler/Distribution in 2003 for the performance standards initiated in our warehouse. They were amazed at the speed in which we turned orders and by our fill rates. They told us our performance standards were way above the industry averages and they asked us what made us push to this level of service? We told them that it was simply because we had no idea what the industry averages were. We only knew what was needed for our clients and built our systems around that goal. To that point we had been receiving calls from clients whose locations are physically far from our warehouse asking us if we would look at opening up additional warehouses across the country. After a long investigation we believe we can deliver better service and order fill rates from our main hub. So the next option was to find a way to deliver quickly to locations not physically near us and to do so without adding any cost to the client for the expedited shipping. The solution we implemented was to ship any order that would normally take more than 3 days to deliver by UPS 3 day and charge regular ground rates. This way we can give great service levels to clients that are a long distance away without adding financially to their order.

7. Mike Perry: How should a serious operator evaluate a potential supplier like Sonny’s?

Paul Fazio: It goes back to the client first understanding what they want in a supplier. We have a full menu of what we can, and do, provide to clients. We pride ourselves on being from the industry and being able to offer guidance before, during and after the project is completed. We believe that our commitment to our stock levels of over $10MM in inventory speaks to our commitment to supporting our clients. We think the Carwash College is another way we have put together an offering that provides much more than just equipment to our clients and shows we have for them what we believe can help make their project and vision successful. If a full service supplier for a conveyor project is what they are looking for then I believe we will stand out. I also hope that a potential client will speak with our current clients to hear first-hand what their thoughts about us are. None of us are perfect but we try very hard to get as close to perfect as we can. We believe our financial strength gives us the ability to give great customer service and I think that is what our clients would tell you we do. Great customer service is expensive to deliver. Others may want to do so, but you need the financial ability to fix issues if they arise. So I guess I would tell a prospective client to do their homework. Once you pick a supplier, your relationship will last for years. Do it right the first time.      

In part 2 of this exclusive interview, which will appear in the August issue of Professional Carwashing & Detailing magazine, Fazio discusses the misperception of declining wash counts, compares “wash quality” issues at full-serve and express washes, comments on the tremendous success of his CarWash College, and reveals two surprising and imminent “breakthroughs” in the tunnel market.

Don’t miss this insightful and candid review of the express wash and tunnel markets by this leading CEO.

For more information on Sonny’s The Car Wash Factory, including catalogs, and other Free resources for operators, visit their website: www.sonnysdirect.com.

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