United We Stand: United We Wash. That's the slogan of the Grace for Vets program – an initiative that celebrates and honors veterans by giving them a free carwash on Veterans Day (November 11, 2011). Back in 2004, 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 joined a branch of the United States military. Mountz made this his mission not only because he is a patriotic American, but because he himself was injured and ended up at a military hospital in Valley Forge, PA, during the Vietnam War, and was profoundly moved by what he witnessed. A force to be reckoned with, Mountz's Grace for Vets has continued to grow each year. He said to me a few years back, "Operators seem to always come together and rally for a good cause. And this is a great cause. It just makes sense for everybody. It makes sense for the vets, and it makes sense for the participating carwashes, as a great opportunity for community involvement. It's a 'win-win' across the board."
I recently sat down with Mountz to find out the latest on this year's program and to see how much it's grown over the years.
Debra Gorgos: Please give us some numbers for this year's program?
Mike Mountz: Last year, the 507 washes, which totaled 1,253 locations, washed 101,537 veterans' vehicles. Our goal for this year is to wash 122,000. It's a little aggressive, but with our partners' help in getting more washes signed up to give free washes on November 11, we have confidence that we can reach it. It's all about the Vets. Washes shouldn't be concerned about a neighboring wash also participating, the industry needs to band together and reach out to those that are and have served for us!
And, we have all 50 states participating again this year, but we are lacking in washes participating from some states. We even have one wash joining in from Canada, and the Australian Car Wash Association has joined us this year and so far we have almost 30 washes from Australia registered!
Debra Gorgos: Is there anything that's different this year from last year?
Mike Mountz: We've added Veterans Organizations as partners this year. If washes would like to find an association so that they can collect funds to support veterans on November 11, they can look at our website for contact info.
We're also working to support the Disabled Veterans Association, Smiles Over Miles and Wounded Warriors.
The Australian Car Wash Association has become a partner and this is a huge deal this year. So our recognition isn't just Veterans Day anymore, it's also about Remembrance Day and Armistice Day.
Also, we're now on Facebook so we'd love for the industry to "like us."
Debra Gorgos: If a carwash owner reads this and wants to participate, is there still time and, if yes, what does he/she have to do?
Mike Mountz: They can definitely still participate. There's logos and marketing material available in the Tools and Materials section of the Grace for Vets webpage (www.graceforvets.org). They can get posters, radio spots that are ready to go on-air, and we definitely suggest they call their local TV stations, radio stations and newspapers as they will mostly get positive PR from these media choices that can help them to promote their participation in a timely manner. It's never too late to register.
Debra Gorgos: The year of 2011 has been a significant one for the United States, in terms of the 9/11 10-year anniversary, and the efforts of the NAVY Seals last May; do you think this will help boost morale?
Mike Mountz: I think we'll see some very cool things going on this year in association with these events.
As we state on our website, freedom is not free. November 11 is the opportunity of a lifetime for the carwash industry to show our united support for veterans through the Grace For Vets FREE carwash program.
Debra Gorgos: How much work goes into planning for the big day?
Mike Mountz: We hear and see so many different things from washes about what they do. You can put as much or as little time as you want into the day. Washes really don't have to spend a lot of money if they don't want to, just some on-site posters or greeter handouts will help get the word out. Just calling the local VFW's, AMVETS, etc. to let them know of the FREE washes to help generate recognition.
Some washes don't have a lot to spend on the day and that's ok, just being able to honor those that have and are serving is good enough. But then others will do live radio remotes, serve coffee and donuts, hot dogs, etc. and have poster boards up where they can write messages, calling on others to bring in the military and family members who have served. At Cloister, we normally start promoting the event two weeks out, however we've been doing it for so many years that people know about it and just show up. New registrants may want to start promoting it a little earlier to help get the word out.