Professional Carwashing & Detailing

Hanna: Father of the modern carwash

October 11, 2010

Many industry members grieved when hearing of the October, 19, 2005 death of Daniel C. Hanna, the founder of Hanna Car Wash Systems and operator of a number of carwashes on an international level, who passed away at the age of 70 in Portland, OR from complications of cancer.

Upon hearing the news of Hanna’s passing, former carwash equipment distributor Art Eisner said, “it is a shame that many people in carwashing today will never get the chance to see the impact he had on the business.”

Eisner’s reaction was not surprising, and mirrored the response of many carwash industry members who unabashedly admit that Hanna, though removed for years as the leader of the Hanna carwash equipment company, was responsible for helping to launch the careers of some of today’s top names in carwashing.

Paying homage
The professional car-care industry learned of Hanna’s passing only two weeks after the Western Carwash Association (WCA) shed the spotlight on his achievements at its 24th annual convention and exposition.

During an awards ceremony, Dan Hanna Jr. accepted the WCA’s President’s Award — a lifetime achievement award that honored Hanna’s contributions and enhancements to the carwash industry — on behalf of his ailing father while many close to Hanna Sr. were updated on his battle with cancer.

Just prior to learning the news of Hanna’s passing, many concerned operators at the Northeast Regional Carwash Convention reminisced about memories they had of Hanna during the heyday of his carwash enterprise in the 1960s -70s.

W. Herschel Kilgore, NS Wash Systems’ sales director and a former California distributor of Hanna, said “Dan Hanna, without a doubt, has had a direct or indirect influence on almost everyone involved with carwashing today.”

“Whether you were working with him, for him or even against him, Dan was the man who allowed carwashing to grow into what it is today,” Kilgore added.

Mixing business with pleasure
Hanna, a car enthusiast, opened his first carwash in Portland, OR in 1955 after convincing his mother to mortgage the family home to finance his business, which eventually became the carwash manufacturing company Hanna Enterprises roughly a decade later.

His financial success was reaped by making and supplying equipment for Northwest carwashes, many of which he owned under the Hanna Auto Wash name. In fact, during the chain’s peak, Hanna dominated the market with more than 50 facilities worldwide, including 31 in the Portland area.

“The contributions he personally made to the industry both technologically and operationally are things that the industry today takes for granted,” according to Bud Abraham, president of Detail Plus Car Appearance Systems and former employee for Hanna.

“It is unfortunate that many successful carwash operators do not realize the contributions he made to their success,” Abraham added.

Some of Hanna’s most notable achievements are as follows:

  • The creation of the wrap-around brush;
  • The roller-on-demand conveyor;
  • Hanna was able to expand through a successful franchise model;
  • In 1967 he opened his first carwash in Japan, making the Hanna name international;
  • At one time, he held more than 100 patents related to carwash equipment; and
  • He helped launch the concept of add-on services through the development of the polish and wax online arch.

In fact, Hanna was even recognized for his innovation to the industry in 1982 by Entrepreneur magazine when his company was named the number one franchise worldwide.

Racing to be the best
When Hanna graduated high school he developed a number of skills in engineering which helped his business, but he also pursued his love of race car driving and aviation for pleasure.

He began drag racing at the Portland Speedway in the early 1950s, and even piloted his own Learjet, often as part of his investor-relations meetings where he would personally fly prospective customers to his facilities.

In the early 1970s, Hanna took up auto racing again, but in 1978 Hanna’s love for speed took a turn for the worst when, during a practice lap for the Portland Rose Cup race, his car spun out of control and crashed.

Hanna was critically injured and comatose for roughly 30 days, but after a year long rehabilitation period he returned to lead the Hanna empire.

Moving on
The Hanna roller coaster seemed to descend by the time the 1990s rolled around, mostly due to high debts that resulted from his involvement with the Mr. Pride carwash chain.

Although the Mr. Pride sites under Hanna’s ownership were expected to have proven lucrative, stiff environmental regulations regarding gas storage tanks on sites that included fuel pumps came into effect around the time of the site acquisitions in the late 1980s, and served as a catalyst for bankruptcy.

The early 90s resulted in a change of hands for the Hanna wash company that would keep the family name in carwashing, but without Dan Hanna at the helm.

After leaving his original business ventures, Hanna created Dan Hanna Products, a company that made carwash equipment of his own design.

However, the Hanna legacy continues to thrive in the car-care industry through the dedication of his sons Dan Jr., Mark, Kirk and Derek, as well as his wife of 50 years and five grandchildren.

“He was a philosopher — a thinker who always said that if you think positively, good things will happen to you,” said Dan Hanna Jr. “These are the qualities of his that stay with us.”