Profile in Success: Three generations of change and survival
Business and family dynamics are nothing new to the carwashing or detailing industry. We know all about the father-son teams, the mom and pop shops and the like, but here we’re presenting to you the rare grandfather/great-uncles/father/mother/husband/wife network. And now we can even add in two small children, who are also learning the ropes and becoming involved in the success of Manchester Autowash, an expressexterior, self-serve and touch-free in-bay automatic carwash site located in Manchester, NH, a town in the southern part of the state, about one hour outside the city of Boston.
“This carwash is my family’s wash,” said current owner Michael Balboni, Sr. “My father grew up in the carwash industry, my mother married into it and I myself was raised at the carwash, and my wife then married into it.” Now his son, Michael and his 3- and 4-year old grandchildren are all helping out, too. I feel truly blessed to work together as a family.”
That was then
The carwash was started by Balboni, Sr.’s father Jake and his three introduced, the year John Lennon first met Paul McCartney and Leave it to Beaver premiered on CBS. This was the Balboni brothers’ second location — their first one being Brockton Auto Wash in nearby Brockton, MA.
“The carwash was equipped in the 50s with a 20-man crew that was truly full-serve, there was a vacuum outside, a customer hallway that followed tunnel and employees wiped down and the rear and front interior glass of each car at the exit,” Balboni, Sr. said. Then, the two carwashes were split in the 80s between his father and uncles. He eventually purchased the Manchester carwash from family members after his father death in 1994. The carwash at that time was pretty rundown.
“My mom and dad worked 16-hour days seven days a week to bring this carwash back to its old glory,” Balboni, Jr. recalled. “In 1998, I graduated high school and took over the reins with my folks still offering to help.”
Changing with the times
Oftentimes, a business has to adapt and adjust to the everchanging needs of its customers, or the economy or the environment. The Balboni family was more than willing to change up their operation, even though the methods they had been using for decades seemed to be working and there was great risk involved. However, they surged ahead and in 2001 purchased a 110-foot SONNY’S tunnel with a 120-hp air dryer. They also took their vacuum and window service and moved it into a contained 60-foot bay that was connected to the tunnel.
“We closed for six weeks that summer and went to a fl ex-serve model and added on a small store,” Balboni, Jr. explained. “In 2001, we started offering interior and exterior cleanings for $12 as well as free vacuums for exterior-only customers. This method was used until 2007, when we decided that we would close the interior service bay and purchase an Oasis Typhoon with a Portal TI with free vacuums. Both the attended cloth tunnel and IBA touchfree also offered free vacuums.”
This is now
The carwash, according to Balboni, Jr., changed over the years in terms of its format and equipment but, in other ways, it hasn’t changed at all.
“My father is old school; very mechanical, has extreme knowledge, and is probably one of untold stars within the industry,” he said. “I, myself — the new blood — bring technology, marketing, social media, Internet, and a new style and approach to the business. I believe there has to be a balance between the two (old and new school) and us this is what has launched this carwash into the next century.”
The carwash averages about 100,000 cars a year in the 100-foot tunnel. “We have customers who will drive 25-30 miles to our wash and they tell us it’s worth the ride we are more than happy to see them return,” Balboni stated.
Balboni, Sr. said Manchester also has a lot of customers who come in and tell them stories about coming into the carwash as children. The wash also sees a lot of “snowbirds” from Florida looking to remove the love bugs off their cars before heading off to ski the New Hampshire slopes.
“We also have a lot of elderly people that we see every week and a new breed of a younger generation that will be the future of our business. All together they have provided a life for me and family and they know we are thankful,” Balboni, Jr. said.
Over 50, but still going strong
Some of the biggest challenges for the carwash have been the very wet weather patterns, the bad economy, and gas prices. “To survive, we tightened the belts and showed people we will be here and will offer the same quality wash when they come back,” Balboni, Jr. explained. “Surviving has shown us that we are very fortunate with others being bought and sold around us or going into foreclosure.”
Balboni, Jr. said to thwart some of the challenges they reached out to local taxi and airport shuttle services, offering them exclusive pricing and 30-day monthly passes starting at $35 and 10 cents off per gallon of gas with a local Gulf Gas station. He said they also teamed up with a local detail shop, swapping coupons and business. “We outreached with other local business and helped each other to stay afl oat. Offering a consistent excellent product each time has helped the most as well as the monthly passes — we sell a lot of them,” he said.
For the most part, Balboni, Jr. said their carwash has survived this long because it’s not a business, it’s their life. “My father and I are at the carwash every day. And we treat our customers right,” he said. “I always tell the employees, ‘You go to a restaurant and have a bad meal. Do you go back? No!’ A carwash is the same way.”
Balboni said to really succeed you need to set yourself apart from your competitor. “You need to give the customer a clean, shiny dry car every time with a smile. With the bad economy, appreciate the people who spend their hard earned money at your business. We are very personal with returning customers,” he continued. “We know them. On hot days we go around with a cooler and pass out free spring waters. It’s amazing the gratitude we get from customers. That’s why we have survived. I love what I do and would never want it any other way and we are there and care for our customers.”