Professional Carwashing & Detailing

The 2007 Car Care People of the Year

October 11, 2010

They love cars, and they love being hands-on with equipment at the wash. Those are the common attributes of our 2007 Car Care People of the Year. Other than that, they come from all different walks of life. A corporate businessman who couldn’t stand the rat race any longer, a stay-at-home mom with an entrepreneurial streak, a teenager working his way up from the carwash line to the owner’s office.

Our six finalists were chosen from a pool of nominations PC&D solicited in early November. They were chosen for their dedication and passion for the carwash industry, as well as what they have given back to it. Some have invented equipment for the industry, some have recruited countless family members, while others have volunteered time to sit on association boards.

Due to time constraints, the staff of PC&D was unable to solicit an interview with our Lube Person of the Year.

Rick Taff, owner of the Vintage Car Wash chain based in El Paso, TX, owns four full-serve and four exterior locations, as well as successful quick lube operations.

Taff built the chain up from a single carwash, and has plans to grow even more, according to Bob Kopko, a regional account representative for DRB Systems, Inc., who nominated Taff. PC&D wishes to extend its congratulations to Taff for his commitment to the lube and carwash industries. Well done!

If you know a special owner or operator who deserves to be recognized in PC&D’s annual Car Care People of the Year issue, please e-mail Editor Kate Carr (kcarr@carwash.com).


A true car buff
PC&D’s Conveyorized Operator of the Year used his carwashes as guinea pigs to try a new foam material for washing.

Art Kirikian is an Armenian who comes to the United States by way of Egypt, although some in the industry claim he is heaven-sent, given all of his contributions to the business. Besides being the operator of two successful full-serve carwashes, Kirikian is also the developer of NEOGLIDE, a foam brushing material that has revolutionized the carwashing industry.

In 2003, the International Carwash Association honored Kirikian with its Leadership in Innovation award. This year, the staff of Professional Carwashing & Detailing® is proud to be able to recognize all of Kirikian’s achievements to the conveyorized carwashing industry, and name him our Conveyorized Operator of the Year.

From Egypt, with love
In 1967, Kirikian’s family came to the United States and bought a carwash. Kirikian remained in Egypt, manning the family’s manufacturing plant that had been nationalized by the government. “I was the technical man,” Kirikian explains, “so I stayed behind to oversee about 520 people.”

It wasn’t long before he joined his father, Sarkis, and his brothers, Loris and Gabe, washing cars in New Jersey.

“We Kirikians, we love cars a lot. We are car buffs,” Kirikian said. “The attitude we have, is that every car coming through our carwash, you have to make believe that it is your private car. How would you like it to be washed? How would you like it to be vacuumed? How would you like it to be treated? That’s the motto we have.”

R&D
Not too long after joining his brothers in the family business, Kirikian “got to tinkering,” he says, with the equipment at the carwash. He met Bud Belanger, who was already experimenting with soft cloth in 1973, and had a revelation. “The cloth material really excited me,” Kirikian said. “If you want to wash something, you don’t want to do it with a bristle. You want to use something soft.”

Belanger and Kirikian struck up a business relationship. Soon, Kirikian was the master distributor for the company’s Northeast area, from Maine all the way to Virginia. “The Belanger family and the Kirikian family, we owe a lot to each other,” Kirikian said. “We had a lot of drawbacks in getting this thing [the soft cloth] accepted, but once it took off, it became very successful.”

One of the reasons for the success, Kirikian said, was his willingness to use his carwashes as research and development test sites.

“We always want to improve the equipment,” he explained. “So for us, it is a natural fit.” Kirikian said he is able to see firsthand where the problems with the equipment are, and also how to correct them. Kirikian is also able to gauge his customers’ overall satisfaction with new developments, and take his direction from that response.

During his time with Belanger, Inc., from 1973 until 1998, Kirikian would bring new equipment from the manufacturer back to his washes as soon as it was available. His son, Serko, said customer acceptance has been overwhelming.

“They love that we use our carwash as an R&D site and that they get to be part of that process,” he said. “They like to hear that it started here. They like to know that we’re the first.”

NEOGLIDE
The idea for NEOGLIDE came while Kirikian was on a business trip in Europe for Belanger. He was attending a carwash show in France, when he saw an Italian company showing a new material at their booth.

“I was very attracted to the material,” Kirikian says. “It was like foam. So I left the Belanger booth, and for three days, I just stared at this material. I was so amazed.”

Leave it the Europeans to complicate something simple, Kirikian says, but the way the material was mounted was impossible to comprehend. “So I cut some samples of the material out, and brought it over and we had a family meeting,” Kirikian said.

At the time, his sons, Serko, Art Jr., and Chris, had started to take over the daily operations at his two New Jersey carwashes. It was at this family meeting, that the four of them decided the family was ready to strike it out on its own.

Using their two carwashes, Hamilton Car Wash and Windsor Car Wash, as test sites, the family worked to improve the material until it met their specifications. In 1998, NEOGLIDE was officially born and sold to the carwash market.

Operations
If you ask Art Kirikian which he prefers, creating and manufacturing new products or operating a carwash, he struggles with an answer. “It’s hand in hand,” he explains. “I like the new projects we take on, but I also like the human factor.” Kirikian says he loves keeping up with customers, especially loyal ones that have been around since the 1960s.

To celebrate 40 years of operation at the Hamilton Car Wash, Serko Kirikian says the family will host a ceremony, with plans to include the city’s mayor. Art Kirikian’s enthusiasm for the industry is unchanged.

He demonstrates everything a Conveyorized Operator of the Year should be: passionate, dedicated and, above all else, happy with his work.


The family man: Our Self-serve Operator of the Year
Bryan Guillot’s uncle got him into carwashing, so it’s only right that he pull the rest of his family in, too.

In 1970, Bryan Guillot Sr., a graduate of Southwestern Louisiana Institute, was working as a manger of a small utility system in Louisiana. “It was nothing but headaches,” Guillot recalled of the position, and Guillot was eager for a path out.

Guillot had an uncle in the carwash business who told him self-serve carwashing was a great way to make a living in a small community. Back then, Guillot was living in a small town, Vacherie, population 5,000, and carwashing seemed like as good idea as any at the time.

“With self-service, it was kind of like getting away from the stress of every day,” Guillot explained.

Carwash beginnings
After two years of carwashing in Vacherie, Guillot was ready to build another wash. At the time, he was buying equipment from R. D. Bozeman, owner of Bozeman Distributors. Bozeman was looking to get out of the business, so Guillot again made the decision that it was just as good idea as any at the time, and purchased the company.

Over the next few years, Guillot continued to work as a distributor and to build six more self-serve carwashes for his own business. His experience supplying chemicals and equipment to other self-serve carwashes gave him a unique edge as an owner, although the humble Guillot refuses to toot his own horn.

What he will admit is his uncanny ability to rope in his family among his customers and business partners.

His son, Bryan Jr., was “digging pits at 10-years old,” Guillot said. Keith Guillot, the baby of the family, “had it a little easier,” and was sent off to Louisiana State University to earn his bachelor’s degree before joining the family business. Guillot even managed to rope in his son-in-law Eric Weimer.

And it’s not just his sons and son-in-law that he has roped into the business, Guillot said he has brothers-in-law and other relatives washing cars across Louisiana. “The wives complain that at the family functions all we talk about is carwashing,” Guillot said with a chuckle.

A slow retirement
Three years ago, Guillot sold Bozeman Distributors to his sons and son-in-law. The business sells self-service and touchless automatics, as well as parts and services to the self-serve carwash industry in Louisiana. Guillot still maintains a stake in 12 carwashes across Louisiana, a total of 39 self-serve bays and five automatic bays.

For now, Guillot is weaning himself off of the industry to spend more time with his wife, Jackie, his six children and his 12 grandchildren. These days, he mostly just takes “care of the changers and meets the ‘boys’ [his sons and son-in-law] for lunch.” He also stays active in regional industry associations, the Southeastern Car Wash Association, as well as the Southwestern Car Wash Association.

“I never wanted to sit on a board, but I do like to attend the meetings,” he said.

His sons say his contributions to the industry are innumerable and what he has taught them cannot be measured. Son-in-law Weimer said he has been instrumental in pulling family members into the business. Weimer himself is one of his strongest examples. As a manager of a chain drug store, Weimer was tired of putting in long hours. So Guillot offered him a job at Bozeman. A few years later, Weimer bought some used self-services and renovated them for himself.

Keith Guillot owns three self-service carwashes, and Bryan Jr. is involved with one self-serve and two express exterior carwashes.

For 36 years of service, and for roping in a tidal wave of other talent to the industry, PC&D honors Bryan Guillot Sr. as our Self-serve Carwash Operator of the Year!


From the front lines to the back office
How a Cape Cod carwash buff went from minimum wage, to management, to ownership.

Brian Messina loves a clean car. That’s about as simple as it gets, but that’s the truth. Consider this: Brian Messina loves cleaning cars so much, he started out with a minimum-wage job at Rifky’s Car Wash in Manchester, NH, and kept washing cars until he was sitting behind the owner’s desk at Pro-Wash carwashes in North Hampton, NH.

From the carwash line to the owner’s office
As a teenager, Messina worked at a lumber yard on the Cape. On the weekends, he would help a friend’s father at his small carwash for extra money. “I liked to keep my own car clean, and I liked cleaning cars,” Messina said of the job that was a “good fit.”

When he was 21, Messina moved to New Hampshire and needed a job right away.

“And, I figured, that’s what I like to do — I like to clean cars. So I applied at a carwash.” He started at Rifky’s Car Wash that winter, washing cars and pumping gas for minimum wage. It was there, Messina says, that he was “bitten by the bug.”

“It’s one of those things, where once you get into it, you really get into it,” Messina said. “I got motivated in it. I wanted to learn the business and excel in it.”

During those first few years, Messina’s enthusiasm would wane every now and then as he tried different career paths while working part-time at the wash, but he always returned. Messina spent many of those part-time days trailing Dave Koerner, one of the owners of Rifky’s, to learn how to properly service and maintain a wash. It wasn’t long before the carwash named him its full-time service technician.

With four carwashes to tend to in the Rifky’s chain, Messina was busy. The washes were also dabbling in detailing, something Messina took note of as he hurried from wash to wash to fix and repair broken equipment. But there was no “commitment” to the detailing business, Messina says, something which held the washes back from reaching their true potential.

Getting into detailing
A few years after his service tech gig, Messina was offered a position managing Uno’s Car Wash in Concord, NH. Uno’s devoted two-bays to a detailing center, but again, the company didn’t take its detailing business too seriously. Messina stood back and observed its potential.

In 1998, Jeff Eiras was starting in the business with one new carwash, Pro-Wash. Later that year, he was ready to buy a second wash and needed some assistance. He hired Messina as his manager.

It wasn’t long before Eiras had bought three more carwashes and offered Messina a partnership. Today, the pair owns seven carwashes, all of which flourish in detail services. But it was a business that needed to be built from the ground up.

“We started about four years ago with one facility that had a detail bay that we didn’t really use,” Messina explained. “We were pretty much just using it for storage. And then we had another facility with a two-bay garage on the site and we said, ‘Let’s just try it.’” So the company did. They “dabbled,” as Messina says, in detailing for about a year before they realized they needed to make a commitment.

“You really need to get off the fence to make it work,” Messina says. “It’s going to cost you a little bit in the beginning, but in the long run, it’s going to pay.”

When Messina says his detailing business has paid, he’s not kidding. In 2006, when carwashes across the board were experiencing losses, especially in the Northeast, Pro-Wash stayed afloat with its detail business. If it wasn’t for detailing, Messina said, last year would have been a knock out.

“We’re still a little down overall, because of the hit to carwashing, but our detailing has made a huge difference,” Messina said. One location has doubled its detailing sales from 2005 to 2006, while the other locations are all between 20 and 30 percent growth.

Detailing success
So how does Messina make sure Pro Wash’s detailing business thrives? He boils it down to three simple factors: he hires the right people, promotes the right services, and he made the commitment to detail at all of Pro Wash’s tunnel locations.

  1. Hiring. Messina says carwash managers and owners should look for employees who are enthusiastic and motivated and ignore skill level or prior experience. “If you have somebody interested, who has the desire to excel, that’s when you can train almost anybody to detail,” Messina explains. It’s when you hire someone with experience and a bad attitude that you’ll fail. Messina also ensures his employees, from the managers to the part-timers, are cross-trained so that they can help out in any area of the carwash.
  2. Promotions. A lot of the promotions that Messina does for Pro Wash are on site and not costly. He suggests putting up a word or two about your detailing services on your wash’s reader board, and also cross-promoting with other businesses. What he doesn’t recommend is couponing. “Couponing has never done us well, they just don’t come in,” Messina said. “So we focus on the things that do work for us, like cross-promoting and really pushing our menu.”
  3. Commitment. When Messina decided to get into detailing, he enlisted the help of Steve Sauce, the director of technical services for Simoniz. He developed a package to sell the detailing services online and to promote them, and also an incentive program for the management. The time and money to develop these programs was well worth it, Messina said. In 2005, the company built detail centers at all four of its large facilities. It added comfortable heated or air-conditioned waiting areas, as well. Again, Pro-Wash has already seen a return on that investment. “Probably 15 percent or more of our customers do detailing. We average around 100 services a week, at a price of $30 or more,” Messina said.

Last bit of advice
Messina’s last bit of advice to any operator is to become involved with his or her local association. Regardless of detailing interest, this is time that will be well spent, Messina said. Dom Previte III, the first vice president of the New England Carwash Association (NECA), said Messina, who is slated to be the treasurer for the association next year, has been a “fantastic asset to the board. He’s a wealth of information and helps wherever he can,” Previte said.

For Messina, the time spent is given back two-fold. “I tell all newcomers to get involved. Because you can talk to people, meet people, share with people,” Messina said. “The industry has been great to me and I want to give back in any way I can.”


Rookie of the year
From stay-at-home mom, to carwash owner extraordinaire.

About 13 years ago, Kris Louderback was a stay-at-home mother of three children, tom Sarah and Ben, one of whom had a passion for trains. When Louderback searched for a video about trains and couldn’t find one, she made one. For ten years, she successfully sold that video to children all across the United States.

So it’s really not surprising that this entrepreneurial-minded woman set out to build a self-serve carwash after realizing her town had a need for one. What might be surprising is the sheer amount of research and dedication she has given to the wash, as well as her willingness to roll her sleeves up and get her hands dirty.

Getting started
Hagerstown, MD, is a picturesque city of only about 40,000, but its proximity to Washington, D.C. at the intersection of I-80 and I-70, as well as the availability of land, make this a prime location for growth. Unfortunately, not all the areas of city government were primed for growth when Louderback pitched her idea for a self-serve carwash two years ago.

“The carwash business here is misunderstood,” Louderback said. “There wasn’t even a category for a carwash in the zoning books. So when I approached them with this, they said, ‘Well, we don’t even know if you can, because it doesn’t say how.’”

Luckily, Louderback doesn’t accept no for an answer. She built a successful team with her banker, general contracter and carwash equipment distributor, and forged ahead.

“She’s very persistent. She isn’t afraid to ask questions or push a matter,” Randy Miller, Louderback’s service manager with Car Wash Systems Inc., said.

Permitting, zoning and construction
It’s a good thing she’s persistent, because without overcoming the zoning hurdle, Louderback would not have been able to work through the permitting process. “I had to work through that, to say, ‘Yeah, I belong here. It’s okay for me to build here. You’ll have to find a category for me,’” Louderback said.

Construction on Car Wash Outpost began in 2005. After years of research, Louderback decided on Jim Coleman Co. equipment. “I poured over all the industry magazines, trying to read as much as I could,” Louderback said. Her research paid off. One year later, her equipment has “run beautifully,” she says. The technology is “incredible” and she is able to monitor the operations from home.

“It’s been all and more than I expected.”

Owning and running a wash
So now that Louderback owns and manages a carwash, what makes her stand out as a rookie owner? Well, for one, her enthusiasm. Despite not having a mechanical background, Louderback is determined to learn the maintenance and service business. Together, with Miller, she tackles all of the projects at the wash.

Louderback has also used her female perspective to help her as an owner. “I have tried to make the wash as woman-friendly as possible,” Louderback explained. “At night, it’s brightly lit. It’s perpendicular to the road, so they feel safe. I’m always there cleaning because I know how important it is for the wash to be clean for a woman.

In fact, Louderback is probably there too much, she says. But it gives her a chance to interact with her customers, even if some are surprised she is the owner.

“I have a lot of men that are shocked to find out I am the owner,” she said. “It’s been fun to watch that.”

If the wash isn’t keeping her busy enough, Louderback’s plans for a second location will. She’s in the “very preliminary” stages now, but with her husband and children’s support, Louderback is sure she can tackle anything.


Service, service, service
PC&D’s Distributor of the Year realized a career in corporate management wasn’t for him, so he turned to carwashing.

When Ray Holley first started out in the carwash industry, he had a pick-up truck, a trailer, a working wife, and a two-year-old daughter.

Holley recalls one day when the couple hadn’t scheduled a babysitter and he was forced to make a delivery to a customer of his carwash business. “I had promised this customer,” Holley said, “So I put Taylor [my daughter] in the car seat and drove that truck as far into the shop as it would go. Then we could take a 55-gallon drum out and wheel it into the factory and still keep her in sight,” Holley said.

“I laugh about those days, but it was tough. It was about service and wanting someone’s business. I told that guy I was going to be there, and I had to be there.”

That story sums up what Ray Holley, the businessman, is all about. Service to the customer. And as a former corporate man who left a management position to strike it out on his own, he also knows a thing or two about how to treat an employee.

Quitting the big leagues and starting fresh
Ten years ago, when he was 32, Ray Holley woke up and realized he was tired of overseeing 100 people and running the manufacturing and operations of companies. “My wife thought I was crazy,” Holley said. “I probably was.”

Holley left his high-pressure job for another high-pressure situation: starting a business from the ground up. He would travel all day, then return home to do paperwork until midnight, then start the cycle all over again at 6 a.m. the next day. For two years, Holley grew his business on his own, until his wise wife spoke up again. “She said, ‘You’re going to burn yourself out.’ So I hired an employee,” Holley explained.

His first employee? His mother. If that doesn’t tell you a little something about Holley’s management style, nothing will. His mother did accounting for him while he serviced carwashes and sold equipment around the region. After a year or so, Holley hired a service tech to assist him. Then an installer. From there, the company really started to evolve, he said.

“As our business grew, we needed to keep that service level,” Holley says. “So I had to hire and grow accordingly.”

Today, the CarWash Superstore, based in Byhalia, MS, has 15 employees and a 25,000-sq.-ft. warehouse set on four acres of land. One-third of those employees wrote to PC&D to nominate Holley as a Car Care Person of the Year. Maybe that will tell you a bit about Holley’s management style.

Dedication to service
Holley’s biggest fear is that he won’t be able to maintain the level of service he’s offered from the get-go. A baseless fear if you ask any of his employees. “The company has grown far larger than we expected, and we are coming up on our fifth year in the distribution business,” Peggy Sandifer, office manager and Holley’s mother, explained. “Ray’s work ethics have not changed. He continues to be fair to his customers today — no matter if they are local or 1,000 miles away.”

To maintain his dedication to the industry, Holley stays hands on in everything. He also offers same-day shipping and a large amount of inventory to serve customers.

A large part of his success is due to his mechanical abilities, which he’s been developing since childhood.

“When I was a kid growing up, we used to go race moto-cross,’ Holley explained. “When we got home, I would tear the bike down and re-build it. I’m mechanically-inclined I guess. If I can see something, I can put it back together.”

Therefore, Holley spends a lot of time walking clients through repairs over the phone, and he personally trains all of CarWash Superstore’s service technicians.

Success
Holley owns ten carwashes, so he knows a thing or two about the investment and commitment needed to make a successful carwash. He uses his carwashes as test sites and proving grounds to show potential customers.

In the end, it doesn’t matter if a potential customer chooses his business or not. “I just love having the opportunity to be there when they decide they want to get in the carwashing industry,” he said. “Having the freedom, and seeing the rewards for well-taken risks, it’s great. My kids are living a better life than I ever lived. And that makes all the difference.”