Before the 1900s, baths tended to be social affairs. According to www.medicaldaily.com, ancient civilizations from the Indus to the Roman to the Japanese constructed public bath houses that were as much for cleanliness as they were for other activities, such as exercising, socializing and even dining. In Europe, however, public baths waned in and out of cultural favor from the fall of the Roman Empire until the 1800s. Only the rich could afford private baths over these centuries, and depending on class and status, one might have bathed frequently or only a few times a year.
For Americans, the Civil War and its focus on helping wounded soldiers survive ushered in a new age of sanitation, which may have been the starting point for Americans’ obsession with cleanliness. So it was that in the early 1900s baths ended up becoming a weekly tradition. At that time, a typical American family hauled water to its bathtub, heated the water and then let each family member take a turn, starting with the father and proceeding down to the youngest child (hence the origin of the phrase, “Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.”)
While bathing in America is a much more private (and easier) ritual these days, there is one type of “bath” that remains in a more social setting and often even involves entire families. Such a bath is for cars, and in the case of Bubble Bath Car Wash in San Antonio, this family business aims to make a splash in the community.
Building a legacy
Larry Lopez had a dream: to build a family business that he could pass down to the next generation and the next. A retired dentist, Larry sought out an opportunity to build a company that would grow the family. That ended up being a carwash. In 2005, Larry and his wife, Rose Mary, opened Bubble Bath Car Wash as a single self-serve wand wash. Soon, though, it was time to take the company to the next level.
Nicholas Lopez, president of Bubble Bath Car Wash, joined his parents’ company full-time in 2008 when Bubble Bath was opening its first tunnel carwash. Lopez says that, while he was learning the business from the ground up, “[I] realized that my passion really resided in the people — whether that be our customers, my team of employees or my community. Through my role as president, I get to touch each one of those facets of the business, leading operations as well as marketing.” Lopez’s wife, Carrie, also provides creative input on branding and marketing.
Today, Bubble Bath has grown to five tunnel locations — with a sixth one on the way — and each member of the Lopez family is still contributing to the carwash and can be found on-site regularly.
As the business has grown, the Lopezes have recognized that technology is one of the most important aspects to advancement. “We’ve made a commitment to ourselves and to our business to reinvest, reinvest, reinvest,” Lopez asserts. “Through that dedication to growth and advancement, we’ve invested in the very best equipment that the market has to offer. We’ve also explored additional technologically advanced features.”
For instance, Bubble Bath recently invested in anti-collision software to prevent accidents in the tunnels. However, one of the carwash’s more innovative additions was implementing a custom choreographed LED light show that is synced to the company’s personal radio station, Bubble FM 96.7, which customers can tune into during their washes.
However, it isn’t just the tech inside the tunnel that makes this carwash unique. The company’s focus on team members and customer service is what truly drives brand loyalty.
Don’t burst their bubbles
“Our focus on our core values, customer experience and community has really helped us stand out, because we truly do care,” Lopez states. “We view ourselves as not just a carwash but also an important part of the community.”
Bubble Bath has built up its reputation by investing a great deal of time into selecting the best employees for its team, training them extensively and crafting the company’s culture around exceptional customer service.
“We put copious amounts of effort into our employees,” Lopez says. “From extensive customer service training to off-site team-building activities, we create an environment where employees feel taken care of and [work in] a business that they are proud to represent. That pride shines through to their everyday interactions with customers and is one of the major differentiators of our business.”
Part of focusing on the customer experience means listening to customer feedback and acting upon it, according to Lopez. For instance, Bubble Bath noticed that a number of people were asking if the carwash had extra towels lying around because they had forgotten their own. Although the carwash has vending machines that sell towels, they weren’t meeting the need that customers were expressing, Lopez states. Therefore, Bubble Bath decided to implement a towel borrowing station at each location, and the initiative has been wildly popular, receiving overwhelmingly positive feedback.
“We listened, looked for a solution and acted quickly. We are always looking for new and innovative ways to make the customer experience better. People recognize that effort, and it’s generated a great deal of brand loyalty,” Lopez recounts. “At the end of the day, a clean car is a clean car no matter where you go. What makes customers come to our carwash is the way they feel when they leave. If you focus your time on your employees and making each customer feel like they are cared for and important, you will find yourself in a place that not only gives back to the community but also leads your business to success.”
Bubble Bath serves a very diverse population demographically and geographically, and it has built a widespread, all-encompassing client base. The company places high importance on establishing its brand within the community and reaching a wider audience through dedicated marketing efforts. A look at the company’s social media pages will illustrate several examples of Bubble Bath’s clever advertising techniques using its bathtub mascot. Take, for example, one Valentine’s Day promotion to sell gift cards that grabs attention with some reimagined song lyrics: “I like big baths and I cannot lie. You other bubbles can’t deny.”
Bubble Bath isn’t just about making a difference to its customers — it also prides itself on making a difference in the community, whether in the carwashing sphere or its local hub. After all, Lopez is not only a member of the International Carwash Association (ICA) and the Southwest Car Wash Association, but he is also part of the New Leaders Council, the San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce and the South San Antonio Chamber of Commerce.
In fact, Lopez was also a part of the first Car Wash Executive Management Institute class recently hosted by the ICA at the University of Notre Dame. “Notre Dame and the ICA rolled out the red carpet for us,” Lopez states. “It was an incredible learning experience that was more than education — it was inspiring. The professors were truly captivating, and the new [friends] I made I absolutely cannot wait to see … [at] next year’s convention.”
Bubble Bath also serves to help out fellow entrepreneurs (of the non-carwash variety) with its discount fleet program, called The Suds Squad.
“The Suds Squad has been a great way to better serve our community and engage with local businesses,” Lopez explains. “As a family-owned business, we value partnering with other businesses that are contributing to San Antonio’s economic landscape and tailoring programs that meet their individual business needs.”
The Suds Squad allows fleet owners to choose from Bubble Bath’s carwash plans or choose à la carte services and customize them based on what is needed. The fleet program is open to cars, pickup trucks, vans and limousines, and with a simple barcode, these vehicles can enjoy unlimited washing at Bubble Bath’s locations.
Bubble Bath Car Wash also supports the local community in other ways, both from an environmental standpoint and a humanitarian one.
This carwash chain is a strong believer in respecting and preserving Mother Nature while decreasing its environmental footprint. Environmental awareness is even a key tenet of the business’ identity. Not only does the carwash use eco-friendly chemicals, but it also utilizes chemical delivery and water reclaim systems that result in using just 26 gallons of water per car. The carwash is even part of the San Antonio Water System WaterSaver Car Wash Program, which was established back in 1997.
Bubble Bath has also installed solar panels at three of its five locations and has plans to expand them to the other washes as well. The company’s website even has links showing its electricity usage and savings from those three locations.
The company also gives back to the community by working with a number of local and regional nonprofits as well as other organizations, such as schools. “As small business owners, we love and work in San Antonio and are proud to give back, but it’s also created a lot of local love,” Lopez notes.
In the past few years, Bubble Bath has partnered with organizations that include The Children’s Shelter, the San Antonio Humane Society and San Anto Cultural Arts. In fact, Bubble Bath just held a community mural paint day in collaboration with San Anto Cultural Arts this past July, where neighbors, friends and customers came to put the finishing touches on a 130-foot-long mural honoring the Old Spanish Trail. The mural was unveiled on Aug. 15th. at the company’s Fredericksburg Rd. location.
Bubble Bath also partners with other entrepreneurs in the area, such as Space Wrangler Sno Balls, which serves New Orleans-style sno balls (confections of finely shaved ice) from a food truck. The carwash came up with the idea for “Sno Ball Mondays” at its Austin Hwy. location so that customers could buy a cool treat during the summer. During an especially hot week, they even extended the partnership over multiple days.
“We work diligently to make sure that every customer leaves with more than just a clean, shiny car, but also with a true sense of our commitment to customer service and the community. While we want customers to have a phenomenal carwash, we’re more interested in the overall experience — from the attendant who meets them at our pay stations to the team member scrubbing their car and guiding them into the tunnel and even to the manager who is actively walking around asking customers about their experience,” Lopez concludes. “We like to say, ‘It’s more than a carwash — it’s a Bubble Bath!’”