Executive interview: Q&A with Sonny’s Enterprise’s Bob Fox

Executive Interview: Q&A with Bob Fox

In this series, we catch up with market insiders on industry trends and issues.

The carwash industry is becoming increasingly competitive and high tech. I caught up with Bob Fox, senior vice president of Sonny’s CarWash College and Tech Support, to discuss some market trends. 

Bob Fox, Senior vice president of Sonny’s Carwash College and Tech Support

MP | What are the best under-the-radar strategies operators can do today to increase productivity and efficiency without sacrificing quality and/or employee morale? 

BF |Boy, I wish I had the answer to that, but honestly, I don’t think there are any miracle strategies that fly under the radar. Nothing is more effective than hard work and dedication. If it starts at the top of the organization, it will permeate throughout. Make your crew want to crawl through broken glass with their hair on fire for you and you can conquer the world. Train your employees with focused effort, especially during their first week. Implement a training plan that is repetitive. And, continue to reinforce the training on a regular basis.

MP | In your opinion, what have been the biggest game-changing trends in the carwash industry over the past decade?

BF |I’d say the single most important trend over the last decade or so is undoubtedly unlimited plans. I don’t know who came up with the idea for them in the wash business, but we all owe that person a debt of gratitude. The weather has always been the toughest part of our business. While unlimited plans don’t completely negate the effects of bad weather, they can sure take some of the sting out of it.

MP | As the tailwinds of cheap capital, interested sellers and overall market enthusiasm wane a bit, how does it affect the future of the carwash M&A market?

BF |I doubt that enthusiasm will wane much, if at all. Those of us in the industry in the 1980s and 1990s remember interest rates in the high teens into the 20%-plus range. Those are high interest rates. While the rates of today seem high, it’s only because money was basically free for many years. While first-time investors may be a little skittish, I think the players with capital will continue building and buying as fast as they can.

MP | What are the best ways to attract new talent and retain it throughout this industry, including on the front lines?

BF |The labor market is super competitive right now, as we all know. In order to attract talent, we need better than competitive compensation plans and more importantly, a place where people want to come to work. A work environment where contributions are noted and appreciated is worth its weight in gold, regardless of the job market. Building and maintaining a strong team is difficult, but not impossible. Treat employees as you would like to be treated.

MP | What advice do you have for anyone entering the carwash industry?

BF |When I’m speaking to first-time carwash managers, I say learn your craft and you can have a career for a lifetime. With the growth boom in the industry, strong managers are in high demand. I don’t see that demand diminishing anytime soon. For people looking to invest in the industry, I say do your homework before diving in. Enlist the services of people who have done this before successfully. And, most importantly, choose your property wisely.

MP | How has the carwash industry changed since you started your career? 

BF |The easier question to answer would be, “What’s still the same?” The only thing that’s really the same from when I started is that a clean, dry and shiny car was the goal then and still is today. Contrary to what some of my younger colleagues would have you believe, I wasn’t around for the days of attaching a hook to the bumper to pull the car through, but I have been around long enough to see some drastic change.

While equipment and controls have made significant strides, I’d say the biggest improvement since I’ve been involved is the advancement in chemistry. With today’s products, not only can we produce a clean, dry and shiny car without manual labor, but we can also command $25 or more for a top wash ticket on a car that we’re not prepping, vacuuming or hand drying. By adding in ceramic and graphene products, customers’ cars have a luster never seen before in conveyorized washing. Customers like the finished product, wash owners like the additional revenue. It’s a win-win.

MP | What is your favorite part of being senior vice president of Sonny’s CarWash College? 

BF |That’s an almost impossible question to give only one answer to, but gun to the head, I’d have to say it’s when I hear from a former student that they’ve moved into a larger role in the company after attending classes. It’s very gratifying. The 2022 The Car Wash Show™ illustrated to me how wide-reaching CarWash College is as several students of our online classes came by to introduce themselves and tell us how much they enjoyed the content. So, I guess it’s really just being able to make an impact, no matter how small, on someone’s career.

Melissa Pirkey is the CEO/president of Melissa Pirkey Insurance, dba Car Wash Insurance Agency. If you are interested in an interview with Melissa for an upcoming issue of Professional Carwashing & Detailing, please contact her at 214-998-8960 or [email protected] or email PC&D’s Rich DiPaolo at [email protected].

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