Last year marked the 20th anniversary of the birth of the express carwash format in the U.S.
If you haven’t already, you should definitely check out the video on our YouTube channel which is aptly named, “Twenty Years of Express Washing.”
Express washing as we know it today was really born in the south, which historically had been a strong full-service market. The early pioneers of the express format made a bold move to buck the norm of an already successful format, primarily in an effort to reduce labor costs. The effect was having to retrain customers about everything they knew about professional carwashing.
And buck the norm, they did! And the rest of the country followed suit. Although some areas were much slower to adapt than others.
We all owe a debt of gratitude to the Alfords in Baton Rouge, the Becks in Columbus and the Kittrells in Birmingham. These are the pioneers of express carwashing, the earliest to bring modern express washes to market.
Exterior only washes had existed for decades but the addition of pay stations and free vacuums really changed the dynamic of the business. By replacing humans wherever possible with automation, the entire face of our industry has changed. Just look at the evolution. While outsiders had always looked at carwashing with some interest, it quickly waned when they learned how much labor was involved in running successful full serve carwashes. Enter here express washing and big money interests.
Private equity groups, institutional investor and family funds have entered the arena with a gusto never before seen and the race is on to procure great sites, purchase existing washes and to refurb and convert established in bays and full serves. Finding and entitling sites is probably the biggest hurdle for these groups to overcome. If more sites were readily available, even the explosive growth we’re witnessing now would pale in comparison.
And to think, this whole revolution started when Ben Alford and Sonny Fazio took a trip to Germany and saw free vacuums being used. The generosity of the early entrants and their willingness to share rather than guard the successes they were experiencing made this change in wash format possible. Busloads of people started showing up at these early sites to see what was going on and to pick the brains of the operators. The rest, as they say, is history.
One of the things I’ve always loved about our industry is the willingness to share. I’m hopeful that as we become a more corporate industry, we don’t lose one of our most important values along the way.
So, here’s to the first 20 years of express and to what the next 20 years will bring. I wonder what that will be? I can’t answer that, but I do know we’re in for a hell of a ride.
All the best!
Bob Fox is the VP of Sonny’s CarWash College and has 37 years experience in the industry. You can reach Bob at [email protected]