Not many businesses can boast having been in operation for over six decades — and not many carwashes either, for that matter. Frankie’s Car Wash, however, has been a staple of Bloomfield, New Jersey, for 64 years, and now that its owner, Joseph Perrone, has initiated its expansion phase, the wash is looking to make an even bigger name for itself.
Can’t beat the classics
According to Perrone, Frankie Scalera, a carwashing pioneer of the 1940s, established the original Frankie’s Car Wash in 1957 in Bloomfield. This location is still in operation, making it the oldest retail business in the township, Perrone notes. In 1980, Scalera sold the business to Perrone’s father, and as a result, Perrone grew up in the industry.
“As a kid, I started working weekends with my father and was fascinated by the process of washing a vehicle and all the moving parts,” Perrone recalls. “By the time I was a senior in high school, I was already starting to take over the everyday operations.”
So, once he graduated, he opted to jump right into the family business instead of going to college. Over the past 40 years, Perrone has seen many carwashing trends — encompassing everything from technology and labor to the customer base and vehicle builds — come and go. Through it all, however, he’s kept Frankie’s afloat, and it has remained a family-owned and -operated business.
Now, Perrone has set his sights on a new challenge: expansion. In two years, he has acquired, renovated and opened two additional locations, not only bringing a boost in business but also a change in operations.
The Northeast is home to a plethora of full-serve washes, and the original Bloomfield Frankie’s is part of that number. This site features a 150-foot conveyor, and the extra space allows Frankie’s staff to vacuum online to process customers more quickly.
The Bloomfield site is more than just a full-serve, however. Not only does it also offer detailing, but in October 2019, Perrone added a quick lube facility to the site as well. In this way, the location can service a car inside and out, under and over the hood. Right now, Bloomfield is washing 130,000 cars per year and has over 3,000 members in its unlimited club; Perrone is aiming to push those numbers to 150,000 cars and 4,000 members.
In December 2019, Perrone purchased a second full service location in Belleville, New Jersey. At the time, it was only washing 32,000 vehicles and had 300 wash club members. Now, after two years that have been almost entirely ruled by the COVID-19 pandemic, this location is washing 80,000 cars and boasts 1,400 club members. But that’s still not good enough for Perrone. His goal: Wash 100,000 vehicles and get memberships to 2,000.
The tunnel for the Belleville location is only 70 feet, so Perrone has considered the possibility of making this location express only and pushing all full service to the Bloomfield location. While it still remains a full-serve, this shift in thinking was critical, because it paved the way for the rest of Perrone’s expansion plans.
Such plans are espoused in Frankie’s Rockaway, New Jersey, location, which Perrone purchased in December 2020. Although the location came as a full service site, it underwent a complete renovation, transforming into an express wash with a 70-foot conveyor and free self-serve vacuums. After the renovations were completed in April, the location opened on May 1, 2021. To date, it has 700 club members — and that’s without having any pay stations. While adding that equipment is still on the to-do list, the renovated wash has proven to be the model that Frankie’s looks to use in the coming years.
“Over the next several years, we are looking to expand the Frankie’s Car Wash brand to several more locations throughout North/West New Jersey, just focusing on express exterior only with pay stations,” Perrone says.
Those pay stations are critical, because upgrading the company’s point-of-sale systems has actually been one of Frankie’s primary investments over the past several years. With the aim of both enhancing the customer experience and reducing labor issues, Frankie’s now utilizes a new platform to not only allow members to wash at any location and manage their memberships in an online portal but also to let customers purchase wash items, such as gift cards and memberships, on the website.
This upgrade has been especially important of late, because according to Perrone, the Bloomfield community demographic has changed over the past 15 years, with a redevelopment phase shifting older residents out and bringing younger, more diversified ones in. The new generation is internet-savvy and utilizes all the upgrades to the wash’s website and online portal.
Boots on the ground
“Frankie’s is still owner-operated, which can be rare in the industry today,” Perrone notes. “Even though we have three locations, I am still involved in the everyday operations. Daily, I travel from each location, speaking with the managers and staff, while still interacting with customers, checking on all the equipment [and] quality of our product to keep up with the reputation Frankie’s was built on 64 years ago. Our reputation has always stood out in the area, and now … our members can wash at any of our three locations for the convenience of our customers. So far, no other wash in the area offers that.”
Of course, it isn’t just revamped locations and convenience that makes a company shine, especially when it’s in the full service industry. The staff is critical as well. Most of Frankie’s staff has been employed at the company for over five years, giving it a solid core of people who are well-trained in quality control of the final product to keep customers loyal and happy.
“The longevity of our staff is recognized through the relationship my staff and customers have with one another and the quality of our services. When you have enthused employees who show up every day to work (and work hard) and interact with customers — starting at our greeters with just a simple smile and hello — [it] starts the washing process off with a positive vibe,” Perrone states.
Of course, as any owner or operator knows, despite the fact that management implements quality checks, not every customer can be 100% satisfied, and this is where customer service comes into play. “If one of our wash techs cannot address an issue, the manager steps in. At that point, it’s the manager’s responsibility to make sure the customer leaves satisfied. One thing my staff comprehends: a satisfied customer will tip well,” Perrone explains.
Customers won’t just tip either — they’ll return. After all, 64 years of quality customer service means something, so it seems like a safe bet that Frankie’s will continue to be a staple of the Northern New Jersey community, especially as it grows in the years to come.
Meagan Kusek is the senior editor of Professional Carwashing & Detailing.