Bringing dinosaurs to life is an idea that has dogged the human conscious in recent decades. While blockbuster hits like the “Jurassic Park” series fuel the imaginations of millions of fans, a recent article in January from the New York Post titled “How scientists actually could bring dinosaurs back to life” explains how modern researchers are actively attempting to “de-extinct” several animal species, even going as far as to modify chicken embryos to give them more dinosaur-like features in the hopes of reverse engineering some of their genetic code.
However, even if scientists are never able to bring the fantasy of “Jurassic Park” into reality, John Borek, owner of Jurassic Car Wash in Austin, Texas, has found another way to bring these reptilian behemoths to life by placing animatronic versions of them across his carwash lot — all for the purpose of bringing some fun into what many might see as an otherwise mundane activity (and, luckily, without the risk of having the guests eaten).
A bit of prehistory
Before owning Jurassic Car Wash, Borek owned a body shop called Autocraft Bodywerks. He ran the business for 30 years, but, “The body shop is a hard business. It’s a nonstop, rock ‘n’ roll, take no prisoners [kind of business]. It’s almost as bad as the restaurant industry. I knew probably the last couple years of owning the body shop that it just wasn’t fun anymore,” explains Borek.
With that feeling, he decided to sell the business. The day after the sale closed, he went back to the shop and noticed that the carwash across the street was for sale. Originally, he had planned to take a year off from work after selling the shop; but, as he thought about it, he knew that after being used to working so much, he would never be able to sit and do nothing without going stir-crazy. He went that day to talk to the owner, who was ready to sell since the business was not doing well and his partners no longer wanted to invest money in it.
“So, I bought the carwash really just for something to do and just to see if I could change things because sales were really, really low,” Borek recalls.
As for the history of the dinosaurs concept, it stemmed from Borek’s love of lawn art. For Halloween 2011, he and some friends built a flying saucer that he installed in his front yard. A few years later, when he decided he was ready for a change, he purchased some animatronic dinosaurs for his yard for Halloween: a T-rex and a Styracosaurus. However, a couple of his neighbors complained and had the neighborhood association’s lawyer send a letter threatening to sue Borek.
In response, Borek stored the dinosaurs in a garage until he took ownership of the carwash on March 1, 2015, where they then found a new home on the back of the lot, and Jurassic Car Wash roared to life.
A dino-mite site
With over 30 years of entrepreneurial experience under his belt, Borek claims, “It’s the little things that separate the great from the good.” While his self service carwash features such classic elements as four self-serve bays, an automatic friction wash, vacuums, spot remover, carpet shampoo and fragrance machines, it’s the other elements, the “little things,” that make it stand out.
Ironically enough, one of those “little things” includes the dinosaurs — some of which are up to 12 feet long and five or six feet tall. Two yellow dinosaurs out front have benches carved into their sides where families can sit and take pictures together. In addition, the carwash now has four fully animatronic dinosaurs. The original T-rex and Styracosaurus are coin-operated and located in the back. The other two, a Pterodactyl on the roof and a Dilophosaurus on the front of the building, come alive every half hour between 10 a.m. and 7 p.m., growling and moving their limbs. There is also a stationary figure of hatching Velociraptors in the back of the carwash.
“My motto is we don’t smile enough, so figure out a way to make people smile,” Borek states.
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And, although the main purpose of the dinosaurs is to make customers enjoy their experience at the wash, the added bonus is their marketing value. Customers have told Borek that their kids love coming to Jurassic Car Wash. “You can wash your car anywhere,” Borek notes. “But, if your kid wants to go there, you’re going there.”
In addition to the other dinosaurs, there is a T-rex head, which Borek affectionately named Tommy the T-rex, over the entrance to the automatic wash that squirts water on cars as they enter, making him a huge hit with the customers.
“They get a kick out of it,” Borek says. “They’re backing up, going forward, trying to get it to do it again.” But, the pressure plate that Borek installed to activate Tommy’s sprayer is on a timer so that it only activates when customers can see the spray as the front wheels drive over it.
And, the dino-theme doesn’t stop there. A T-rex is featured in the wash’s logo, and muddy T-rex footprints painted on the asphalt serve as directional signs for customers.
But, aside from the dino-décor, Borek has added other “little things” into his wash to make it stand out from the others. For instance, there is a food truck on-site called Big Vinny’s BBQ that is
open from Friday to Sunday. Furthermore, hot water is run through the self-serve bays because it washes better than cold water, says Borek.
In addition, whereas the previous owners only had credit card and bill acceptors on the automatic kiosk, one self-serve bay and one vacuum, Borek installed them on nearly every device, including the detailing product vending machines. According to Borek, doing so upped their credit card sales by 400 percent. He sees it as a smart business move, especially as he’s seen that the younger crowd, including millennials, don’t tend to carry around much cash.
Another aspect of the carwash that’s growing in popularity is the Jurassic Pet Wash. The pet wash is a self-contained building that is air-conditioned and has a stereo system so customers can listen to the radio. Customers have told Borek that they like the self-contained design because it makes it harder for the dogs to run away and because they don’t have to share a space with other dogs, which could lead to fights.
Borek believes this additional profit center will only grow, especially since his area of Austin is being built up with more and more apartments and condos that allow pets. He’s seen some of the same people come once a week, and he feels that, given how closely dogs live with people now, a pet wash provides a cheaper option to keep them clean in between visits to the groomer.
Going beyond fossilized expectations
Borek’s body shop business specialized in working on cars for Lexus, and from that, Borek learned about the Japanese concept of “kaizen,” which is translated as “change for the better.”
“‘Kaizen’ means a lot of things,” Borek notes, “but basically, it’s all about the little things. [The Japanese] didn’t worry, like Detroit, about big things and about saving minutes. They worried about saving seconds to make a car because they knew that seconds added up to minutes.”
The popularity of the concept has spread across the globe, and it has come to mean something along the lines of “continuous improvement;” it is this overall idea that Borek uses to spur his wash forward.
“I used to go to classes to learn about business. There was a guy that used to teach, and he would say, ‘Ignorance is bliss.’ And what he meant by that is you don’t know what good is,” Borek relates. He recalls that one time he asked some carwash owners he met how many cars one could expect to run through an automatic wash in a day. They told him that running around 100 per day was about as good as it could get.
According to Borek, Jurassic Car Wash once ran 203 cars through its automatic in one day. “Because I don’t really know what good is, I just keep striving for it. I’m ignorant of what a carwash should or shouldn’t do because I don’t know. And, I just keep pushing and keep moving forward,” he says. One of the “little things” he did to increase those car counts was manning the kiosk for the automatic, even though it doesn’t technically need to be manned. Many customers, he says, don’t realize that they can pay while someone else is in the wash; the attendant is there to keep the wash running as efficiently as possible.
Borek also notes that when he first bought the wash, if there were just three cars waiting in line, the fourth car would turn away. Now, lines will stand six cars deep, and they’ll all stay.
Something else that Borek has done to improve the wash is just as simple as listing a telephone number for customers to see. He says that since he bought the wash, he’s visited several other carwashes but has seen that many of them do not display phone numbers.
“The biggest thing with a customer who is unhappy is that they want to be heard,” Borek asserts. “You listen to what they have to say, and then you make a plan. And that’s the biggest thing I think anybody can do in any business. Just listen to your customers.”
Even if the information they want can be found at the wash, Borek states, giving customers a way to contact you — and actually calling them back if you miss their calls — and offering to help with any problem they might have had at the wash helps solidify their willingness to return.
An evolving knowledge of the industry
As a new owner/operator, Borek knows that he still has a lot to learn about the industry. While his knowledge of owning a body shop has served his business in terms of customer service, he has had to look for industry-specific resources to help him learn more about carwashing in general.
The biggest learning curve, he says, is working on the equipment. But, Borek recently invested in his education on the matter and attended a class on carwashing. Part of the class constituted the instructors breaking a machine and the students having to fix it. The instructors also showed students parts of machines that they wouldn’t normally get to see, since the machines are all put together, which Borek especially enjoyed.
“I learned a whole lot,” Borek says. “The people were very knowledgeable, very nice. There was only five or six students in the class, and they had two instructors the whole time. And, they kind of catered it to what we needed, what we wanted.”
In addition, Borek attended this year’s SCWA Convention & EXPO, where he discovered there were more trade publications than he realized, as compared to the very few in the body shop industry. He made sure to grab as many as possible from the trade show. “I’m trying to be like a sponge and absorb everything I can about the carwash industry so I can learn,” he states.
And, although he is a relative newcomer into the industry, Borek offers this advice for those looking to join the industry as well. “Don’t do it if you think it’s just going to be a cash cow and it’s not going to be work. [But,] if you go in it and say, ‘Man, I’m excited about this. I want to learn about the carwash business. I want to figure out ways to do things that other people have never done,’ and then gradually get people coming to you, you’ll make more money than you ever thought you could,” he says. “You learn every day. But it’s fun, and when it’s fun, it’s not work.” On that note, Borek says that he thinks running a carwash is more fun than running a body shop.
When Borek first sold his body shop business and invested in the carwash, he says people questioned his reasons, noting that he had been so successful and made so much money with the body shop. “At some point, you can only do so much with so much money. And, it was really the challenge of being able to take something that’s kind of doing really poor and turn it around [that appealed to me]. And I don’t say we’re there yet, but we’ve made a lot of headway,” Borek concludes.
And, if Borek keeps concentrating on doing the “little things” right to make his carwash continuously improve, Jurassic Car Wash is sure to evolve and not go extinct.