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Leading women in carwashing

Editor’s note: Professional Carwashing & Detailing is excited to announce a new content series in partnership with Melissa Pirkey to share the stories and experiences of leading women in the carwashing industry. We will continue featuring these inspiring stories in upcoming issues. 

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The women interviewed for this special series share their stories. The goal of this interview series is to not only share the stories and experiences of these market leaders, but also inspire more women to join this fun, exciting and growing carwash
industry. 

This month let’s meet Dorielle Birnkrant and Melissa Croll.

Dorielle Birnkrant, COO and CMO at PetroCal Associates 

MP | How did you get your start and how long have you been in the carwash industry? 

DB | I married into the carwash industry. When I met my husband in 2012, I was running Ticketmaster’s sponsorship marketing team managing about 120 sports clients like the NFL, NBA, NHL and US Open and would help my husband, Reuven, out at trade shows at the PetroCal Associates booth. As I learned more over the years, I knew I could have a greater impact at PetroCal Associates than I ever could in the huge corporation I was working at. I officially started full-time in 2014. I had a lot of ideas and started tackling everything from underwriting loans to getting my real estate license to re-vamping our brand and redesigning the website. 

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MP | What is the most important lesson you have learned while working in the carwash industry?

DB | It’s all about the people. Whether it’s at our own company or at some of the impressive operators, manufacturers or distributors we work with, those that recognize their greatest assets are in their employees’ and customers’ satisfaction put out the best products and services. 

MP | What advice do you have for women getting into the carwash industry today?  

DB | Regardless of gender, the best thing you can do for yourself is to become a subject matter expert in your field. Someone who is knowledgeable, confident, and kind calls for respect. However, in most industries, especially in the private sector, it’s true that women often have to work harder to earn that respect, as well as promotions and raises, due to unconscious gender bias. Being aware of that bias can help ensure we’re making thoughtful decisions and supporting one another whether you’re a top executive, a newbie in the industry or a client working with a vendor. We should all be looking for friends and mentors, helping lift people up, and forge their best path. Put yourself out there and stay true to who you are; be confident in what you know and hungry to learn what you don’t know. Join various organizations and attend events to help develop your network.  

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MP | What are some challenges you have overcome as a woman in the carwash industry that you’d like to share with other women in hopes of helping them to overcome similar
challenges? 

DB | Whether it’s from a lead who prefers to speak to a man at our trade show booth or someone checking us in at registration telling me to enjoy my vacation while my husband works, people will assume I’m a wife just joining my husband. Even clients of ours who know I’m the CMO of our company will talk to me about the great marketing materials my husband orchestrated for their sale and compliment him. When people make these types of mistakes, I try to assume that their intentions were good. In situations like these, I speak up and offer to share my knowledge and ideas to make sure they know I’m someone who can and wants to help them. I also appreciate when my teammates stand up for me and make sure to pass the credit when necessary. I hope other women can overcome similar challenges by being prepared to speak up about their work and by having strong teammates around them to support them. 

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MP | What aspect of the carwash industry is most exciting/rewarding to you?  

DB | The most rewarding thing for me is helping my clients. Whether it’s helping a client I’ve known for 10 years enter a new market with a three-site acquisition or helping a client of over 13 years sell a four-site portfolio or helping a new-to-industry operator obtain a loan to buy and build his or her first site, I feel proud to be playing my part in helping business owners achieve their dreams, especially as a business owner on that same path. 

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MP | What three character traits are most important in your opinion for a woman starting out her career in carwashing? 

DB | I think that being honest, hard-working and compassionate are three very important traits. Research shows that firms with more women in senior positions are more profitable, more socially responsible and provide safer, higher quality customer experiences — among many other benefits. Take that knowledge and know your worth, keep improving and put yourself out there. 

MP | Did you have a role model or a mentor in this industry? If so, who and how did he or she inspire you? 

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DB | My biggest role model will always be my mother. She immigrated to the U.S. when she was just 18 with nothing in her pockets and built an incredible home automation and alarm company with my father in her 20s. Her hard work and dedication in a brand-new industry inspired me, especially as I made the move from the entertainment industry to the carwash industry in 2014. 

Within the industry I admire many people, but Katie Balash, CEO of Vaughan Industries, and Carrie North, Vice President of Partnerships at the International Carwash Association, have been inspiring me for years. Carrie’s dedication to furthering our industry and helping so many organizations is outstanding. Carrie has always taken the time to share her knowledge with me, brainstorm marketing and sponsorship plans, and made sure to invite us to join as founding members of ICA’s Women’s Leadership Experience. It was through these events I formed friendships with many of the impressive women in our industry, including Katie. Katie is kind, honest, and hard-working. She stepped into her family business during trying times. She persevered by listening to those around her and caring deeply for her team. I am inspired to do the same with those around me. 

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MP | Where do you see the carwash industry moving toward in the future?  

DB | The carwash industry is in an explosive time right now, it’s incredibly exciting to see it evolve. The new-to-industry operators we see coming into the industry are more sophisticated and better capitalized than those of a few years ago. We are seeing rapid consolidation as large operators jockey for market share, but we expect some of the M&A activity to slow as larger operators look to expand their greenfield development programs. All of this is leading to the industry being both larger and more professional as it continues to mature. These changes will continue to open doors because as the carwash companies grow, ancillary companies, like our real estate finance and brokerage firm, will have more opportunities for growth, creating this self-feeding loop that should benefit all of us in the industry today. Technologies will keep advancing and companies will keep innovating pay stations, tunnel equipment, vacuums, marketing, memberships, apps and other aspects of this great industry. Having been in the industry for as long as our firm has, we have helped different size operators from each end of the spectrum accomplish ambitious dreams they had for themselves, from entering the industry to expanding to exiting. We pride ourselves on being the partner every operator needs by their side and are thrilled to be by their sides through these exciting times.

Melissa Croll, sales associate at Attlee Realty, LLC

MP | How did you get your start and how long have you been in the carwash industry? 

MC | I fell into the carwash industry, and selling carwashes to be more specific, by pure luck. Previously I sold residential real estate, but in 2015 I was looking for a change. That is when I met the owner of Attlee Realty and CarWashTraders.com, Veronica Attlee. She is a pioneer in selling carwashes in the commercial real estate space, so I slowly started shifting from residential to commercial properties. It’s now been about seven years since I joined her team, and I could not be more fortunate having found this niche market in the real estate space.

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MP | What is the most important lesson you have learned while working in the carwash industry?

MC | The industry has taught me the American dream is still very much alive in this country. We see so many negative stories on the news, and it is so refreshing to be able to collaborate with people that are still actively buying and running businesses. I have worked with couples who have bought their first carwash to have a family business to larger groups that are acquiring multiples to grow their brand and portfolios. It really is an exciting time in the industry. 

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MP | What advice do you have for women getting into the carwash industry today?  

MC | My advice to women in this industry would be the same in any industry. With hard work and dedication, you can achieve success. 

MP | What are some challenges you have overcome as a woman in the carwash industry that you’d like to share with other women in hopes of helping them to overcome similar
challenges? 

MC | I have been extremely fortunate to be surrounded by a lot of great people in the industry that have contributed to my success in this space. My advice would be surround yourself with trusting, loyal and like-minded people and you can overcome obstacles. 

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MP | What aspect of the carwash industry is most exciting/rewarding to you?  

MC | Every deal is so different so overcoming challenges keeps my job exciting. Whether it is waiting to find out if the city is going to approve a plan or meeting a feasibility timeline in a contract, there is never a dull moment in this space. 

MP | What three character traits are most important in your opinion for a woman starting out her career in carwashing? 

MC | Have confidence, be teachable and never stop learning.

MP | What would you have done differently starting out in the carwash industry if you could go back to the beginning? Or, would you not change a thing? 

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MC | I would have jumped in feet first sooner. When I first met Veronica, I would assist her in her carwash real estate transactions, but I still mostly focused a lot of my time on residential. Only when I started focusing my time solely on commercial and carwashes did my career really start to take off.

MP | Did you have a role model or a mentor in this industry? If so, who and how did he or she inspire you? 

MC | Veronica, as I mentioned earlier, as well as her husband Tim Attlee, owner of TAVACON Construction Management, have both been so influential. They have taken me under their wings and have really shaped me into the businessperson I am today. Veronica on the real estate side of the business and Tim answering all my questions when it comes to building and remodeling the carwashes. When we go to the carwash trade shows, it never ceases to amaze me all the industry people that are constantly coming up to Veronica and Tim to speak their praise or just to get their expert advice in our field. I strive to live up to the role models they are, and even almost seven years later they still inspire me daily. I cannot thank them enough for the knowledge, support and friendship they have given me. They truly are like family.

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MP | Where do you see the carwash industry moving toward in the future?  

MC | On the real estate side, mergers and acquisitions are playing a significant role in how rapidly this space is growing, but I still think there is a place for individuals to make a name for themselves. I don’t see the industry slowing down anytime soon.  


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

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