Leading women in carwashing
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Leading women in carwashing

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. 

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This month let’s meet Corina Gastony and Michelle Soderquist. 

Corina Gastony, director of training, LUV Car Wash

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

CG | I met John “JT” Thomson, current president and chief development officer for LUV Car Wash Group, and his wife Jan Thomson, controller for LUV, at a BMW Motorcycle group ride a few years ago. He knew about my training background and hired me as the Training Director for LUV Car Wash in December 2021.  In January 2022, LUV acquired its first few carwashes, and we are currently at 56 operational sites and still growing.

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

CG | My background is in training and education, not carwashes, so as I learned at Sonny’s CarWash College, safety is always the number one concern for our customers and employees. As we say, carwashes are safe until humans make them unsafe. 

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

CG | It’s a great industry where I feel women can be recognized more now for their effort. For women who think the carwashing industry may not be for them, I’d tell them to try it out; they may be surprised. Some of our best employees and leaders are women. Women bring a unique perspective and essential skills to the team.

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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? 

CG | I believe it is sometimes challenging to be acknowledged for your work as a woman in any industry. Many people may think that the carwash business is a man’s industry, but as with any male-dominated industry, if you put in the extra effort, show your passion for what you do, don’t give up and choose a great company to work for, you can overcome many challenges. Employers who care for and listen to their employees and live their “values” are worth working for. I was lucky to land a position with LUV Car Wash, where all the staff and management are very supportive and helpful. Being supported makes you feel acknowledged and worth all the hard work and effort you put into your career.

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

CG | At this point in my career, I feel it is all fascinating and rewarding. I’ve learned so much in a very short amount of time and continue to learn new things daily. I work in training, and when you speak with someone who says they learned something that they will use moving forward or when you help a struggling employee and they thank you for the support, it is a very rewarding feeling.

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

CG | Passionate, driven and resourceful.

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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CG | I don’t think I would change anything because I am still new to the industry.I was initially hesitant to make the switch to the carwash industry. However, looking back now, I know I made the right choice. I LUV what I do.

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

CG | Yes. I’m so grateful for two role models: Jan Thomson, LUV controller, and Mike Baxter, LUV SE regional director. Both have given me so much information, knowledge and encouragement regarding the carwash business. Jan has been in the industry for many years and is definitely a role model for many women in carwashing. Mike has also been in the industry for over 30 years, and both are very supportive, encouraging and full of knowledge to share with me on my carwash journey. Both have mentored many LUV employees, including many women.

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

CG | I believe it’s just hitting its stride now and will continue for the foreseeable future. I just read an article that stated that the carwash business was worth about $33 billion in 2018 with growth expected to be at least 3% yearly between now and 2025, depending on your carwash market(s). This creates many opportunities in the industry for both men and women going forward.

Michelle Soderquist, director, new investment, National Carwash Solutions

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

MS | I was working in the oil and gas industry when a friend of many years, Shane Wells, asked me to come join Hi-performance Wash Systems as a chemical technician. I would laugh and say, “Why would I want to work in carwashing?” I finally agreed and worked in the chemical side for three years before transitioning to equipment sales for the last three years. This progression and success allowed me to currently serve as a director of new investment. Who would have thought I would really love working in this industry as much as I do? 

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

MS | Communication is the key to success in any business, but it is extremely important in development because there are so many key stakeholders involved. When working with general contractors, architects, financial institutions or planning departments there are many potential points for communication breakdown. When these do happen it can delay a project but in the worst case scenario, could possibly eliminate it. For these reasons, on every project, communication is an important lesson we do not want to relearn.

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

MS | When getting into the industry make sure you understand all the risks and really execute a plan. It is so often that a week escalates into a month, or worse, into a year within projects. An example of this would be if you did not respond to an architect’s email and the result was you missed a city planning submittal deadline. Planning departments often do submittals monthly so missing by one day actually means missing by a month. This delay is not a complete failure, but certainly strong plan to execute against brings organization and value. A quote that really sums up my advice is from Barbara Corcoran: “My best successes came on the heels of failures.”

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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? 

MS | Well certainly there is a growing number of women in the carwash industry, but there is still a high percentage of men. With any professional service provider, the customer wants to have confidence in the information they are given and sometimes it requires more confidence building because I am a woman. We see the strong effort to bring balance to engineering fields and carwashing is no different. However, I think other people may feel the same way for different reasons. 

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For instance, if you are in your 20s or even look young, but have the knowledge and experience, you may run into the same situation. I work to overcome this by speaking confidently when I have the knowledge and in times that I do not, I openly say I will find the answer quickly. Not only is this an honest response, but for anyone it is also a correct way to handle a situation. 

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

MS | I really enjoy working with investors from cradle to grave when building their carwashes. There are many struggles when building but to see the end result when a vision becomes an operating facility, it’s amazing. Creating a successful business for investors brings me such a strong feeling of success for them and myself.

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

MS | The top three traits that I find most important for women when really starting any career. 

Self-belief. Look at any successful businesswoman and you will discover how much she truly believes in herself. 

Persistence. Even with setbacks giving up should never be an option. 

Humility. Keeping a feeling of gratitude is an everyday challenge and sometimes every hour challenge, but as long as we can return there often, we can keep a good perspective.

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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? 

MS | I can honestly say I wouldn’t change anything about my start into carwashing. I started by working to understand as many positions as possible at the distributor level and have taken the opportunity to train in carwashes as a staff member as well. I have spent a few weeks at the part counter fulfilling orders, delivering product in a van, managing several service technicians and a solid amount of time as a chemical tech. This gave me a much broader understanding of the business. I was fortunate to be at a small company that valued, but also really needed, cross-trained staff.

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

MS | I do not have a traditional mentor or coach but through networking have built my own team. This team is made up of a half dozen people that are either carwash owners or part of NCS. This has been valuable because each person brings a different perspective or skills that I can learn from depending on what hat I happen to be wearing that day.


Melissa Pirkey, Pirkey Insurance, is a frequent contributor. 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]pirkeyinsurance.com or email PC&D’s Rich DiPaolo at [email protected]

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