In a market where industry insiders are becoming accustomed to watching small operations be swallowed up by large, male dominated and capital backed mega chains, it offers a fresh perspective to see the opening of a small (but mighty), female owned and operated carwash.
This is exactly what happened in 2016, when seasoned real estate developer, Emilie Baratta, saw an opportunity to make a change in her community. The community in question, a Northwest Denver, Colorado, neighborhood, lacked a sophisticated carwash operation, and Baratta swooped in to provide this service, while also helping the greater good through inclusivity and care for the planet. So begins the story of Gleam Car Wash.
‘Green Car Wash’
Gleam Car Wash is a flex-serve operation that offers exterior and interior carwashing as well as a suite of detail offerings. While the services found on the Colorado-based wash’s website are expansive, the aspect of the business that stands out the most on GleamCarWash.com is the brand’s commitment to sustainability. In fact, after entering “Gleam Car Wash” into the Google search bar, the first link that pops up reads, “Gleam Car Wash: Denver Full Service Green Car Wash.” And the Gleam team isn’t just using green as a marketing strategy — it has truly revolutionized what an environmentally friendly carwash can achieve.
According to Baratta, “[Our] motors have [variable frequency drives] VFDs, LED lighting dominates and waste streams are seriously monitored — the carwash recycles and composts.”
Notably, Gleam is also home to 41 kilowatts of solar paneling on the roof of the carwash tunnel. A quick calculation shows that Gleam’s solar power will produce 160 kilowatt hours (kWh) per day, factoring in an average of four hours of sun a day.1For context, according to How Stuff Works, a central air conditioning (A/C) system in the average U.S. home uses 10-30 kWh a day — meaning Gleam’s solar energy could provide A/C to roughly five homes every day.2 Obviously a carwash uses more energy than the average residential property, but the numbers are still hard to ignore.
Gleam also is home to an electric vehicle (EV) charging station, a trend seen more often at modern carwash sites. In the spirit of this business’ mission of helping the greater good, Gleam offers its Level 2 EV charger at no additional cost to customers.
In addition to the energy efforts put in by Gleam Car Wash, the team also strives to save as much water as possible. Baratta reports that the carwash captures up to 90% of the water used in the carwash tunnel. She also states that each wash uses roughly 10 gallons of potable (drinkable) water, and the additional gallons used comes from the non-potable or reclaimed water that is collected and treated on-site.
Diversity and inclusion
During the early days of Gleam Car Wash’s inception, the leadership team knew it wanted to implement unique and inclusive hiring practices. “Gleam believes in doing the right thing,” shares Baratta. “Not only does the business take environmental stewardship very seriously, but 20% of Gleam’s staff is comprised of individuals with intellectual and/or [developmental] disabilities (IDD).”
She also adds that this unique aspect of the business was not prompted by any governmental regulation or subsidized grant — it was just a cause the leadership team felt was important to support. Baratta now believes this has helped create stellar employee morale and even boosted the business’ bottom line.
The team also shared the feat of providing monetary support for individuals with autism and other developmental disorders. Gleam raised $15,000 during the summer of 2021 for Project Search, a school-to-work program run by Children’s Hospital Colorado, which supports “high school students with significant disabilities … to learn workplace skills and emerge from the program ready for employment.”3
Gleam matched all Project Search donations from customers in July 2021. Once the 2021 Project Search program ended, five graduates were actually hired at Gleam, and three remain employed at the wash a year later.
Gleam also offers a fundraising program, similar to events seen at large chains, such as Chipotle, where non-profits partner with the carwash for a day. When supporters of the cause get their vehicles washed at Gleam on the day of the fundraiser, 10% of proceeds from each wash are given to the non-profit.
Through this fundraising program, Gleam has assisted in raising $75,000 for various local organizations, such as schools, youth centers and other charitable organizations.
In the six years of Gleam Car Wash, the business has achieved community support, environmental feats and impressive charitable endeavors, as noted, but this doesn’t lessen the achievements found in the business’ nuts and bolts, so to speak.
According to Baratta, “Gleam is constantly adapting.” Specifically surrounding technology, Gleam is quick to update and expand equipment and customer processes. Recently, the brand upgraded from manually scanning member stickers by hand to installing an RFID recognition system.
The leadership team, which includes entrepreneur Elijah Williams and seasoned detailer Matthew Weston, has found great success at carwash trade shows, which always spark ideas for innovative updates to their business. At the most recent The Car Wash Show™, Gleam developed a relationship that led to the installation of all new brushes. The team also utilizes a comprehensive tracking program that allows it to analyze the performance of all the brand’s profit centers.
Gleam has quite a few profit centers, too. The detailing business alone is “robust,” according to Baratta, but the facility also features a shop that sells local goods, pre-packaged drinks and snacks, and hundreds of greeting cards for patrons waiting for their cars’ wash or detail to be completed. The Gleam Shop carries 30-plus vendors’ goods, from candles to coffee, with the majority of goods coming from local makers.
In the theme of “constantly adapting,” Gleam Car Wash recently announced the groundbreaking of “Gleam II,” an express site that will also feature a detailing center that mirrors the flagship location’s operation. The biggest difference of the Northwest Denver Gleam and Gleam II in Aurora, Colorado, is that the latter will not offer interior cleaning services. Instead, Gleam II will have 20 self-serve vacuum stations. As reported on Carwash.com, “Both locations will offer various exterior-only carwash monthly memberships, and members will be able to wash their cars at either locale.”
There is no doubt that Baratta and team have created a gleaming business and the Professional Carwashing & Detailing team is excited to report on future developments for the growing brand.
As Baratta concludes, “Gleam opened in the fall of 2016 and has created 40 jobs, cleaned hundreds of thousands of vehicles and strives to produce the highest quality car, with the greenest possible infrastructure and the most inclusive possible hiring practices, in all of Colorado and beyond.” Best of luck moving forward to Gleam Car Wash.
Camille Renner is the associate editor of Professional Carwashing & Detailing.