This year, Sonny’s CarWash College celebrates 15 years of educating multitudes of carwash owners, operators, managers, attendants and new investors. Featuring skilled instructors and a diverse set of courses, the program’s goal is to help operators master the trade of carwashing with comprehensive training to plan, manage, maintain and grow their businesses.
In this industry-exclusive interview, Professional Carwashing & Detailing (PC&D) catches up with Sonny’s Bob Fox, vice president – CarWash College and tech support, for a look back and forward.
PC&D | What were the initial goals of CarWash College? Can you describe those early days and how the program has evolved since?
BF | Great questions. The initial goal of the College was to help new entrants to the industry avoid some of the painful mistakes we made as owners and operators at our own carwashes along the way. We started with our three core classes — Management I, Maintenance and Repair — that were held a few times per year initially. We still hold these classes, but in addition, we now offer a Multi-site Management class and Sonny’s Controls class. We also offer private training for bigger groups either on-site at one of their locations or at our facilities. And, we have a host of investor seminars around the country throughout the year.
Related: Investing in a carwash education
I remember the early days of the College well. Our Sonny’s conference room served as the first classroom, and the lab was basically just some components on the floor in the warehouse. I was a part-time instructor at that time, as we had a full-time staff of instructors in the early going — most of whom are still involved in the industry in some form or fashion. Three of the original instructors are still at Sonny’s: Robert Andre, who has since moved into a senior vice president role at Sonny’s; Bryan Hage, who is director of sales, a two-time winner of the “CarWash College Instructor of the Year Award” and still instructing; and myself, vice president – CarWash College and tech support.
As the classes grew and evolved, so did our teaching facilities. The East Coast campus, housed in the factory in Florida, has a 24-seat classroom and state-of-the-art lab. We opened our West Coast campus in Phoenix, Arizona, in November 2019. Our Phoenix CarWash College houses a 130-foot express tunnel, wet lab for chemistry, equipment lab for repairs and a 40-seat classroom.
We have come a long way since those first classes that were held out in the warehouse.
PC&D | How many operators have attended CarWash College over the years?
BF | Including investor seminars, we are well over 10,000 students, and that includes some rather sparse classes in the beginning. As people started to realize the value offered, the classes filled, and now almost every class is at capacity with a wait list. Our calendar of classes continues to expand. In fact, we’re hosting a class of some sort every week of the year, except on holiday and trade show weeks.
PC&D | CarWash College now offers in-person and online courses. Can you explain the pros and cons of each format and any differences in training, testing and achieving certification?
BF | I may be biased, but I think both options are very good. Obviously, in person, you get all of the hands-on training, interaction with seasoned carwash professionals who instruct the labs and classes as well as the opportunity to meet other wash owners, managers and attendants. That experience alone is hard to quantify.
But, our online experience is very close to in-person with the added convenience of being able to attend at all hours of the day and from anywhere you have an internet connection. We spent countless hours in our Phoenix lab and tunnel duplicating — almost exactly — what we teach live. If you can’t come to us, let us come to you. In our Maintenance and Repair classes, we grease bearings and replace sprockets, take down wrap arms, replace slide tubes, etc. If we do it live, we do it in the online version.
The online Management class, while very good, is the one class that may not be as good online as in-person. Our in-person version of Management is class-exercise-driven and team-oriented. We weren’t able to duplicate the exercises online. The content is still very good, but I’d recommend if you have the time to attend in-person, do so.
Introduction to Car Wash is one of my favorite classes. It’s a new class that’s strictly online. It covers everything a new employee should know when they start working at a carwash, including a walk through the tunnel and backroom, how controls work, carwash safety and more.
The drawback of the online course is we can’t offer certification online, but for the price, I don’t think there’s a better value anywhere. I think all wash owners should consider buying the classes if they want to bring employees up to speed quickly. Then, if it looks as if some employees have real potential to move into a management or a maintenance role, send them to the in-person classes for the hands-on learning. That’s a lethal combo.
PC&D | Is CarWash College only ideal for new operators? Why or why not?
BF | Short answer, no. It’s really ideal for anyone seeking to improve their business or their operational know-how.
When the College was formed, it was with new operators in mind, but we found that existing operators wanted the training as well. I would say it’s probably a 50/50 mix in the classes today between new operators and seasoned veterans looking to better hone their skills.
PC&D | How can attendees take what they learned from CarWash College to build better, more educated team members at their locations?
BF | Well, the first and the most important thing that they can do is share the information as soon as possible with as many team members as possible. The old adage, “Use it or lose it,” comes to mind. By sharing the information we give you with team members, you’ll strengthen your bench strength, which, in turn, strengthens your whole organization. Conversely, information not used is information wasted.
PC&D | What’s next for Sonny’s CarWash College?
BF | That’s a good question and one I’m not sure I have a definitive answer for at the moment. What I do know, however, is that Paul Fazio, Sonny’s CEO, will continue to allow me to have the tools and resources necessary to keep CarWash College as the preeminent training source in our industry, both online and in person. That’s something we take great pride in around here. It makes our industry as a whole more successful, it makes operators and owners more successful, it helps people advance in their carwash careers, and it brings Sonny’s our unfair share.
In closing, I would like to thank my predecessors, Robert Andre and Brad Sorenson. From them, I’ve inherited a well-oiled machine. I also want to thank Sonny Fazio, Sonny’s founder, and Paul Fazio for believing in me to keep this engine running.
Our team at CarWash College appreciates the continued support from the industry. It’s the people in this industry and their support of our work that keeps us improving.