Talking with Industry Leaders - Exclusive Interview with Darrin Baum of Zep Vehicle Care - Professional Carwashing & Detailing

Talking with Industry Leaders – Exclusive Interview with Darrin Baum of Zep Vehicle Care

Few suppliers are as strong and well positioned as the new Zep Vehicle Care is to make a major impact upon the recovering carwash market.

Few suppliers are as strong and well positioned as the new Zep Vehicle Care is to make a major impact upon the recovering carwash market. In this first of two interviews, owners and operators will learn that Zep Vehicle Care enjoys an impressive legacy, a solid product line, and a clearly stated vision and mission of what its critical role will be in the industry.

Despite its modest beginning, the Starbucks Corporation has changed the way millions of people drink coffee. Starbucks succeeded in a highly diverse and fragmented market for three reasons. First, it built an incredibly popular and recognizable brand. Next, it excelled in training and developing its human resources. But most of all, Starbucks favorably impacted the way people drink (and enjoy) coffee.

I often have wondered which carwash company (or companies) would be most like Starbucks in transforming the way millions of people get their cars washed. Specifically, how can the entire washing process and experience be improved by operators (and their suppliers) to capture more consumers each day, even during less than ideal wash conditions?

Some industry leaders may call me a dreamer. I ignore the short-sighted critics. Instead, I agree with business leader John Scully, who says “the future belongs to those who see possibilities before they become obvious.” Indeed, does anyone doubt that a handful of customer-centric suppliers and innovative operators soon will propel the industry forward again?

For example, one impressive new entity, Zep Vehicle Care, was created last year, when Atlanta-based Zep Inc purchased the Vehicle Care Division of Ecolab. The Vision of this company is well-stated: to be “the recognized industry leader in providing innovative solutions and unsurpassed value to our customers.” It is the mission statement, however, which truly captures the great, untapped potential of the new company. The Mission of Zep Vehicle Care is “to be indispensible to our customer, incremental to our company, inspirational to our associates.”

This is a very high bar.

Carwash operators, struggling still to capture more customers, and generate more revenues, should be well-served, however. Zep Vehicle Care boasts a half-dozen “revenue generating programs,” and stakes its lofty reputation on a very promising four-part mandate or commitment to operators:

  1. Revenue generation
  2. Customer satisfaction
  3. Operational efficiency
  4. Increasing profitability.

The Zep Vehicle Care team services already more than 10,000 sites, and washes some 1,500,000 vehicles each day. During the recent The Carwash Show™, Darrin Baum, Zep’s Senior Vice President of Sales and Service, shared his thoughts and insights on Zep’s outstanding sales and service capabilities, and the carwash market as he sees it today. 

Mike Perry:Now that the dust has settled, what do you want carwash owners and operators to know about Zep Vehicle Care that may have been lost in the transition?

Darrin Baum:Zep Vehicle Care was created Dec 1, 2012, when Zep Inc acquired the Ecolab Vehicle Care business. Zep Inc approached the transaction as a “reverse acquisition,” creating a new free standing organization that combines both the legacy Ecolab and the legacy Zep carwash businesses. In essence, the legacy Ecolab Vehicle Care organizational structure was used as a framework for all of the Zep carwash business. The result is the largest chemical supplier in North America, with revenues approaching $100 million annually. We have a deep product line-up with powerful consumer brands in Armor All, Rain-X, Blue Coral and Black Magic. However, our biggest differentiator is the knowledge and passion of our over 100 direct sales and service representatives, and more than 85 distributors across the US and Canada. They are completely focused on helping carwash operators drive growth and profitability.

Mike Perry:What has impressed you most about the carwash industry?

Darrin Baum:One of the great things about the carwash industry is the willingness of people to share knowledge and ideas, and the passion people have for the industry in general. Whether operators come from the conveyor carwash market, or the c-store industry, there is an entrepreneurial spirit about the business that makes this a great industry to be a part of.

Mike Perry:Please talk about the priority on product development and building a stronger service organization has for your company?

Darrin Baum:At Zep Vehicle Care, product development and sales and service capabilities are both very important. We focus on developing products that are differentiated to provide operators improved wash quality, and overall operational efficiencies. Beyond that, there is a tremendous focus on developing products that are part of a broader program, including merchandising and branding to grow revenues and profits for our customers. However, great products and programs need to be executed properly. That’s where the importance of our sales and service team comes in. Not only are they trained in how to best wash a car, but they have tremendous experience in developing marketing plans, promotions, wash menu’s, and a host of other revenue generating activities.

Mike Perry: Would you say that Zep is a company that is easy to do business with?

Darrin Baum:Zep Inc has a great track record of being a very entrepreneurial organization, focused on making things very easy for the customer. The new Zep Vehicle Care has been able to take the best products, brands, and processes from both legacy organizations to create an exciting business, that has complete corporate support from an organization that understands the needs of both the local carwash operator and the large, multi-site operation.

Mike Perry:Can you talk about the on-going training process of your sales people?

Darrin Baum:We train our team in three key areas. First, we insure our team is well versed in the chemistry of washing cars, including how our products perform with various equipment types and water conditions. Second, we train around how to make a carwash more efficient and how to maximize the consumer experience. The third area of importance is training around how to utilize brands like Armor All, Rain-X, and Blue Coral to increase profit for our customers. We have a formal structure at Zep to accomplish all of this, and it includes training in the field, web based activities, and classroom training as well.

Mike Perry: What role does Zep play in helping operators become more successful?

Darrin Baum: Some carwash operators are extremely innovative and focused on maximizing wash count and revenue. Others can get caught up in the day to day challenges of running the business. In either scenario, having a partner like Zep Vehicle Care who can bring new ideas, brands, and programs to either lead the way in driving revenue, or to support work already being done, is a huge asset. We simply approach the relationship as a partnership, working with our customers to set goals, and then measuring performance against those goals.

Mike Perry: Environmental issues were so important five years ago. Has the industry crossed that important bridge now?

Darrin Baum: Obviously environmental issues impact the industry in a variety of ways, whether in the form of regulatory issues, or in the form of expectations and desires of consumers. Either way, I see the topic of “the environment” as a great opportunity for our industry. Anyone with young children recognizes that younger generations place a high

importance on caring for the environment, and whether a product is “green” or “sustainable.” While tough economic conditions may have slowed how consumers prioritize their purchasing decisions about how products impact the environment, this trend toward environmental awareness will only grow. At the same time, we can only expect that regulations will expand relative to water use, effluent, chemical make-up, etc. I believe the carwash industry has a great opportunity to capitalize on being strong stewards of conservative water usage and effluent disposal. The opportunity now to bring more people to a professional carwash to wash their cars will significantly help our industry.

Mike Perry: What positive factors are impacting the industry in 2013?

Darrin Baum: There are some very encouraging trends occurring that bode well for our industry. Through the first quarter of the year, wash counts seem to be up nationally. That is on top of an improved year in 2012. Real estate in many parts of the country is on the upswing, which obviously is a key driver in the economy. Access to lending is improving, which helps economic growth in general, but also helps with investment in our industry to drive growth. I think these positive trends create an opportunity to really focus on driving higher wash counts and revenues. Some operators have been caught in a survival mode, with a focus on cost control, and playing defense. But I think 2013 is a great opportunity to change that negative mindset, and really focus on top line sales growth.


Operators who wish to review a “Promotions Playbook,” to help them plan their marketing activities and to increase their wash counts, can contact a Zep representative at 1-877-326-9274. Readers might also wish to visit Zep’s Vehicle Care website: For more information on Zep Inc, go to Look for Part Two of this Zep Vehicle Care interview in the December 2013 issue of Professional Carwashing and Detailing. Finally, in a publicly released statement in April, John K. Morgan, Chairman, President and Chief Executive Office of Zep Inc noted the completion of a solid second quarter financially for the entire company. He also stated that the integration by Zep Inc of Zep Vehicle Care is moving forward according to schedule.

Mike Perry can be reached at 770-330-2490, or at [email protected].

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