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Operations and Management

The story of Brian Campbell: ‘The carwash industry’s No. 1 fan’

The carwash industry has formed a strong, unique bond with Brian Campbell, who learned to read from the pages of Professional Carwashing & Detailing.


Rich DiPaolo is the Associate Publisher – Editorial of Professional Carwashing & Detailing magazine.

A memorable moment recently occurred in a room filled with mostly carwash professionals. Standing at the front, where all eyes were directed, was Paul Fazio, CEO of SONNY’S The Carwash Factory and co-leader of a state of the industry presentation at the Southwest Car Wash Association’s Convention and Expo, held earlier this year in Arlington, Texas. “I had a bit of the butterflies this morning heading into this room until I saw Brian Campbell in the hall who gave me a big smile and hug — that always calms me down,” said Fazio.

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On the other side of that compliment toward the back of the room, where eyes were promptly redirected, stood 33-year-old Brian Campbell, “The carwash industry’s No. 1 fan.” Flanked by his parents, Dale and Valerie, at another professional carwashing and detailing show, Brian was in attendance serving as an inspiration to an industry that has been almost equally important to him and his family since before he learned to read — a cognitive skill that was partially acquired by his sheer passion for our industry and one that defied all medical prognoses.

Finding hope

At six months old Brian was diagnosed with Williams Syndrome, a genetic condition often characterized by medical issues, including cardiovascular disease, developmental delays and learning disabilities. “Brian had a rough start in life. He had a respiratory arrest when he was three months old and died in my arms. I gave him CPR, which helped to revive him,” recalls Campbell’s mother, Valerie, who also recounted several other traumatic and difficult times in Brian’s life. Brian’s heart condition at an early age was so severe that doctors predicted he would not live past 10 years and their pointed advice to his parents was both dismal and discouraging.


“He had one open heart surgery, but still has a very serious problem that cannot be fixed. We were told by the doctors to institutionalize him. They said he would probably be severely [mentally disabled] and would not amount to much. They said we should ‘move on’ because we were a young couple and just ‘start fresh,’” Valerie explains. “We didn’t listen because we loved him too much regardless of what he would ever be capable of doing or learning.”

What those doctors most likely did not account for was the power of passion and compassion on human development and learning. Brian began to draw that strength from the carwashing industry at a very early age and was supported by the unwavering commitment of his family and friends. “Brian has had an interest in carwashing for as long as we can remember,” says Valerie.

Eventually Brian and his family shared this interest with another parent of a Williams Syndrome child who also owned a carwash. “He sent Brian a stack of Professional Carwashing & Detailing magazines,” she recalls. Although Brian’s doctors were sure he would never learn to read, Valerie, a special education teacher, remained determined to advance Brian’s learning and understanding of an industry he clearly wanted to know more about.Against all odds, her mantra was simple: Do not give up hope and focus on the positives.


“I took the stack of magazines and made books out of them,” explains Valerie. “I would cut out his favorite pictures and we would write stories about the pictures. I was able to successfully teach him how to read by using this method. As a result of his passion and our hard work, he can now literally read anything that you put before him today.”

Soon the readers of Professional Carwashing & Detailing magazine as well as Walt Tack, former president of the International Carwash Association (ICA), discovered the Campbells’ inspirational story, forming a strong bond that continues today.

Carwash ‘heaven’

Shortly after learning Brian’s experiences with the magazine, former editor of this publication, Steve Kane, shared it with our readers. Within months, people from across the country started sending the Campbells photos of their carwashes. According to Valerie, “We had hundreds of responses and we were able to use all the materials to help teach him to read. We were totally overwhelmed by the response we had. It was to the point where Brian would eagerly sit and wait for the ‘package man’ every day.”

In 1993 Tack and ICA invited Brian to attend his first carwash convention in Las Vegas. “The industry gave him the VIP treatment,” recounts Valerie. “He was treated to a limo tour of all the carwashes in town. The limo went through each [carwash]. He also marched into the convention floor with the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) marching band and sang a carwash-themed song that he wrote. It was a week that he will always remember.”


In the crowd at the convention that year listening to Brian’s song was Bill Sartor. Now retired from the carwashing industry, Sartor affectionately recalls his first exposure to Brian. “He just came into my heart there and he hasn’t left my heart since.”

“It was carwash ‘heaven,’” adds Brian, regarding his first carwash convention. “I really loved and still love visiting all the booths and seeing the new equipment. I look forward to seeing all the new technology at every convention.”

Over the years the professional carwash industry has recognized Brian with various awards, including the Lifetime Membership Award, the Inspiration Award, the Brian Campbell Innovation Award and recently, the Brian Campbell People’s Choice Award, as well as numerous regional association awards.

He also takes advantage of attending other industry events, such as carwash bus tours. “It is well over 10 years now since I first met Brian,” explains Fazio. “After my first time on a carwash bus tour with Brian it became evident very quickly that his fascination is about more than just looking at washes. As we went from carwash to carwash he could tell as we were pulling in what brand of equipment it was and very clearly tell you what he liked or didn’t like about that brand.”


Mutual respect and admiration

According to Valerie, the Campbell family is still amazed today with the mutual connection that Brian and the industry share. “It has meant more to us than you can imagine. This relationship has given purpose in Brian’s life and we could not be more grateful. All I can say is ‘thank you’ to everyone,” she asserts.

According to Sartor, who played an instrumental part in setting up a program with a group of carwash professionals to secure the financial means for Brian to attend carwash events, the impact of this relationship is clear-cut. “The industry has benefited from Brian more than Brian has benefited from the industry. There are a lot of us who have been changed forever by meeting Brian.”

This past April Brian and his family attended their 23rd consecutive ICA carwash convention, The Car Wash Show, held in Las Vegas. “I love seeing all my ‘carwash friends,’” says Brian. “I love the machines the most, like touch-free and friction rollovers. I like to see the brushes spin, I like the dryers and I love the arches that spray wax or soap on the car.”

For Brian, just like many other carwash professionals, this recent convention was another chance to see all the new equipment and supplies flooding the carwash market today — an industry that Brian notices has been through many changes for the better over these recent decades.


“He has watched different companies come and go and he has seen the newest and latest technology evolve. It always amazes us how he doesn’t miss anything at all. He knows the equipment and the manufacturers and he really truly loves them all,” adds Valerie. “Since he was little he has been able to identify the equipment in a carwash even from the street. One time when he was little we went into a carwash and the new owner didn’t know what type of old equipment he had … so Brian told him.”

Fazio recalls when Brian critiqued his company’s equipment and although the reviews were mostly positive, Brian also offered his own suggestions for improvements. “It was the first time I ever had someone tell me what I should change while holding my hand and swinging my arm. It was the most heartfelt criticism I have ever received and it came from a young man that I have grown to love over these years.”

Inspiring an industry and beyond

In addition to his interest in carwashes, Brian also enjoys vacuum cleaners and tornado sirens as well as visiting gas stations and grocery stores. He bowls in a special needs league, attends gospel singing events, regularly goes to church and likes visiting with people — especially older people — and watching television, particularly weather and home shopping-related programming.


Living almost two and a half decades past his childhood doctors’ predictions and enjoying a life that has been filled with joy and opportunity, Brian and his family are now thankful. “It has been such a different life for Brian than everyone predicted for him,” says Valerie. “He is now 33 years old and is living a very productive life.”

The story of our industry’s No. 1 fan is about more than just beating the odds. At only months old, Brian was diagnosed with a medical condition that one in 10,000 children is affected with. Educated doctors concluded he would live for only a brief time and “not amount to much,” notes Valerie. In the end, however, the story of Brian Campbell, “The carwash industry’s No. 1 fan,” and his impact on our industry and beyond will eventually continue on for too many years to count.

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