A lot has changed since 1988. To some of you reading this article, it may not seem like that long ago. To others, it may be before you were born. And yet, countries that existed in 1988, such as the USSR, are gone. Omnipresent, bulky cassettes and VHS tapes have now disappeared, replaced largely by digital files and streaming services that only take up intangible data storage instead. And speaking of streaming, the World Wide Web hadn’t even been invented yet — it would be another year before the arrival of what was arguably one of the most impactful inventions of the late 20th century.
Carwashes too have changed drastically in that time, and those that have been around that long, including Valencia Car Wash in Valencia, California, know that the only way to survive with the times is to change with them.
After serving as a captain in the Marines during both World War II and the Korean War, Charles “Chuck” Sockett decided to go into the carwash business. In the early 1960s, he bought Huntington Park Car Wash and later sold it to his son, David. In 1987, he bought Fashion Square Car Wash in Sherman Oaks, California, a full service wash with gas pumps. He also distributed carwash equipment for Erie Brush & Manufacturing and Econocraft.
Over the years, Sockett gained an expansive knowledge of the carwash business, and so in 1988, he decided to establish a second, new carwash in Valencia, California, which at the time boasted only Six Flags Magic Mountain and plenty of empty land. So, Sockett partnered with his son-in-law, Jeffrey Paul, to open Valencia Car Wash.
“Chuck’s vision was to create a one-stop oil change and carwash where the customers would be comfortable while their cars went through a very long — 185-foot — automatic carwash tunnel,” explains Gregory Paul, Jeffrey’s son and the current president and co-owner of Valencia Car Wash. “Chuck believed in long tunnels, so the cars would come out clean with great efficiency and minimal time.”
Sockett passed away in 2003, after which Jeffrey took over operation of the carwashes. Then, in 2012, he bought a third site: Canyon Car Wash in Canyon Country, California. Over the years, the operation of these carwashes has become a family affair. Paul, for instance, was only four years old when Valencia Car Wash was built, but with such an early introduction to the industry, it’s no wonder he has now spent the last two decades managing the family washes with his cousin, Josh Block.
“Josh and I both have a deep passion for this business and devote all our time to maintaining, fixing, managing workers and helping customers have an impressive experience,” Paul says.
They aren’t the only family members involved in the business. Paul’s mother (and Chuck’s daughter), Nancy, as well as both Paul’s and Block’s wives, Gelyssa Paul and Geazelle Block, work at the carwashes’ gift stores, keeping the shelves stocked with unique and fun gifts.
At the beginning of 2020, Jeffrey sold his majority ownership of Valencia and Canyon Car Washes to his sons, Gregory and Matthew Paul, and his nephew, Block. However, despite his semi-retirement, he has stayed on as a business advisor.
Changing with the times
With the advent of the express exterior model, many full-serve carwashes have had to adjust their business operations in order to keep up. In that vein, around a decade ago, Jeffrey expanded the services at Valencia Car Wash by adding an express exterior wash, which increased business significantly. However, Valencia Car Wash puts a full-serve twist on the experience: Every express wash receives a “microfiber express dry” with two workers drying the car and applying tire dressing by hand as the vehicle moves past the blowers on the track.
In addition, Jeffrey also expanded the unlimited wash program, which turned out to be one of the most important changes he could make. “The unlimited wash model has been very successful, and now unlimited customers make up the foundation of Valencia Car Wash’s customer base,” Paul explains.
One of the constants in recent years has been the need to change and upgrade in order to challenge some of the newer washes that have been popping up around Valencia and Santa Clarita, California. As such, Valencia Car Wash’s tunnel has gotten some extensive improvements. The carwash now boasts the latest carwash neoprene curtains and wheel blasters, showy chemicals and “disco lights” that make the ride through the wash enjoyable for children and adults.
The tunnel operations aren’t the only remodeling that the carwash has undergone. In recent years, the gift store and customer waiting area have had some face-lifts as well. Part of the remodel included a hallway that acts as an “unofficial museum” of Santa Clarita’s history, as Paul calls it.
In fact, it’s that local touch that has been a core part of this family’s business. Each of the family’s three carwashes is named after the locality in which it resides — as opposed to all being branded with the same name — in order to resonate more with the community.
“Grandpa Chuck understood customers choose their carwash based mainly on location,” Paul clarifies. “The local carwash tends to be the one where the customer becomes a regular patron. Since Valencia Car Wash was the first carwash in Valencia, the name is the most recognized and holds a lot of pride in the area. There are a lot of new chain carwashes all over the country with clever names that create a brand — which has its positives — but there is no better brand than the name of the place the carwash is located.”
Of course, what also helps this carwash stand out from the growing crowd of competition is that it offers an oil change business as well. “The oil change department has been going strong since the beginning. Customers love killing two birds with one stone and really appreciate the free carwash that comes with every oil change,” Paul states.
In addition, the oil change facility offers other maintenance services, such as replacing air filters, flushing transmissions and power steering, and installing new batteries. Paul believes that it is due to the facility’s honest recommendations, fair prices and fast service that make it such a trusted place of business in the area.
The ties Valencia Car Wash has with the local populace are also apparent in how it gives back. On the business level, Valencia Car Wash shows customer appreciation by offering free carwashes for birthdays and for every 10th wash for members. At the community level, the carwash offers free services to any nonprofit or school in the area that asks. In addition, the carwash supports charitable organizations; for instance, the staff wore pink this past October to promote Breast Cancer Awareness Month and made a sizeable donation to the American Cancer Society.
According to Paul, what makes this carwash successful, however, isn’t having all the latest and greatest equipment — it’s the employees and managers.
“It is important that the sales team is properly motivated and shares in the success of the carwash,” he concludes. “When inevitable issues arise, an experienced manager can minimize the problem and increase the customer success rate. Unlike express carwashes, Valencia Car Wash relies on our cleaning workforce to ensure the best quality for our customers. Some workers have been wiping and detailing cars for 20 years and have developed a special rapport with our customers. Many customers have been with us since the beginning, and their loyalty is very much appreciated.”