In this Scaling Car Washes episode with Brad Mann of Amplify Car Wash Advisors, JT and Brad discuss a number of vital topics for car wash owners including (1) the importance of recruiting and hiring the right people, (2) the way that establishing the right culture and having smooth onboarding procedures can really invite and keep great employees, and (3) how powerful it is to have streamlined procedures that are systematic at all locations. Brad and JT provide lots of useful tips and tricks that will definitely benefit car wash owners looking to grow!
“And so what I did was I started scaling up and really expanding so [the employees I hired] could be regional managers and vice presidents. And so, when I sold the company, at seven locations and nearly 75 people, a lot of the original people that I hired had moved up and had better salaries than they ever dreamed of [when they were] going to college! So that’s really kind of what my internal fire, and I think when I’ve talked to most of the good operators across the country… it’s a desire to help their people [that inspires them to grow].”
Brad Mann of Amplify Car Wash Advisors
Don’t miss this outstanding episode where JT and Brad share so many great tips that they’ve learned from their own personal experiences with scaling car washes!
Interested in the episode but don’t have time to listen right now? See the full interview below!
Welcome to Scaling Car Washes. I’m your host, JT Thompson. I built my first car wash in 2002, and since then, I’ve been involved at every level of the car wash ownership experience. I have built and sold my own car washes, and as a semi distributor, I have helped other investors build and operate their car washes. Along the way. I’ve been a multi unit restaurant owner with 23 units in five states. We’ll talk to experts in the car wash industry and related industries that can share insights and information that will help you build, scale, and ultimately exit your multi-unit car wash platform.
So, hey, welcome, everybody! I’m JT Thompson, your host of Scaling Car Washes. I am here with Brad Mann. This is episode number three. Brad Mann knows a lot about car washes — scaling car washes, starting them from nothing and growing them. I’m super excited to have him here with us today, and he’s gonna share his story. He started out at IBM, kind of as far away from the carwash business as you could get and kind of stumbled into it. So I’d love for him to just (1) share his background, and we’re going to talk a little bit about today what is it… The guys that are out there that are trying to grow their business and scale it, you know, hearing how some of these other guys have done it, and maybe some of the mistakes that they’ve made, some of the things that they’ve done that they maybe would do differently or the things that they’d do again. So, I think that’s really useful, and again, that’s the whole thesis of this podcast is just to try to share information with people that are looking to grow and scale their business. So, Brad, welcome!
Thank you, JT.
Glad to have you on. I’ve really enjoyed getting to know you over the last, you know, year. And your background… I’ve been hearing about you for a long time. So, just give us a little bit about you and how you got into this business.
Yeah, I don’t think there could have been a more opposite time to get into the car wash business. Right now, you know, there’s more money out there for car washing than there has been. And in 2008, when I walked into probably the 14th or 15th bank that laughed me out the door and said, “We’re not going to give an early 30 something a couple million dollars to go build a carwash!” when there wasn’t even an express carwash in North Texas. It was a town of about 125,000, but they didn’t have any Express car washes. And when you tell a bank that you’re going to wash 10,000 or 15,000 cars a month — which my goal was really to wash 25 or 30,000 cars a month — they laughed me out the door. And so, it was an interesting time, but I fell in love with the car wash business. I spent two years traveling the country. I had started a health care insurance company, and so I was traveling really all over the country and seeing these car washes be really successful in markets like Grand Rapids and Boise, Idaho where these guys were really watching a lot of cars and…
And at that time there’s still a lot of full service washes, and the Express was really kind of still in its infancy, so…
Yeah, you really didn’t have these major brands. You know, you certainly didn’t have public companies doing this, and so really to go do market research, it was Googling, you know, drive through car washes, and really going to the market for a couple days. And, ironically, I would just… I’d rent a car and go in the day before my client engagement, and I would sit in the vacuum area and talk to customers. And it was probably the first time in my life that I could sit at a business and do true market research, and go, Wow! This is why the customers love this concept. And in Oh ’08 and ’09, when I was preparing to start my chain in 2010, you know, you’d talk to customers and they absolutely were emphatic about the vacuuming experience and the price. You know a lot of guys were still $3! And so the customer, a lot of times, didn’t even know the brand of the carwash. They’d go, “Oh, that $3 carwash is great!” You know the customer experience was so great because we cleaned the car, we made it shiny, and we gave the customer an interior vacuum experience all in about 10 minutes. And so customers were in love with it, but really what I fell in love with in the carwash businesses is I used my technology and, you know, my people experience. I had been in consulting for almost 10 years of helping large companies solve problems that they just didn’t see themselves. And so, for me, the carwash business was super easy because I went this is… You know, all we’ve got to do is get the equipment right, and and we hire really smart good people…
It always seems easier from outside, too, though, right?
Yeah, from the outside looking in, I thought this is way simpler than trying to get, you know, a multi million dollar deal in the technology industry with large competitors… But you’re right, as a new operator… And a lot of guys that are trying to get in the car wash business whether you know you have a large or small operation, it always does look a lot easier than it is. And I didn’t hire a manager for six months because I felt like I really didn’t know what I was doing, and so I needed to be in the trenches. And I think that’s why I probably…
You quit your job, and then you started?
I actually worked two jobs for six months, didn’t see my wife and kids that much, but that was our agreement that, Look, this has to work! We’d bet everything we had to get in the car wash business. Fortunately, in Denton, Texas, the customer base I think probably had to do with a lot of us getting out there in the market. We were at every event — chamber, bank events — everything we could do to get our name out there.
Tell people what your car wash was called.
Yeah, so it was the Wash Factory, which I later federally trademarked, and so it was in Texas and Oklahoma. We built it up to seven locations before selling it to International Carwash Group in 2019, but…
So I do want to kind of drill down… And so, you started with one. The first one, you had to get it open, and I think a lot of people… This business is, I tell people, carwash owners are, the entrepreneurs are bad asses, right? They come in from IBM; they have zero experience of a carwash or anything about it. You know, how do you go through entitlements, and all that? So you figure it out. You’ve got your first wash. You’ve got it financed. You probably begged, pleaded the bank.
How did you finance the you know, the downstream ones? Was it easier? Did you go? Because you know, most people will go with an SVA loan. You cap out at that. So once you move past that, how do you finance, and you know, what did you do to kind of grow your business?
Yeah, I think the interesting thing about — and I don’t know if it’s unique to the car wash business, it might be any type of non franchise (because there obviously is a franchise, carwash model now) — but in 2008, there was no playbook, there was no one to even help you select equipment. I leaned on, you know, a distributor in Dallas, and he became a lifelong friend of mine. And it was somebody that became a trusted adviser. And I would say my challenges were different every single carwash, and I think for a guy that, you know, is at one and very comfortable, and he’s like, Do I go to two or three? I think you have to just have an internal fire to go: “I want my people to get promoted.” And for me, my internal fire was, I had a bunch of great… I was in a very good college town, and that was kind of my MO. I went to a lot of college towns, and I would pick these kids up, like sophomore or junior year, and go, “Hey, look, I’m gonna give you a path. I’m going to let you handle money. I’m going to give you a big title, and it’s going to help you. I didn’t have those kinds of things when I was in college, and I’m not expecting you to work in the car wash industry. I’d love to have you forever, but if you don’t, I’m going to give you a really good resume.” And that really resonated with the business kids that I brought in, and then what I realized was, these kids, some of them wanted to stay. They were like, “Look, my mom wants me to be, you know, CPA at a big firm, but I love the carwash business!” And I realized after the number one — my number one challenges obviously were financing, and then, you know, what do you put in the tunnel, and where do you build it — all those things! But once you get good at that, then you realize, I’ve got to grow because, you know, my guys that I hired that wanted to stay, I gave them no path. It was either a manager or an owner, and they were never going to be the owner. And so what I did was I started scaling up and really expanding so they could be regional managers and vice presidents. And so, when I sold a company, at seven locations and nearly 75 people, a lot of the original people that I hired had moved up and, you know, had better salaries than they ever dreamed of going to college! So that’s really kind of what my internal fire, and I think you know, when I’ve talked to most of the good operators across the country… it’s a desire to help their people. It’s not, you know, necessarily how many cars you wash. It’s if I get more locations, I can move JT and Brad from one region to the next, and then we are now at a point in our industry that we have a lot of credibility that we’re bringing in some really credible people around, you know, these large companies.
100% I think, you know, it used to be a job; now it’s a career track. And so, I think that’s one of the… You know, I talk to owners, and that is a big motivator for them to… you know, even if this… you know, some people are like, “Hey, listen, I’m going to get to 10 units, and then I’m going to sell.” I totally respect that. A lot of people are I want to get to 10/ 12, and give my employees that, you know, I feel loyal to, an opportunity to where they can move up and really make a solid salary and income and provide for their family in a way that they never dreamed that they could have. So I think that’s one of the exciting parts for a lot of these owner operators as they’re kind of growing is they feel like they’ve got a family that they’ve grown and kind of mentored up, so I totally respect that, and I see that as well. I know you, right now you are still active in the in the carwash industry, and you you’re talking with people are selling, and you’re building your own washes. Tell us a little bit about what you have going today.
Yeah so, you know, I obviously worked for International Car Wash Group. They were growing tremendously in ’19… I think I was number like 186 out of their chain, and I think we grew that to like 215.
And they bought all seven of your units?
They bought all seven, took over my operations. You know, obviously, part of my arrangement is I wanted to get away from operations and focus more on strategy, so… Obviously the pandemic hit three months after I sold, and so that changed, obviously, the playbook for every private equity operator, public company, whatever in the carwash business. I think we all probably for two months there were trying to figure out what was going to happen to the world, but International Carwash Group… I moved over into their mergers and acquisition division, helping them grow across the United States, and had done a little bit of that, you know, at IBM where we were seeing my customers buy other customers, so I had some experience in that from my technology days. But reallyI just fell in love with helping operators go through the process since I had been through it myself. We ran up you know a large process when we sold the Wash Factory, and so right now with Amplify, really all I’m working on this year is… It’s not necessarily an operator wants to get out of the business all the time. Maybe they just really get tired of going to the bank every single time and going alright here’s a 90 day process they go through.
A lot of people don’t know who Amplify is, so Amplify is an advisory group, and they… You’ll help people improve their operations; you’ll help people if they want to exit, or you’ll have people who want to finance, and find capital for growth.
Yeah, Jeff Ivone, you know, has been around the car wash business for 20 plus years, and he brought on Bill Martin and then myself, and really it is a full suite. So, you know, we can come on and obviously help you look at, you know, the books and guide you through the whole process. Maybe you don’t sell right now; maybe, you know, we need to get the books in order to get the most value, but we we certainly have an emphasis on the operator whether they want to take on a private equity partner and grow or they completely get out of the business. We kind of facilitate the whole process for them, and run up, you know, a process to take them to market. It’s not something that is just like a brokerage firm where we flip, you know, a chain. It’s a fully, you know, vetted… we come in and really understand you know what the carwash owner wants before we even, you know, take them out to market.
You are like perfectly suited for that, right? You started with one unit and grew it and came to the decision that you wanted to sell, and you sold, and now, so you’ve got that experience I think you bring a little different perspective, and I think, you know, as a carwash owner, you know, previously I… You know, I feel like there’s kind of a brotherhood guys that, you know, you’ve been there / done that, and you can kind of understand the motivation. So tell me just a little bit: why did you sell? Like why not just keep running it? Why did you decide to take the Wash Factory and sell it to ICWG?
Yeah, I think, you know, I think it’s interesting. Everybody has a different story in this. I ran the operation up to two by myself and had some good friends in Denton that were very successful in the multifamily apartment business, and got to know them through just local connections, and they begged me to sell at two. And here I am, you know, late 30s, saying this is my passion. I hear this a lot from other operators, too. I know, you know, a lot of the guys across the country that run very successful carwash operations, and the number one objection they always tell me is, “Well, I don’t know what I would do tomorrow if I sold today; it’s not about the money anymore, but I don’t know what would happen to my people and I don’t know what I would do.” And so for me, two locations by myself, I saw that I needed to get bigger to have my people grow. But very interesting that when you take on partners — I think that’s what I really focus on and Amplify now is making sure you select the right partner — because they were really good friends of mine, they were great guys, we got along in business. But I chose three or four sites that I really, really liked the distributor who had probably never had a carwash fail over 300 plus sites that he picked out; we love these two sites and my partnership said, “No, we don’t want them.” And then I had competitors within hours take over the contracts. And so I think what I really do a lot of time with now, in this market, is making sure that if it’s a complete sale, I still think you need to choose the right partner to make sure you take care of your people. But if you’re bringing on a private equity partner like I do now, you still need to select the right firm because I went through that myself. I thought I picked the right partner, and getting turned down? I don’t have too big of an ego, but I still remember going this kind of hurts. You know, I’m really passionate about the carwash business, and to have these sites in the board meeting turned down every month, and then I have competitors pick up one. Okay, it’s justifying that I know what I’m doing. At that point, I really didn’t have a passion for it. So for me, it was the right time to get out. But I’m always looking at how to, you know, help an organization or how to get back in the car wash business on the operating side because I think I have a huge passion for people. And that’s what I’ve always, when I’ve been given the chance, you know, to work with people and guide people. That’s where I’ve always excelled in my careers, and so I just love being around… I’m an extrovert at heart; I cannot be in a room punching numbers. I like to be out, you know, at the car wash, watching things happen, and that’s where my passion lies.
So as you kind of look in the rearview, so, you know, as you look back at that experience… Any mistakes, anything like if you were to advise yourself, if you’re going to go do it again or if you’re, you know, talking with somebody, anything that you say, “Hey, Man, this is this was an area that I wish I had done differently, or this is a blind spot for a lot of people!”
You know, yeah, I think there is one area. For years, I was never one… And you have some operators like that, you know, drive everybody else in the market. And they’re so worried about where somebody is going; I was the complete 180 of that. All I ever told my people is we’re going to focus on the Wash Factory. We’ll let everybody else follow us. But we’re going to be the market leader. And we’re going to, you know, obviously try to do everything we can to maximize profit and maximize customer experience. So the thing that I was afraid of for many years is I thought I had some kind of secret soup, you know, ingredient that no one could do. And when people would come and say, “Hey, can I look at your carwash?” Absolutely not. You know, we’re a proprietary private company. And what I realized is when I opened up and went to the Bill Martins of the world and made friendships like that, the Tommy Hopkins up in New York, that there really is no secret sauce. The secret sauce is, top to bottom, is the people.
It’s the culture.
And so, it’s the culture and it’s what you develop. And so when I started listening to these guys and taking it in and was able to do a share back and forth — because there were some things I was doing pretty well in Texas that they hadn’t seen in other markets… When you’re willing to share within an industry whether it’s, you know, Southwest Carwash Association is what region I was in, or even the ICA — I ended up making, you know, the board of directors for the ICA for the last three years — when you share, you actually learn a whole lot more than if you just stay in hole. And I think that’s what’s allowed me to be good at the role I’m doing now is I know what everybody’s doing across the country and I wouldn’t have these relationships if I just stayed, you know, on my property line. And look, there’s going to be that guy that walks in… I had several guys that took 1,000 pictures of all my sites, and then I saw it pop up in South Dallas, but you can’t look at it that way! You’ve got to look at the world; that guy maybe took the easy road, but you can’t let it get to you. You have to do what you do best and know that they’re probably not going to be able to replicate your culture and your processes.
And the culture of the carwash industry as a whole I think, historically, has been very open… Almost, you know, co-op-petition is, you know, I hear sometimes… And I do feel like it’s changing a little bit. I think as private equity is coming in, and people are… Listen, a lot of money is coming into the business, and who knows how long it’s going to last, right? Are we getting close to saturation? I don’t know! Are we… you know, I mean, so… I think that there’s a lot of unknowns but I think the industry has gotten a little bit more kind of closelipped, but I do find, and I’m curious to get your… hitting the points that you just made… But so, would you recommend that people get together? Like you’ll hear some of these enhancement groups or mastermind groups, you know. There’s a lot of different things where people kind of get together and share. Is that some you would?
Yeah, I’m actually really excited! So I’m, you know, in my mid 40s. You do have kind of all of these… You’ve got some old enhancement groups that have been around for almost 20 years, 30 years, and the guys have been washing cars for 20 / 30 years. But then, you’ve also got another group out there of the younger guys, that even might have even started at the manager level, not even the owner level, that have kind of done a grassroots effort that… I wouldn’t be in the car wash business if David Begin out of Colorado Springs wouldn’t have said, “Hey, fly up! You’re not in my market; I’m not going to Dallas. You’re not… if you commit to me, you’re not going to come to Colorado Springs…” And I loaded cars for three days! So, you know, I wouldn’t be in the business if someone wouldn’t have taken a chance on me, and so I’m 110% And I think even with private equity, you know, we’re so undersaturated, I think, as an industry compared to some others that have been around… that for the next, I see, in the next five to 10 year future that you’re getting in the business, there’s no reason if you network a little bit that there’s not somebody out there willing to help you. And I think that’s certainly unique to this industry! I’ve been in two other industries, and there’s no way in those two other industries in my career would you ever call a competitor and go, “Hey, let me see around the shop, you know, for a couple days!” So I think, if you’re part of the car wash industry, it’s an amazing club. And it doesn’t really matter! All the guys I’ve ever talked to, it didn’t matter if I had one car wash or 20! They just want to help and, you know, it’s kind of reciprocal. You know, if you give back, and call them up, “Hey, I see this!” Then you’re kinda in the club, and and there’s a lot of giving, you know, in this industry.
I find people to be salt of the earth here, right? And I’ll miss it if it, you know, it moves on and become so corporate. I think part of that is just inherent, right? As we grow, and more money comes in… I always tell people: look at the restaurant business, right? In the 90s, it was still very Mom and Pop, a lot of fragmentation. And then, you know, brands started coming in, and QSR. I mean, it changed, and technology changed. So, you know, now you see there, you know, ownership groups of, you know, 400 or 500 restaurants. Well, the biggest one in our business has got 350 units, right? There’s one. You know, then you have a handful of guys that are, you know, maybe 100 plus units up to about 200. So, I think there’s a lot of growth. I think we’re going to continue to see a lot of consolidation. But I still think that there’s a lot of room and a lot of whitespace for the owner operators that are trying to scale into having kind of a nice 8, 10, 12, 15 unit business that they run and scale. But it is different, right, when you go from a handful? And I think about six or seven is almost the tipping point, and I’m curious to get your thoughts on that from… if you’re going to go past that point. All of a sudden now you’re really kind of getting into the next level, and what does the next level mean? Tell us a little bit about as people scale, what can they expect as they try to get into 10 to 12 units? You know, so if you had to describe the difference between a 12 unit operation and a five unit operation.
Yeah and I think the other thing, JT, back to, you know, where our industry is going is, you know, we have to remember that the consumer is what drives change. We, I think, like to think as car wash owners or entrepreneurs that we’re the smartest guy in the room. We wouldn’t have an unlimited membership program if Amazon and Netflix and maybe even the gym industry hadn’t solved it before, and, obviously, the evaluations. And that’s kind of why I did a membership program because I was looking at the evaluations of Netflix and Amazon and going — this is finally the time! You know, it’s crazy if you don’t do Unlimited, but everything is driven by consumer. So, you know, we’d like to talk about, you know, how private equity ruined this industry. It has nothing to do with private equity! It’s the consumer driving what they want in the unlimited plans, which, you know, on the back side, it’s kind of like the tail versus the head. There’s a reason our industry is so popular!
I think they can actually not ruin it; I think that they can bring it to the next level. And it definitely, it makes everybody on their A game.
Well, and there’s going to be a tremendous… I would say, and I can speak because I came from technology, and healthcare is a perfect example; we were way behind, and I think we still are on technology and healthcare… But what big money will bring is great technology to make the consumer experience a whole lot better. So that’s what I think will come in the coming years. And then I’ll answer your next question in regards to kind of what’s the difference between a one or a five or a 10 unit. You know, I see in the industry, if you’re a one or two locations, you either got two owners. You’ve got guys that just think they’re going to make a bunch of money and never show up, or you’ve got the guys that have to do everything. And I have several friends that I’ve helped scale up. And they were the guys that loved the industry, but they couldn’t leave their phone out of their pocket. I mean, didn’t matter where they were, they had to have the phone, and they had to know what everything was going on. And for that type of operator, I’ve always said, “You’ve got to give your people the power to fail or succeed no matter what, but your name is on the building, but let them feel like, you know, they’ve got a part of that, too.” And so for the guys that I’ve seen do that, the biggest challenge they have is control. So when you go from one and you can make all the decisions, you’re there every day, you go to five, maybe you still get to all five properties, you know, on one day, if that’s, you know, your goal, but when you get to 10, that’s almost impossible.
And so the biggest difference, you know, when you’re trying to scale a business, whether it’s car wash or something else, is you’ve got to hire good people, so you’ve got to take some of the profits, you know, that you have, and go find the best and brightest. And don’t worry, you know, if the guy’s worth 100 grand, then he’s worth 100 grand. You know, make him produce, and make him be your right hand guy, and build a leadership team that’s going to do, you know, the role. And that’s what I always, when I went from one to five to seven, I realized… and I was in two states with three hours drive apart. People that were the one or two operators go, “How do you do that? It’s a three hour drive!” And I said, “My people are going to do it. I can’t… I can’t be in Oklahoma every day!” But I can… it’s trust and integrity is what I preached all the time to those guys. If there’s a problem, let’s talk about it, but go make the decision. Unless the building’s burning down, it might as well be your Wash Factory. We’ll talk about, you know, the goods and the bads after, and we’ll develop a strategy around that, but no, I couldn’t be at all locations.
So is it a… So a lot of people will start with one or two units; they have a manager that’s kind of moved up with them, and a lot of times, you know, somebody that they’re trying to give opportunity to, which I think is great, like I’m a big proponent of hire from within. But there’s also a time when you have to bring somebody from the outside that is more expensive and is a big investment. And I’ve gone through this in my business before as well. I used to have 23 restaurants in six states. I had, you know, car washes and a Sonny’s distributorship for three states, so… Bringing in outside talent, and a lot of entrepreneurs wait till it’s too late, right, because their waiting… You know, they’re overworking their people, they’ve kind of hit a cap, things aren’t running quite as well or as well as they could. So when does somebody bring… you know, when do you make that, you know, that decision to pay the money and bring in a great operations person, a really good HR person. So that’s an underestimated role in our business because we talked about culture. So I think, you know, there’s a whole conversation around HR: when do you bring in somebody to manage the finances and really kind of look at and try to help drill down into the details of the finances?
Yeah, I think at the Wash Factory, we would do, you know, an open interview. So we always, always gave our managers a chance to, you know, take that next role, whether regional manager or even regional manager taking the VP role. I think we, as operators sometimes, people want to be led by smart people. So they don’t have a problem with an outside hire, as long as (1) they felt like they were given a chance. And then if they blew the interview, one of the things I always went back, too, and made sure on my, you know, leadership team was… Explain to Brad or JT if they didn’t get the job, why they didn’t get it and what they have to do to get it the next go around. And so you’re right, that HR person to come in and explain, you know, instead of being passed over twice, because look, I was a serial number at IBM. You know, I was one of 350,000 employees. I came from that culture. You knew when you interviewed for a job you probably were competing against 20 people. And so I think sometimes in the car wash business, because we develop such a good relationship with our people that we don’t do a very good job on the back end, I’m telling them, well, this is where you’ve got to get to. And the other neat thing was a couple of the interviews, I mean, we had several key people that came in with a PowerPoint presentation and a deck, and they were ready to go, and they nailed the interview. And the other two were just ready to talk about themselves, and you show the other two what it took to get the job, and their mind was blown! Like I didn’t, okay, I didn’t prepare! And so I think having a good HR person that’s experienced that on a larger scale with another company can bring in those processes. And when I went to four locations was when we started… Because we knew we were going an hour away on the fifth, we had to have an HR person, you know, show up on site to do all the, you know, on boards, but it’s a very process driven… Opening a new store should be the same for 5, 6, 50, you know, 100. And you can’t do that with internal people because all your internal people are doing, you know, what it takes to run the carwash. So you have to have a strong corporate office with strong processes so you don’t load your manager down, and go, “Hey, by the way, manager number two, next week, two hours away, you’ve got to go hire a full staff, and then still run your staff!” That’s going out of business strategy; you have to build a new team every single time you go, and then start building a support team around it.
One thing I tell people is, if you’re planning to grow, you’ve got to start documenting and memorializing your systems and processes because your life will be so chaotic, if over at this location, you know, James, who’s a manager there; this is way he does it there. And then you go to this one and then Tom, or, you know, Deborah, at this other location, they do it that way. So I think trying to scale a business is really hinged upon systems and processes, and the people you bring in are going to be the key to success on that, right? You can have all the systems and processes documented, but if you don’t have the people that are disciplined, and regimented, and accountable for managing those, then they’re going to go to hell in a handbasket.
Yeah. And I think, you know, JT, and my dad was, you know, in the Navy, and so I had some military background…
Mine was, too!
Yeah, if you look at our military, and I watched several documentaries, obviously, with the 20th anniversary of 9/11, coming up, there was a lot of TV about it. And you look at our strategies around the world, we have, you know, our military all over the world. You know, our president of the United States is not in Afghanistan, you know, leading the military. So you have very good generals, you have very good sergeants, and you have an elite military that can accomplish anything, but it’s… They were trained the same way. You know, the Navy Seals, they don’t have, “Oh, JT, you go do it the way the way! Brad, you go do it the way you want.” No. It’s the, to get through that school, you know, it is, you know, a regimented, you know, punishment that everybody’s gone through. And so, I think sometimes we forget, you know, in the car wash industry that if you’re going to scale, you… You’re right, you have to have systems. If employee A shows up on Monday, it’s like Chick-fil-A. That Chick-fil-A has been really good at… it’s the same set of videos, and the same procedures. And that’s why they’ve been able to scale that restaurant business so well, is no one is surprised.
And I think we sometimes forget how uncomfortable and awkward, you know, it is for an employee on day one to show up at the Wash Factory, or International Carwash Group or Mr. It’s like dating. And it is, probably for some people, it’s as nervous as a first day, you know, for a high school kid. And you’ve got to build a culture and a set of processes that somebody can walk in and go, “Wow, I really want to be a part of this team.”
It’s a great point. That is a fantastic point. Onboarding is… And it’s not just in our business, right? Onboarding is probably one of the most important aspects that a company has to get right if they’re going to grow, or just even maintain because when somebody comes in to a new job, they have to feel safe, right? They have to feel like these guys know what they’re doing, they have to feel comfortable. And that initial interaction is what sets the tone. If they come into a chaotic environment that sets the tone for their whole job or career.
Yeah, I always… My quote was, you know, “You never get a second chance to make a good first impression.” And so I pushed that all the way through my leadership team that, you’re right, it better be like your feelings on a first date. That’s how well… because, look, we’ve worked very hard to get them to the lot. And I think you know, as an industry, we’re certainly getting a better reputation. But when the guys before me even when I got in in ’08, just to convince somebody to come apply at a carwash that, you know, their thoughts… and going through their mind was, “I am not! My mom and dad do not want me working in a car wash!” And so I think that is one of the good things that’s happening in our industry with, you know, reputable brands, and better leadership coming in is, “Oh, I’ll work at a carwash! That sounds like a great job!” But you work so hard to get them to the lot. And certainly within this economy we’ve seen the last year that’s probably everybody’s number one challenge, but once you get them there, you’ve got to keep them!
Yeah, one thing, you know, and it’s not just when you’re hiring somebody… So, At Go, we did acquisitions, I’m now with Luv Car Wash out of Phoenix, and we do acquisitions, and the onboarding of new employees from the acquisition is highly important. So a lot of owners, you know, you’ll see… You’ve got a single competitor that you want to go and buy. Make sure if you’re out there, you’re looking at that opportunity, that as part of your acquisition plan, that you really think through your onboarding, to make sure that the employees of the company that you’re taking over, feel like they’re coming into a great environment where they’re being welcomed, and that there’s a very organized process for bringing them in.
Yep, I think it can be sometimes the silliest and stupidest things and it’s… You know, I always told my folks… and when I started a company, I was doing all the interviews, I was the janitor all the way up to the owner the car wash, and that’s just because I didn’t know the industry I wanted to learn it. But the one thing I always remember repeating over and over and over is you know, “If you show up on time in a clean uniform and provide good customer service, that’s your commitment. My commitment is I’ll pay you on time the schedule will be out, you know, every single week at the same time. I’m not going to try to wreck your personal life.” And I think, you know, with some of the consulting I did in the industry as even an operator when I did that, and I would go into an organization and people were not happy and, you know, they hated their jobs. It was the basic blocking and tackling of making an employee happy off of the lot that they weren’t doing, and so when they got there, they were like, “Well, John paid me, you know, last Wednesday. In two weeks, I think I’ll get paid on Friday.” And I’m going, you have to establish a culture of a place of security, you know, that the employee is going to get paid on time and they’re going to have a good job.
And you know, and you mentioned this briefly, but the schedule… And that’s, that’s like an area that people don’t really think much about. If you have one location where the manager gets that schedule at two weeks in advance, so people have at least some purview into what their schedule is going to be versus another location where they do it you know, they get it out like three or four days. That’s horrible! From an employee’s standpoint, they need to have the predictability and they, you know, obviously some things are going to change, and there’s going to be some movement, but that’s a big area where I think, you know, just being systematic you know, even down to that level, is…
We had it dialed in, JT! My managers were responsible, and it was managed to the regional manager, that the schedule was out Thursday by noon. It did not matter. I didn’t want an excuse. The schedules had to be Thursday by noon for the following week.
Those type of details are just so important. And as you get bigger, it becomes even more important.
So, one other thing I want to touch on is, you know, we talked a little bit about the… As people are growing their business and the finances and really understanding… I’m a big what’s not measured isn’t managed, and really understanding… A lot of entrepreneurs have bookkeepers, right? At what point does somebody go from a bookkeeper? And what do they go to? Do they go to a controller? Do they go to a CFO? If I’ve got three or four units and, you know, I’ve got a good bookkeeper. We’re kind of getting our stuff in; it’s all working fine. What’s kind of the next level from your opinion?
I would say I was in the minority, but we actually had at seven locations audited financials, and we knew at some point we were going to exit the business.
What did it cost, $30 or $40,000?
It was $50,000 just to get audited financials the first time, so it was not… I mean you talk about $50,000. That’s a person! But, we also knew that whether we were going to take on a partner and keep growing or we’re going to get out, that it was going to be extremely easy for someone to come in and go, “Okay, you have audited financials. We know what you’re telling us is correct!” And it made our due diligence process super easy. So I think it depends on what your strategy is, but I would tell you to pay for someone in finance and to challenge you is a good position to have, and so I would say, you know, if you’re doing a million in sales, even a half a million, you know, in you open up two or three sites, that probably justifies, you know, a nice maybe junior, maybe senior accountant, or a controller. I don’t know that you have to have a CFO, but if you start going five or more locations, and multi states ,you better have someone that understands finance because we had major differences in tax law in Oklahoma than we did in Texas. So we had a really pretty powerful accounting firm, you know, distinguishing all the different things, so when you’re growing a multi-state chain, you better, you know, think about a strong accounting department!
Yeah, listen, I’m an entrepreneur, like total ADD, like I’m all over the map, I’m 100 miles an hour…
I’m exactly the same.
And I know I pair very well with CFOs. My partner, Darren Skarecky, was CFO for Mr. Car Wash. We launched Bill Car Wash. We’re launching Luv Car Wash together, and I work super well with him. I’ve got, some of my best friends are CFOs, so for me, you know, I pair very well because I noticed a blind spot for me. It’s not my strength, and I think a lot of owner operators are like that where getting the books done by bookkeeper is great, but that’s just the minimum opening the door in my opinion, right? I think as you’re growing, you really need to know where your money is going, where your soft points in terms of your finances of your existing operation, and then how to best utilize the money, so I think it is interesting. And I have people ask me quite a bit: Should I get a controller? Should I… You know, I don’t know if I can afford a real CFO? And a lot of times there are controllers that are really good and have been doing that for a while that kind of want to move to the next level. So I think that’s an opportunity maybe we can give somebody the right title, but they’ve got you know, seven or eight years of experience on being controllers. Any thoughts on that?
I think there’s even… you know, if you’re… It depends on what scale you’re at, obviously. If you’re at five and growing quickly and aggressively, that’s, you know, probably somebody under your roof, but if you’re a, you know, one to four unit guy, and you know your weak point is finance… And I’ll tell you, you’ll know if you look at a P&L on your… and a balance sheet, and you don’t know what I’m talking about, then that’s your weak point. I had so much of that from my IBM days that I always felt like I was pretty strong in finance. Did I enjoy accounting in college? Heck, no. So you’re right! I’m right there with you. Pairing well with a CFO that I can trust was always super great, but there are firms out there that do shareed resources.
Shared resources is another way to go. I think, you know, that’s… there are some groups out there where you can, you know… You get a good controller on, and then what they’re doing is you [are] maybe on a monthly or quarterly basis doing a review with the CFO. We use RSM, so they’re a big firm, and they’re actually doing all of our kind of back office accounting type work. And then there’s a CFO, a guy named Mike Pitney, who we work with, and he gives us a lot of advisory and, you know, help as well. So I think that there are a lot of resources; you don’t always have to go and hire that full time person. You know, and I think once you get to 10 / 12 units. You’re doing $15 to $20 million of top line, is probably a time where you really want to…
Yeah, you need a CFO, an HR director…
You need somebody on staff…
A Training Manager…. You’re going to have a corporate office somewhere where it feels like a normal, you know, company office where people come into the office every day. But you know, I know the concern of every entrepreneur getting started is I don’t have $1 to spend. Right? I agree. You’re right…
It’s an investment!
It is! That’s it. That’s where the shared stuff comes in…
Yeah, and most… And as an entrepreneur, I’ll tell you, we think we can do it all.
And I’m an MBA, right? I tell people I’m a mile wide and an inch deep. Yeah, my wife is a math PhD from Georgia Tech. She is one inch wide. But she has a mile deep. And so, there’s a time and a place for my skill set. And then you need to bring in those sharpshooters that can really kind of fill some of those voids and really make sure that you are… that your business has got the right foundation because scaling is all about the foundation.
Right? And I think it doesn’t seem as hard if you have the right players in the field! If you’re stressed out, and you can’t sleep at night, and you feel like, you know, the snowball is coming down the hill, then that’s the sign in the entrepreneur’s brain that you need to probably hire some good people. And that’s kind of how I started out I was like, just… I don’t even… I’m there Saturday and Sunday and Monday night. And so when you started hiring good people, that’s when… It’s different challenges, but it’s a whole lot more fun when you’ve got a good team on the field.
Well Brad, this has been awesome. Tell people how they can get a hold of you. I’m sure some of our listeners are like… would love to maybe pick your brain on some stuff. How would they get in touch with you?
Yeah, so look up Amplify Car Wash Services; you’ll find me on the homepage, and on LinkedIn, obviously, I’ve got a LinkedIn profile. But certainly, if you have car wash questions, or you’re struggling with what to do next, or maybe this is a time you know where you’re looking to grow and bring on a good partner, certainly reach out to us. You know, between Beaumart and myself, we can take care of you.
Awesome. Well, it’s been great having you, everybody that was Episode Three of Scaling Car Washes podcast. I’m JT Thompson, your host. Thanks for joining us. Leave us a review. Give us a rating subscribe, see us in a couple of weeks. Thanks, everybody.
Thanks for listening to today’s episode of the Scaling Car Washes podcast. Please subscribe to stay current with all of our episodes coming up. Thanks and I’m JT Thompson, your host.