If you want to learn to fly, you need to strap yourself into the cockpit and man the controls. Sure, you can prepare yourself by reading manuals and training on simulators, but you will never learn to be a pilot on the ground. You have to take to the air.
The average Wild Blue Car Wash sits on an acre of land.
The Wild Blue logo as landscape art.
The tunnel exit.
The Colorado Springs community is home to five military installations.
Plenty of free vacuums are available.
The well-appointed tunnel features an abundance of natural light.
The automated teller stations.
Wild Blue typically has three employees on site.
When David Begin was planning his car wash journey he had the same thoughts as most people unfamiliar with the inner working of the industry. He believed owning a car wash would be a nice passive income and afford him mountains of free time. But once he was behind the controls of his first wash he realized there was much more to car wash ownership than meets the eye.
“I actually thought car washing would be a hands-off business,” Begin says. “I realized really quickly it was not. There is a perception in the marketplace that car washing is a passive business investment. But if you are doing exterior express or anything beyond that it certainly is not.”
Before entering the car wash industry, Begin worked in corporate America in software sales and software sales training. It was rewarding work, but it required a lot of travel and Begin wanted to spend more time at home with his family. The budding entrepreneur began exploring various business options before he and his partners settled on car washing.
They built their first Wild Blue Car Wash in Colorado Springs, CO in 2006, opting for the express exterior model with free vacuums. Two years later, they build their second location just 10 minutes from the site of their first store.
“Ten years ago express exterior was the up-and-coming concept,” he says of the decision to opt for the format. “It sounded like a good idea because it was easier. You didn’t have that large labor component. And there wasn’t many exterior expresses in Colorado at the time.”
While the express concept doesn’t rely heavily on labor to produce clean, shiny cars, it does require some staffing which can be difficult to manage for new investors unaccustomed to the role.
“I hadn’t really been a manager at this level,” Begin says. “There were a lot of things that I was learning and it took me a while to ramp up. I was used to working by myself. Now I had employees and had to become more of a manager. Those were skills that I didn’t have. It took me a while to develop those skills and understand what motivates the people that work at the car wash.”
Not only did Begin develop those skills, he evolved from an industry newbie into one of its most recognizable leaders. The 13-year car wash veteran served as the president of the International Carwash Association (ICA) and hosts a weekly car wash podcast, sharing his unique insights on the industry.
Begin was invited to be a member of the ICA’s executive committee in 2016, serving a year as its treasurer. In 2017, he transitioned to the president’s chair and finally in 2018 he served a year as the former president of the industry’s largest and most prestigious trade organization.
“Being on the ICA board was one of the best experiences I have had professionally,” Begin says. “It gave me access to a ton of great people in the industry. I got to know so many great operators from around the world.
“It made me such a better operator. I was around some of the very best in the industry and got a keen idea of where the industry was headed. I learned from some of the best leaders and was able to make a contribution on the board. It was a really good experience for me.”
As a member of the ICA’s executive committee Begin broadened his horizons and gained valuable insight into the inner workings of the industry. Insight that he shares with the listeners of his weekly podcast, “The How of Carwashing.” The podcast is available on iTunes, Stitcher, and thehowofcarwashing.com.
The on-demand talk show focuses on everything car washing — labor, equipment, marketing, business management, and more. Begin shares his car wash experiences as well as interviews industry and business leaders who provide unique insights on a variety of topics.
“It is specifically geared toward the professional car wash owner, operator, or manager,” Begin says of his podcast. “I am a big podcast fan and there was a gap there for car washing. I figured I could fill it. I have different people on the show, bankers, accountants, manufacturers, etc. We try to be both educational and motivational.”
In addition to his popular podcast and his involvement with the ICA board, Begin keeps himself busy managing his two Colorado Springs washes and the newest Wild Blue location in Aurora, CO in the Denver suburbs.
Begin opened his third Wild Blue in March 2018, a decade after the unveiling of his second. During that 10-year gap in expansion, Begin’s experience and knowledge grew exponentially, making it possible for him to operate a wash over an hour away from his Colorado Springs headquarters.
“It took me a lot of time and energy to figure out how to successfully run a car wash,” Begin says of the long stretch between the opening of his second and third locations. “We probably waited a little too long to come up with our next one but that is okay.”
The Aurora site has plenty in common with its Colorado Springs siblings. It features auto tellers, a well-appointed express tunnel, and plenty of free vacuums that are open to the public. Begin doesn’t restrict the use of his vacuums to paying customers. As long as the site isn’t overly busy and there isn’t a line of cars waiting for their turn at the vacs, the general public is welcome to stop in and make use of the facilities.
It is that sense of community that sets Wild Blue apart from the competition. The wash is active in its community, hosting various fundraising events during the summer months to help the local high school’s athletic teams and clubs raise much needed cash.
“Our fundraising in the summertime has been a pretty big part of our marketing efforts,” Begin says. “The teams and clubs can take over the site on a Saturday afternoon and we split all the revenue with them. We encourage them to bring as many people as they can with them. They are able to dry and vacuum vehicles for tips to earn even more money for their organizations.”
During his time in the industry Begin has learned how to not only own and operate a site, but how to connect with his local and extended car wash community. He has learned by doing, and is now sailing above the clouds as one of the industry’s highest flyers.