Pulling Out of the Driveway
Much of the nation has embraced the concept of professional car washing as a safe, affordable, and convenient way to keep their vehicles clean. There are, however, plenty of communities where washing cars at home is still the preferred mode of automobile cleaning. Antioch, California is one of those places.
Despite the existence of two other washes within a short distance of their Pinky’s Klassy Kar Wash, Dave and Juan Olsen believe that their greatest competition is the driveway washer and charity parking lot washes.
Many in the community believe that professional car washing is a waste of money and prefer to wash their vehicles themselves in their driveways or in the street. In addition to the home washes, many churches in the community rely on charity lot washes for their fundraising efforts. Oftentimes, charity washes are the churches’ biggest and most successful fund-raising effort.
Everyone in the industry is aware of the environmental strain home washing causes. To battle their biggest competition, the Olsens have an educational program in place to try to spread the word of the harm that home washing can cause and to help convert those home washers to loyal Klassy Kar customers.
Home washing is particularly harmful to the waterways in Antioch. The community sits right on the Sacramento River Delta and wastewater runoff can find its way into the delta quite easily. “If someone were to wash their car in the street in front of the wash the wastewater would be in the delta in 30 minutes or so,” Dave says.
The Olsens got a firsthand look at the potential harmful material that car washing can produce when they first took over the wash in 2008. While examining their new purchase, the couple noticed an offensive odor and tracked it down to the wastewater holding tank in the back of the wash. The tank was a primitive form of water recycling where the wastewater was pumped into the tank with water from the top of the tank being reused in the tunnel. Of course, on the bottom of the tank the settled solids were a sight, and the cause of the mysterious odor the couple had been searching for.
Since then Klassy Kar has received a new reclaim system from Con-Serv and an ozone generator to help improve the wash’s environmental footprint. Dave quickly found out that the sludge at the bottom of his old tanks was just shy of the environmental hazard level and was quite expensive to dispose of. Now the wash uses bacteria to process the sludge, making it safe to simply dispose of in the garbage.
Just as the Olsens were educated on the potential environmentally harmful materials any car wash produces, they have set out to educate the public about the dangers of home washing and the importance of washing vehicles at a professional wash facility. They keep a few jars of the old sludge on hand at the wash to show customers what exactly will be finding its way into the local waterways should they decide to wash at home. In addition, the couple visits the local Chamber of Commerce, Bass Fishermen’s Association, churches, and various other community organizations to spread the word about the harm of home washing.
“The church washes are the biggest offenders,” Dave says. “They have big charity events where they wash tons of cars in a day, producing lots of wastewater that has no where to go.”
In addition to educating the churches about the potential harm their fundraising efforts could inflict, the Olsens can offer a solution. Klassy Kar has a fundraising program at the wash. Local organizations are welcome to set up a booth in the lobby to spread the word on their cause and collect donations. In addition, the charities receive a portion of the wash proceeds.
For their efforts to keep the local waterways clean, the Olsens were awarded the Business Partner of the Year award from the Diablo Sanitation District. Although Dave affectionately calls the award the “Sewer Award,” he is proud of the honor and the hard work he and his wife have put in to earn it.
The Olsens are no stranger to awards. In just the five years they have been open they have received the “Sewer Award” and most recently the Small Business of the Year Award from the California State Assembly. Each member of the State Assembly is allowed to nominate one local business for an award and Assembly Member Jim Frazier chose Klassy Kar.
The assemblyman presides over a large geographic area that covers both sides of the river delta and up to just before the city of Sacramento. Frazier was not a customer of the wash but kept hearing positive word of mouth and was intrigued by the business. He lives just 10 miles away from Klassy Kar and stopped in for a wash before nominating the business and the positive words he had heard about the site were confirmed.
It is fitting that the assembly-man heard about the wash via word of mouth. Juan is in charge of the marketing efforts at the wash, having worked in marketing in big business before transitioning into the wash industry, and is a firm believer in the power of a satisfied customer.
“We don’t do much in the way of promotions,” Juan says. “We do a little on Facebook and buy a few ads in the local paper to help support them, but we primarily rely on good word of mouth.
“ When I see a new customer on the lot that I haven’t seen before I like to go over to them and introduce myself and make sure that they are pleased with the service they are receiving. I ask them that if they are happy to please tell their family and friends. We want them to feel like this is their car wash.”
The community-based marketing efforts have paid off. Despite opening up in 2008 at the start of the economic downturn, the wash has performed nicely. The hand wash’s car counts have been increasing steadily since the Olsens have taken over.
The wash was run by an absentee owner prior to the Olsens’ purchase and was in need of a serious sprucing up. The Olsens replaced all of the wash equipment in the 100-foot tunnel and switched to a flex-serve concept. All vacuuming is done prior to entering the tunnel. Although the wash is a 100-percent hand-wash facility there is still plenty of equipment in the tunnel for chemical application, rinsing, and drying. The tunnel may shortly see an influx of wash equipment as the Olsens are debating whether to introduce some mechanization into the wash process.
Dave would like to outfit the tunnel with full-serve mechanized wash equipment, but retain the ability to turn the extra equipment off and wash a car by hand should the car’s owner prefer an all hand-wash experience.
Whatever the future holds for Klassy Kar, the residents of Antioch can rest assured that they and their cars will be treated right — and encouraged to leave car washing to the professionals.