35 Years and Counting
Sheldon Grossman knows what he likes. And when he finds it he keeps it.
He has owned and operated Bixby Knolls Car Wash for the past 35 years with his other love, his wife Shell. The couple have been married for 34 years and after just one conversation with them you can tell they both share the same two passions: each other and car washing.
Sheldon bought his first wash back in 1966. He sold that wash three years later and began expanding his holdings and ended up with three washes. Eventually he decided to downsize and dedicate himself to just his Bixby Knolls, Long Beach, CA location.
With just one site to devote their attention to, Sheldon and Shell turned Bixby Knolls into the class of Southern California. “In this economy people complain about not making ends meet,” Sheldon says. “We have never had a problem with that. We provide a quality service that people are willing to pay for.”
Not only are people willing to pay for Bixby’s hand-wash service, they are willing to travel to do so. As more and more washes in the area move away from hand washing toward an automated model, Bixby has seen a spike in its car counts.
“They seem to be coming from farther and farther away, Sheldon says. “For the most part full-serve customers are only going to go so far. We are the exception. We have a lot of people that come from quite a distance.”
What they are coming for is an eye-catching complex that sports full serve, self serve, and express and full-service detailing. When Sheldon opened the wash 35 years ago the location was strictly full service. After five years Sheldon added six bays of self-service to the property.
The combination is rare in Southern California — only a handful of washes in the region feature both full serve and self serve on the same property.
“When I first built the self-serve bays people thought I was nuts,” Sheldon says. “But it is an entirely different clientele and it really works beautifully.”
According to Sheldon, the self-serve bays cater to three different groups of customers: those that enjoy washing their own cars; those that can’t afford the full-serve wash; and what he describes as the “Porsche owners,” customers who don’t want anyone to touch their cars.
Sheldon charges $2 for 4 minutes in the self-serve bay, and the bays are open 24/7, helping keep the profits rolling in once the tunnel closes for the day. On the rare occasion that the equipment in the tunnel needs to be serviced, the Bixby crew washes their full-serve customers’ cars in the self-serve bays, adding an additional benefit to the bays.
Although Bixby is a hand-wash location, there is plenty of automation in the tunnel. The full-serve cleaning process begins with pressure gun pre-treatment on extremely dirty vehicles; then the car is conveyed through a pre-soak arch; next up is the meat and potatoes of the process, the hand washing; following the hand mitting it is off to the rocker panel brushes; arches for the various waxes and polishes and final rinse are next; rounding out the service are the low-horsepower dryers.
“We are a hand wash,” Sheldon says. “We do have the one brush and lots of automation, but we have never had a customer complaint.”
Express detailing, especially the express hand wax, is increasingly popular at Bixby. The $45 express wax is perfect for customers whose paint finishes aren’t too badly oxidized. Employees look over the vehicle before the service begins to make sure the car is a good candidate for the service and to manage the customer’s expectations. If the car is in need of a little more attention, the customer is informed about Bixby’s full-service detailing.
Over the years Sheldon has found numerous ways to keep motivated, from expanding his offerings to monitoring car counts. What keeps the veteran car washer driven now is the successful and growing detail center. The center is the biggest detail operation in the greater Los Angeles areas, with customers once again traveling beyond the standard to frequent the business.
It is not just Bixby’s offerings and size that keep customers coming back, it is the customer experience and service.
The Grossmans are dedicated to quality customer service and train every employee on the finer points of the Bixby experience. “To be successful in the car wash business first of course you have to turn out a clean car,” Sheldon says. “We assume that everybody can or does do that. The one factor that we push is our friendliness, it is such
a big thing with us and what sets us apart.”
Shell handles human resources and employee training at the wash. “We used to have the managers train the employees,” she says. “Now we handle it. The managers have so many other things to worry about and training is such an important part of the business.
“We train our employees to exceed the customer’s expectations. We try to give them the best value for their money, which includes our employees’ friendliness.”
Like much of Southern California, Bixby employs a large number of Spanish-speaking workers. As such all of the training material is available in both English and Spanish and all workers are taught to greet and interact with customers in both languages. Nothing makes a customer feel welcome like a warm smile and a “good morning” or “buenas dias.”
To help build employee morale and drill home the importance of quality customer relations, the Grossmans often take the staff out to dinner where the employees are treated to a free meal with a side of staff training.
The staff appreciates the Grossmans’ dedication to them and the business, evidenced by the long tenures many of the employees have had at the wash. Bixby has quite a few employees with over 20 years of service and one with almost as much as the owners.
The site manager Ramon Paz has been with the Grossmans for over 33 years and was recently named Manager of the Year by the Western Carwash Association.
Sheldon has been involved with the Western as a board member for years, and is also a former board member at the ICA. In addition to his involvement in car wash organizations, Sheldon is also a member of the Chamber of Commerce and the Bixby Knolls Business Improvement Association.
With such dedication to each other, their employees, and the industry it is no wonder the Grossmans have been successful in this business for three and a half decades.
As the oldest running full-service location in Southern California, the Grossmans have every right to be proud of Bixby Knolls Car Wash. With a loyal customer base and a dedication to friendly, convenient, and quality service the couple could very well keep their doors open for another 35 years.