Profile in Success - November 2002

Love of Cars Drives Wash Succes
By Jim and Elaine Norland

Westside Brushless Car Wash has a message for you.

If Victor Giangrant weren't in the car wash business himself, he'd be high up on other operators' speed-dial, a "go-to" guy in case of breakdowns or emergencies. He knows construction and mechanics like few others.

His professional plumbing and electrical skills, his own energy and his lifelong love of cars all contribute to the smooth operation and success of his own wash, Westside Brushless Car Wash, in Dover, DE.
The 21-year-old enterprise at 805 Forest Street has been voted best car wash five years in a row by
consumers in Kent and Sussex counties (two of the state's three counties). This year Giangrant was honored as Small-Business Person of the Year by the Central Delaware Chamber of Commerce, and recognized by the state's governor and senate.

His 30-some employees might come up with similar accolades. Eight of them live in three houses adjoining the wash, buildings that Giangrant bought and planned to tear down to build an oil change facility until one, then others, asked him if they could live there. "I didn't have the heart to ask them to leave," he says.

Vic outside the exit side of the wash. Note the "big top" umbrella and the brick patio to the right of the tunnel exit.

He buys them lunch every day, too. If the wash is really busy, Vic even lets them choose what they want that day. He holds monthly meetings and asks their opinions on, say, whether to open on certain holidays if there's been a run of rainy days beforehand.

His concern for employees is seen also in the "big top" shade at the exit of his full-service tunnel wash. Three years ago, Giangrant bought "one of the biggest umbrellas you've ever seen," to protect employees (and customer cars) from the hot summer sun. Underneath that big top, temperatures are 15 degrees cooler.

"It's the little things I do for my employees that makes them happy. I'm not a rocket scientist, but I know that if your help is happy, your customers are going to be happy."

Leading his crew by example, Giangrant is a hands-on participant in wash operations. "I vacuum, I prep, I drive them out, I towel them dry, and I kiss customers goodbye," he says. "I do it all. I just have to! It's just me."

The Westside crew responds with dedication and loyalty. Rob Kish, the manager, has been with Giangrant for about ten years. Other long-time employees include brothers Mike and Roger Pritchett; Paul Reimer, a seven-year veteran of the wash; Greg Smith, five years; and Jason Hawks, a Westside employee for three years.

Another employee who shuns both title and authority but works energetically on the wash line every day is Ronnie Clark, with some 20 years experience in the car wash industry. "He's phenomenal," Giangrant says of the 61-year-old Clark; "he's here ever morning 90 minutes before we open."

Giangrant believes his own hands-on involvement in his car wash and detail business every day contributes to the success of Westside. His personal role is complemented by that of his wife, Lynn. "She's my right hand," Victor Giangrant says. "She does all the payroll, all the books. When I won the award (as Central Delaware Chamber of Commerce Small-Business Person of the Year), I told her, 'Half of it is yours, Honey.'"

The couple's three teenage sons are involved in the business, too. The oldest, 18, is handicapped but comes with a couple of his classmates and their coach to clean up the yard, sweep the lobby and do the windows at Westside. "I try to help the special kids out as much as I can," Giangrant says. The younger sons, 15 and 16 years old, also work at the wash site. "I try to get them involved in the business," he says.

This car wash owner obviously loves cars. The seating inside the Westside Brushless Car Wash lobby includes three "car chairs," one made from the back of a '51 Mercury and another from a '65 AC Cobra.

Giangrant's collection of over 200 1/18-scale model cars lines shelves surrounding the lobby and hallway of the wash. With so much car memorabilia to enjoy, customers are never bored while waiting for their own vehicles.

He started buying and selling cars while still in high school, trading so often he was forced to take out a dealer's license. He still deals, most often with exotic or unusual cars that he buys, nurtures, drives, and eventually sells, one at a time right from his site. For example, he recently bought and is driving an Acura NSX, a hand-built model of which only 150 were imported to the US. When he tires of it, he'll sell it and buy something else at auction. In past years, Giangrant has also restored vintage vehicles.

It seems that Giangrant and his crew lavish the same kind of attention on customers' cars. The one-acre site on which Westside Brushless Car Wash is located also houses a detail operation. Customers can choose from full detail or a la carte services ranging from a regular hand wax and polish to quick cleanup of a spill on upholstery and carpet.

The detail crew is fully interchangeable with the wash crew, so Giangrant and his key personnel can allocate people as needed. In fact, he prefers that any new hire be a detailer. "They make the best cleaners. When they cross over to the car wash I tell them this is detailing at high speed. And that's true."
"I look at the detail shop as a convenience for my customers," Giangrant comments. "It's tough to make a living detailing, but I keep it there for my wash customers. They want their interiors cleaned, their cars waxed, scratches and spots removed. Some want Lexol or Rain-X treatment; anything they want, they get," but he doesn't do any glass repair or body work, as some detail shops do.

The wash began as an exterior-only operation in 1981, and operated that way for ten years. "I couldn't make a living on exteriors; we just weren't making ends meet." He converted to a full-service tunnel wash and "it started to click," Giangrant says.

Westside's 6,000-square-foot A-frame building houses the 100-foot Hanna conveyor, its length augmented by a 10-foot front awning. Giangrant presently has Sherman mitters and a Protovest Untouchable dryer as part of his equipment. "This is our second conveyor and the third chain on that, and our third blower."

Once again, he's getting ready to replace equipment, somewhat reluctantly. "That Sherman stuff works so good, it's just hard for me to let go." Giangrant's skills as a plumber and electrician undoubtedly help keep his machines running smoothly.

Rather than buy any one manufacturer's complete equipment package or any one chemical-supply line, Giangrant studies and shops constantly for better options. "I go to the trade shows (he's a longtime member of the International Car Wash Association), I go to other washes and see what they're using. I take what I like."

He admits to "always trying something new" in chemicals, too. "I keep a very open mind. I'll try anything once." His present arsenal of cleaning products includes Blue Coral, Ardex, Simoniz, Armor All, and Lexol.

Customer comfort isn't neglected at Westside Brushless Car Wash, either. In addition to complimentary coffee and lollipops for children, Giangrant provides attractive surroundings for his customers. Big
potted plants are "everywhere," he says, and there is a brick patio on the exit end of the wash with comfortable patio furniture. A rock garden features a wide variety of plants, while Old Glory waves in the breeze outside.

The blue roof and blue-and-white exterior of Westside Brushless Car Wash harmonizes with the blue T-shirts and optional blue hats worn by employees. Signage includes two on Division Street and one on Forest Street, plus a marquee that is changed frequently to display an eye-catching message.

Giangrant has held prices steady in recent years. His economy wash costs $7, full service $8, wash and wax $10. The "Works" package is $14." All vinyl and rubber treatments as well as Lexol are priced on an a la carte basis.

Those prices attract a wide range of vehicles and their owners. "We get hot rods, we get '57 Ford Thunderbird convertibles, brand new Mercedes, Porches, Corvettes; we do them all," says Giangrant. His average revenue through the wash is about $10 per car.

A combination of coupons and specials keeps individual customers coming to Westside. Giangrant
uses newspaper coupons, and has special day promotions such as Ladies' Day, Men's Day, and Seniors' Day, which he advertises prominently on his marquee. In wintertime, he offers a Salty Dog
Special to attract motorists.

He sponsors all kinds of sports, especially kids' teams. He also contributes wash tickets to church and other community fund-raising events.

Westside gets plenty of fleet and commercial business, too. Playtex is down the street from the wash. "They buy hundreds of wash tickets and give them to their employees as incentives," Giangrant reports. "We do detailing for the City of Dover Police Department, too." That latter job can sometimes involve very difficult cleanups, he says.

Real estate agents are big customers at Westside. "They want their car looking clean all the time. They're in here two or three times a week so their cars always look good when they're showing properties."
Beyond the "best car wash" accolades it has earned five years in a row, Westside's skill in car cleaning shines through for such critical
customers.

Jim and Elaine Norland are regular contributors to Auto Laundry News.

Teaching by Example

Victor Giangrant believes so strongly in car care and personal enterprise that he teaches it with a unique show-and-tell model.

The first year he won the "Best Car Wash in Delaware" honor, he built a 1/24-scale model of his entire car wash and detail shop. He now displays it at trade shows and at the mall and takes it to area schools as he gives seminars on business and entrepreneurship.

The model, mounted on a 4-foot-by-8-foot sheet of plywood, is finely detailed. It shows all the equipment of the wash, with employees shown performing each function, customers watching through the lobby windows, and cars waiting in line, "a typical day at the car wash," as Giangrant describes it.
He speaks to other groups about car care, too. He is a Boy Scout assistant scoutmaster and teaches scouts about auto mechanics, a subject he knows well. Meetings are held both at Westside Brushless Car Wash and at the regular scout meeting location, qualifying his young students for an auto mechanics merit badge.

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