By their very nature car washes build intimate relationships with their communities. They are typically run by independent operators who live in and around the locales they serve, dedicated to building meaningful connections with their customers.
Every car at Carriage Car Wash is pretreated to get it as clean as possible.
The simple act of washing a customer’s car helps facilitate that bond. Drivers have innate connections with their automobiles and allowing a wash and its employees access to their personal space requires a high level of trust.
While all washes thrive on their ability to build strong and meaningful relationships with their customers, the industry’s most successful have community service ingrained in their DNA. Carriage Car Wash is one of those businesses.
Over the past three-plus decades, Ron Brown has dedicated himself to serving the community he calls home. Brown was born and raised in Eureka, CA, and has owned and operated Carriage Car Wash in his home town for more than 30 years.
“Our customers are just great,” Brown says. “This community has done so much for each other. It is real easy to be part of this community.”
A simple, yet key aspect to Carriage’s intimate connection with the Eureka community is engrained in its business model. While many express exterior washes have adopted a hands-off approach, with limited and sometimes no labor onsite to assist customers, Carriage has gone in a different direction.
Despite the availability of automation equipment that can eliminate labor from the express concept, Carriage continues to prep each car by hand and provide a labor intensive towel dry at the tunnel exit.
“We are the only exterior wash in this market that still towel dries and we have always towel dried,” Brown says. “We started off towel drying when this place was built 30 years ago. That little touch helped set us apart in the beginning and it continues to set us apart today.”
The four self-serve bays cater to the do-it-myself set.
The Belanger - equipped tunnel.
Owner Ron Brown and his wife Cheryl always give back to the community they love.
Carriage Car Wash cleans all Eureka police vehicles free of charge.
The Redding, CA Carriage Car Wash location.
While Carriage prides itself on the effectiveness of good old-fashioned elbow grease, labor costs are still a concern. While most of the industry has embraced the express exterior concept over the past 10 to 15 years as a way to keep labor costs in line, Carriage was on the forefront of the trend when it broke ground more than 30 years ago.
Eureka is a small town with less than 30,000 residents and Brown and his partners didn’t believe that the small population would be able to support a full-service wash.
In addition, the community is situated right on the coast and endures a lengthy rainy season. If the wash was a full-service location it would need to employ a full-service staff year-round, even during the slow months, which would have made operational costs unsustainable.
While Carriage employs far less than a typical full-service wash, it is committed to providing hands-on service for its customers. The wash has four workers onsite during its 8 am to 6 pm hours of operation, with a fifth added during busy Fridays and Saturdays. In addition, Brown is onsite every day working the line alongside his staff ensuring every car gets as clean as possible and further solidifying Carriage as a vital member of its community.
“To have a successful operation you need to have an owner that is invested,” says Brown. “I have tried taking a step back and not washing cars myself, but no matter how good your employees are, and mine are great, people tend to overlook things if they aren’t supervised.
“We over prep cars here. I’ve had customers come in with a clean car which doesn’t need all the prep work upfront and then at the other end the customer wonders why we didn’t wash their car. We have created our own monster, but we are still able to process around 30 cars an hour. ”
In addition to its commitment to a personalized, hands-on experience, Carriage further connects with the local community through various philanthropic pursuits. Carriage is dedicated to supporting first responders and washes all of Eureka’s police vehicles free of charge. In addition, every year the wash donates to the New York City Fire Department in remembrance of 9/11.
“The fire department is free to use the money anyway they see fit — with one caveat,” Brown says. “The money is not for the general fund. It is to be used to support firefighters. This year they put it towards the fallen firefighters’ foundation.”
Last year Northern California was ravaged by massive wild fires that decimated entire communities, leaving many homeless and without a possession to their names. In response, Carriage’s recently renovated second location in Redding offered free car washes to the community for 10 days. That little act of kindness not only allowed customers to get their cars clean, but let them know that Carriage cares for them and is there to support them in anyway its can during their recovery.
The monument sign features an old school clock at the top.
And it was not just Brown that supported the victims of the Paradise Fire, but the wash’s employees as well. Every year Brown gives his employees turkeys for Thanksgiving as a thank you for the hard work they put in throughout the year. This year the employees asked Brown to forgo their traditional turkey gift and instead donate what he would have spent on the birds to the fire victims.
In addition, Carriage donated all of the proceeds from a one-day charity wash to the recovery efforts. With a donation bucket situated out front, and all employees donating their tips that day to the cause, the wash was able to donate nearly $5,000 to the victims of the disastrous fire.
Just like the Eureka location, Brown and his partners have been operating Carriage’s Redding location for years. The site recently underwent a massive equipment upgrade. The entire tunnel was gutted and all-new Belanger equipment installed, including a state-of-the-art blower array that has cars coming out of the tunnel nearly perfectly dry. Although staff is still on hand to provide a final exterior wipe down for that personalized service they have come to expect.
Car washes are community businesses — they are owned, operated, and staffed by members of those communities. The most successful among them embrace the community aspect of their operations. Carriage Car Wash in Northern California has community involvement and service engrained in its DNA and is constantly looking for ways to support the community that supports them. Thanks to its commitment to its local community the wash has been thriving for more than 30 years, with no signs of slowing down.