A Washing Machine

By Valerie Vinyard –

Mister Car Wash is Soaking the Competition

John Lai envisions Mister Car Wash becoming the Starbucks of car washes.

“We see unlimited potential,” said Lai, the CEO who sees the Tucson-based company growing to 1,000 locations nationwide. “It’s all about growth right now.”

And it’s well on its way. As the largest car wash company in the United States, Mister Car Wash employs more than 8,000 people at 236 locations scattered throughout the country, including 14 full-service and express sites in Tucson, plus one in Sierra Vista. A former Royal Car Wash at 4600 E. Broadway opened as a full-service Mister Car Wash in May.

Mister Car Wash entered the Tucson market in 2000 when its Boston-based ownership group was struggling. Tucson-based Blue Coral Systems agreed to take over if the headquarters was moved to Tucson. More than 700 employees are in Tucson, including 120 at the corporate office.

One sunny afternoon in April, the employees of Mister Car Wash on East Speedway were hard at work cleaning some of the estimated 105,000 cars that are washed each month at Tucson area locations.

Joe Lamarilla pulled up his white Honda Accord to one of the open lanes, where a friendly employee found out what type of service he wanted. After getting a receipt, Lamarilla left his car and made his way to the dog-friendly indoor/outdoor waiting area.

For the next 15 minutes, his vehicle was in Mister Car Wash’s capable hands.

First, two people thoroughly vacuumed the inside floors and seats. After that, an employee drove the vehicle to an automated car wash. As it came off the line, teams of two each took a side, using towels to soak up any leftover droplets that the blower missed.

An employee then drove the car to the finishing crew, where two more workers finished hand-drying the outside and started tackling the inside. A thorough dusting of the dashboard and other surfaces ensued, and the inside of the windows – including the moon roof – were polished. Ten fresh towels are used for every full-serve wash, four for every express.

When the service was done, an employee called out the make and model of the vehicle. After dropping a couple of bucks in the tip container, Lamarilla walked over and handed his receipt to an employee, who encouraged him to check over his car to make sure it was finished to his liking.

It was and Lamarilla was happy.

“My car looks good,” said the 39-year-old engineer. “I’ve never had such a nice experience at a car wash.”

Lai likes hearing reports like that since customer service stands out in Mister Car Wash’s “people-first culture.”

Ron Stewart, who never imagined a career in car washing, loves his job as the GM of the Speedway location. He stayed on after Capin Car Wash was acquired by Mister Car Wash in early 2012.

“We’re in the customer service business,” he said. “We just happen to be washing cars.”

Lai said there’s actually a lot behind “washing cars.”

“The science behind cleaning is intense,” he said. “There’s a technique to box and fill and frame the window. There’s even a method for how to hold the towel and how to fold the towel. I call it a choreographed dance.”

To learn the science, the company offers a college for its employees – Mister Car Wash University. Lai said the training videos and other opportunities “allow us to improve and be more consistent.”

Michael Osuna, GM of the Miracle Mile location, has taken advantage of the in-depth training.

“There’s a lot of opportunity,” said Osuna, 27. “They give you the tools to succeed. They’ve opened my eyes to be more of a businessman.”

Mister Car Wash customers also have something not available at many car washes – an unlimited option.

More than 400,000 people nationwide pay a monthly fee for unlimited washes, including 15,000 in Tucson. Prices in Tucson range from the $19.99 Express exterior wash to the $49.99 Full Serve Platinum.

Some people might see car washes as a wasteful extravagance in the desert, but the service uses less water than some might think. Plus, Mister Car Wash recycles about 14 to 15 gallons per vehicle using three underground tanks that filter the water.

As Mister Car Wash grows at a clip of over 25 percent year over year, Lai said the Tucson headquarters is “bursting at the seams.”

To create more corporate space, Mister Car Wash bought the recently vacated DeWitt Designs location, a 25,000-square-foot building at 415 N. Sixth Ave. Renovations should be done by December, Lai said. The company also will keep the original corporate office at 222 E. Fifth St.

“There’s a car culture to America,” Lai said. “The car, to many Americans, is more than just transportation. People have this connection to their vehicle and, as a result, people want to care for it.

“Plus, it makes you feel good.”

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