car wash business booms
OXNARD - Tom field was less than enthusiastic when his friend came to him one day with a proposal to join him in his fledgling portable car wash business.
Field, who was already making an "okay" living as a commercial painting contractor, said he wasn't too enthralled by the idea of washing cars for a living.
"I said, 'Hey, I'm 31 years old, dude - I don't want to wash cars,'" Field recalled.
But his friend, Lance Winslow, persisted, and Field said one day he finally agreed to give it a try.
"By the end of the first day, it was great," said Field. "It was just like Lance said it was going to be. We washed about 70 or 80 cars that day, and we made about $300 or $400. It was plenty of money for one day, and it was low pressure."
Since Field joined the firm in April 1991, it ha grown from six trucks, servicing six Ventura County cities, to 48 tucks in three counties, according to the two partners, who make up The Car Wash Guys.
The business operates by going to the homes or businesses of customers and using truck-mounted compressor equipment to wash their cars.
The two had big plans from the outset, said Field.
"We would get together every night," he said. "Or else, I would get a call at 2 o'clock in the morning, and I would say, "that's Lance."
They were aware they were taking a risk starting a business during a recession, but decided to go ahead anyway, said Winslow.
"We said, 'forget the recession, we're not going to participate,'" said Winslow. "We're out here to do something. We don't care what the recession is going. We're going to make money."
Winslow, a hyperactive type, is continually hustling up business. During this interview, part of which was conducted outside the newspaper office, Winslow observed a young woman standing on the balcony of a nearby business.
"Hey, do you want us to do your car?" Winslow shouted up to her. "It's only five dollars."
Field said Winslow's enthusiasm at first presented problems for him.
"I was only one person, but Lance was saying, 'Hey, we gotta go here. We gotta go there,'" Field said. "I said 'Hey, Lance, I'm only one person. Don't tell me to go anywhere, anymore.
"Lance works seven days a week. He lives and breathes car washes. Me, I have a little more leisure time. I work hard, but I make time to play a little, too."
The two say that each partner brings an essential ingredient to the business: Winslow, 28, provides boundless energy and gung ho enthusiasm, while Field brings a cautious nature that always prompts him to carefully weigh the risks versus benefits of any idea before trying it.
"I'm more sales-oriented, but Tom is more: 'Let's look at it first, and see what can go wrong,'" said Winslow.
Winslow says that more than anything, Field has provided "structure" to the business which evolved from an informal airplane washing business Winslow operated as a youth.
Before Field came in, Winslow said, "It was like: how much money am I going to make today. I made every mistake you could make in this business. I borrowed too much. I tried to get too bit too quick. I hired too many employees without the benefit of having structure."
Employees are actually subcontractors, who "rent an area and own their own business," said Winslow.
"So they care," he added. "Our turnover is nothing at all. If someone gets turned over, it means we don't want them."
The two have benefited from the fact that their car-washing process uses just 2.4 gallons of water per car, compared with 76 gallons for traditional methods, said Winslow. Those statistics have won praise from those concerned about conserving water, including city officials in drought-plagued Santa Barbara.
The conservation angle has helped the business expand in that city, Winslow said.
"As soon as I got to Santa Barbara, it was a cinch, because the mayor and his staff, they endorsed our product, because of the water."
The business has grown in part because the two spend a lot of time doing fundraisers for organizations in Ventura county, said Winslow. By coincidence, many of the people connected to those non-profit organizations work in the San Fernando Valley, where The Car Wash Guys is trying to make inroads.
Now, when they go into San Fernando establishments looking for business, "twenty percent of the people already knew who we were when we walk in," said Winslow.
But their success ha earned them the wrath of established car washes, which fear the competition, according to Winslow.
"They were going after us," he said. "They would walk into a building and tell them how terrible we were."
An association representing car washes is attempting to pass laws that would prevent them from operating, said Field.
"They are trying to outlaw car washing at home," he said. "They are trying to outlaw everything."
Reprinted from Press-Courier, August 2, 1992.