Episode 9: With Derrick Merchant and Michael Murry of Champion Xpress Car Wash

About the Episode:

For business owners, recognizing that you can’t – and shouldn’t – do it all can be a humbling process. Bringing in other talented people to lead departments within your organization and intentionally developing your team from the executive level down, positions your company for meaningful growth.

In this episode Lanese talks with Derrick Merchant and Michael Murry of Champion Xpress Car Wash about why they prioritize developing their team as an integral part of their path to scalability and long-term success. Michael and Derrick share about how being humble, hungry, and smart all while having fun at work is important to their company culture.

Though building and maintaining a great team isn’t easy, knowing you are investing today in the future success of your company may put some of that hard work into perspective. Listen to this episode for insights on how laying the foundation of your company with a strong team, focus on operations, processes, and company culture positions you for growth and success.

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More about Derrick Merchant:

Derrick oversees all divisions of 7B Building & Development as well as the other Merchant Family Companies, including Champion Xpress Car Wash, serving as principal and CEO. With a business degree from Lubbock Christian University, Derrick gives credit to his father Chad for teaching him everything he knows about business and leadership over the last two decades.

When not in the office, Derrick spends his time with his wife and two sons, playing golf, hunting, and watching Texas Tech athletics. With a heart for service, you can often find Derrick at his church or serving on the board of various faith-based organizations in his community.

More about Michael Murry:

Michael is the CEO of Champion Xpress Carwash and oversees all business aspects of the company. He is passionate about building teams and enriching company culture. He achieved his MBA in 2016 from Park University and spent 14 years as a supplier in oil and gas where he eventually worked his way to General Manager of Klinger GPI.

When not in the office Michael loves spending time with his wife and daughter, and also enjoys golfing, traveling, and being involved in his local church.

Check out the full transcript below:

Lanese

Welcome to Car Wash M&A Episode Nine. Today we have guests on; we have Derrick Merchant. He is the principal and CEO of 7B Development out of Lubbock, Texas. And then we also have his co-worker, counterpart, Michael Murry. And Michael is the CEO of growing Champion Express Car Wash. So we’re really excited to have both of you gentlemen on today so we can talk about your entrance into the car wash industry and your path to where you are today, and then what you see for the future. Derrick, I’ll start with you. Can you give me a little bit of your background as far as what your role is, and what you were doing prior to being introduced to the car wash industry?

Derrick

Thanks, Lanese. Thanks for having us. This is my 12th year with 7B. My dad started the company in 2008. And if you know what 2008 was like, there weren’t a lot of jobs out there.

Lanese

Yes, it was right around the time I graduated college.

Derrick

Yeah, exactly. So 3000 bucks a month sounded awesome. From not making more than 500 bucks a month to 3000, I was ecstatic. And so I jumped in the family business. We went through a couple sales during that time period, one in 2019 to Zips. And it was at that point, when I was about nine years in, my dad wanted to go into more of a senior advisor role and asked me to take over and run the place. And so it was a huge honor for me at that time to do that. It gave me some vision that I needed. I was introduced, actually about that time, maybe a year before, we hired Michael’s wife, Heather Murry, as our CFO. And she really helped me understand what good culture and bad culture look like. She introduced me to a book called The Ideal Team Player, which is what I say this company is now built off of; that and the Bible. It really helped me start… We had, back when my dad was running the place, we just went to work. That was the mindset of all people. You just went to work, did your job, and you went home.

Lanese

Your job could include any and everything when you have that mindset, too. You’re the person that’s responsible.

Derrick

Exactly. And so my main focus coming in was building culture. And we had a very poor culture at that time, a very toxic work culture, and so we kind of had to shrink to grow. I’m very proud walking down the halls today. You’ll hear laughter. Our HR department is called TED, which is the Team Experience Department. And right now, the whole office looks like a haunted house. On Friday, it looked like Michael Murry’s scrapbook because it was his 40th birthday. And there were like 120 photos of Mike all over the office.

Lanese

Well, Happy belated birthday, also!

Michael

Thank you.

Derrick

We’re doing cool stuff. Very early on, I was introduced to a couple of companies that really helped me learn about leadership and growing. We paid those companies to come in and teach us, teach me really. And we’ve kind of just built off that we now have a full-time leadership coach that does weekly masterminds. We believe that the Bible is the best place to learn leadership skills from; nobody was better at leading people and getting more people to follow than Jesus. And so we get that privilege every Monday to have Ray lead that mastermind session.

Lanese

It’s so refreshing to be able to hear successful business owners and successful business leaders talk about having a company culture that wasn’t what they wanted, and then taking the steps to change that and to make something different, but it’s often times where… I mean, it’s hard to turn that mirror on yourself and see like, “Okay, we need help. And we need professional help that something that’s outside of the realm or the scope of my capabilities,” or time or whatever it is. I think that that’s a very wise and admirable quality to have as a leader is to say, like, “Okay, I need help over here. I need someone to show me what I need to be doing.” So I recognize that it was a casual part of how you’re talking about your journey. But that’s a really huge thing because as we grow, especially the car wash industry, the team aspect of it is so important for the growth.

Derrick

Yeah, so we cut our teeth, you know, in dollar stores and auto parts stores. And so I learned the construction side first, and I learned the development side after that. We were the largest general contractor for Dollar General; then we were the largest developer for Family Dollar. And in 2014, that’s when Trey wanted us to get into the car wash space. And it was Trey’s vision that that was going to be a successful venture.

Lanese

And is Trey your brother?

Derrick

Trey is my middle brother. He also had the foresight, and the humbleness, about a year and a half ago, he came to us all and said, “Look, I think I’m being pulled to many directions. I think we need to get an executive team.” And it was, I believe, God’s timing. That was right there in 2020. Mike and I had just started getting to know each other. That’s really what I just felt like where God was leading us. Mike had taken over a bad culture at his company. He was a family run company, and took it through a merger and an acquisition of a PE company from, I believe, the UK?

Michael

Austria.

Derrick

Austria. And so everything seemed to have happened at the right time. Right when we needed it. And Mike has come in, and he embodies humble, hungry, smart. And that’s what you have to be as a leader. We’re not… We’re both… Well, we used to both be in our 30s. Mike has crossed that bridge! But humbleness is a trait we valued probably more than most, because we believe we’re still learning as leaders, and we’re still growing. And anybody that is prideful enough to not does not belong in our organization. So that’s when we brought Mike on. And Mike brought on the whole new exec team. I’ll let him talk about that.

Lanese

Michael, tell us a little bit about where you came from… Oil and gas. Am I right?

Michael

Yeah, so I had been a supplier in the oil and gas field for 14 years before I came to Champion Express. And really, that’s… I was perfectly content there and thought that’s where I would be for the remainder of my career. And as Derrick said my wife works for him and has worked for him for a while. That’s kind of how we became acquainted, and like Derrick said, he was really taken the reins at 7B about the time that I was taking the reins at the company I was at, but COVID hit. And everybody was searching for answers. And so, he and I really fed off of each other. I learned a lot from Derrick through that and tried to share our experiences… how we were dealing with different situations, how we should deal with it. And really like Derrick said, it’s always unfortunate on a culture that’s that’s toxic, but it was a learning curve, too. And I’ll say it was a… it may be weird to say that it was a great experience. Because once you’ve been there in that type of culture, you know you’ll do anything possible to not go back. And so whenever I saw what Merchant family companies, Derrick and Trey at Champion were doing here, and they invited me to come be a part of this, it was a pretty simple yes, just because I saw the direction they were going. We have very similar stances, obviously, on culture, and it was really just adopting what they already were putting in place.

Lanese

Well, and you had the added benefit of your wife already working for Champion Express so that when you told the rest of your family that you’re going to leave your job that you thought that you’re going to spend your career at and go pursue car washing that at least they weren’t quite as shocked as they could have been had your wife not already exposed them that this is a very professional environment… Just sometimes when you say car wash, people get a little deer in the headlights.

Michael

You’re spot on on that! In fact, I was a little bit surprised to talking to different family members about it. I really expected most of my family to say, “Are you sure you really want to do that?” But they were all very excited and supportive. And yeah, a lot of it had to do with my wife already explaining you know what type of family the Merchants are.

Lanese

Right? Derrick, there’s one part of the story though that I wanted to kind of go back through on your journey, so starting out… Correct me if I’m wrong, but so your first kind of professional job with your family was through 7B on the development side, so those retail businesses. And then did you start developing car washes in that journey through 7B, and that’s how you got exposed to one day starting Champion Express?

Derrick

Yeah. So in 2014, Trey came to us in the middle of… We had 89 Family Dollars under construction, 68 unit apartment complex under construction, and he said, “Look, I think we need to diversify and get into the car wash business.” We like a challenge. And so we knew a state that was very underserved at the time. It was a really easy transition for us, you know, all these retailers and QSRs that we work for, today even, they’re looking for the same things that car washes are looking for. Traffic is the gold standard.

Lanese

Right! You can’t fix your location.

Derrick

Yeah, exactly. You pay for your location once, or you pay for it every day in marketing if you choose a bad site. And so that’s the way we were trained. And I think it gave us a competitive advantage out of the gate. We haven’t had any misses on locations. That continues to fuel our growth. It gives confidence, and we’re still 100% family owned. We use local banks on all our transactions. And so you have to have a track history to borrow that kind of money.

Lanese

Absolutely.

Derrick

And that development history and success… It was a banker in Lubbock that took a chance on us with that first location. And then when we sold to Zips in 2019, it showed people that the industry was real. And then when we sold to 25 locations to Go this last year, it showed them we had a business model and we knew what we were doing.

Lanese

The demand is there. And the car wash industry is not immune to market effects like any other industry, but at the same time, it has proven more resilient than others through the last several years. I think that’s a real eye opener to a lot of the outside community that is like, “Wow, how have we been missing this whole car wash thing!” And I think that’s really neat that your brother, Trey, had an interest in it in 2014. Because in the kind of scheme of the cycle of where we are now that was early for someone outside of the industry to look at this as a very viable business model to pursue. So we’ve got a little bit about your history, let’s talk about Champion Express and some of the things that you guys do having that outside experience. So while you do have a family business, it’s not that you grew up in car washing, which a lot of family owners of car washes typically do… It’s kind of a of this journey; they have their granddad or their dad. And then, you know, maybe the children follow in their footsteps. As you’re building this company… One of the things that made me so excited to talk to you guys today, Derrick, is when we were in San Antonio at the Southwest Car Wash Association, we were having dinner, and you said as part of your strategic goals or initiatives that you’re willing to overstaff, even in your leadership team and preparation for the future. And that really, really struck me because, in my mind, that’s the important part is having those people in place so that when you’re ready to keep growing, and as you keep growing, you’re not also trying to find these really, really key people to your organization to help that. So I want to talk about the focus on your team and how you build a great team and how you find these people.

Derrick

So I’ll let Mike answer that. But for me, that was finding Mike, and Mike’s vision really took over from that point.

Michael

One thing I learned about the Merchants very early on whenever I got here was that they, when he when he said they like a challenge earlier, they do make some big challenges, you know, and these big goals of building. And so I learned very quickly when when they would throw out the numbers of washers that they said that they weren’t joking, I knew these weren’t hypothetical washes that they were going to build, you know, that I had to be prepared for them and be ready for them. So yeah, back when I first started, I think the goal was was 20 or so by the end of this year, which we’ll be at 27 by the end of this year, and then 50 to 60 by the end of next year. And so as I started thinking through that and started strategizing… Really, coming in and taking over eight washes, in all honesty, is no joke. And so that’s where I was when we started, and I immediately wanted to get a foundation, right? And so it’s truly about that foundation because I knew, if we were going to get that big that fast, that nothing matters unless you have the foundation set and ready to go. So I immediately tried to get to work on an executive team and finding the right people. I am adamant about finding… You know, there’s a quote from the movie Miracle: “I’m not looking for the best ones. I’m looking for the right ones.” And that’s really what I tried to do, and we were able to accomplish here… An executive team that could help build this thing out and build the culture and everything we were looking for. So we did that. We got to work on building the executive team, and then built our field ops team, and then our training department as well. And so I wanted to let the washes come to us not, not us go to the washes, meaning that knowing that these things were coming, whenever we took over these washes and opened them up, that we had the staff ready. We weren’t doing as much training just there on day one, you know, we already structured this thing out even from a regional standpoint.

Lanese

When you’re looking at opening new sites, do you have the team ready to go to where you guys do practicing, or you do the on-site training where you have kind of a team that comes in and they start giving them the process and the manual and the scripts and things like that?

Michael

Sure. So what we do is we have two counterparts. So we have a we have a field ops team. And then we have a field training team. And the training team doubles as store openers. So when they’re not opening stores, they circle around to all of our washes doing continual training. And then whenever they’re opening up washes… We have it fully planned out. I could tell you how many weeks beforehand that we start each wash training the site leader, getting everything in place before, and then throughout opening day, we have at least two trainers on site, a regional operations person on site. And so we’re very intentional about how we open up these washes and how we prep for them.

Lanese

And was it through your background with your previous role that some of these things made sense to you? Or is this just new store openings in general or growth in general? So what kind of guided that?

Michael

So yeah, so for the most part, maybe a little bit from there, but for the most part, learning as we go, listening to my different team members that have had experience in that.

Lanese

“Hey, we would really like to have this when we open a store! We really need this.”

Michael

Yeah, I mean, that’s really what managing is, right? It’s giving the people that are working for you the right tools to do their job. And so I just listened, you know? What tools do you need? Here’s the standard; here’s the expectation. What do you need to do that? And then it’s really just about putting that in place.

Lanese

It sounds like you two specifically work really well together. From my own experience as well, yes, you need somebody a counterpart or someone that you work that closely on an executive level, or even if it’s on a store level, where you have a manager and an assistant manager or two co-managers or your teammates… It’s important to have that relationship personally as well; it doesn’t mean you have to be best friends. But if you have something that you can build off of that makes that trust, and it makes that ability to listen to each other and to hear, actually hear, what their needs are, what they’re saying. And it seems like that, between the two of you, that you have that. And sometimes I think that that’s overlooked in the professional world. It still matters that your personalities click. You don’t have to have the same thoughts. It’s better to have the balance, but you still have to have a working personal relationship as well as the working professional relationship.

Derrick

Yeah, that’s 100%. And that’s what we’ve been building on in this culture here is we can be friends. But we can also… we can also challenge each other. And I think Mike does that to me, and I do that to him. But work, as you come in today, is fun. And it’s because Mike believes the same things we believe, culturally. And it just makes me smile. When I walk in the halls and I hear the laughter. One minute, there’ll be rap songs on because construction had a team win, so they play “All I Do is Win.” The next minute development will be playing Queen or Champion will be playing Queen’s “We are the Champions” because they hit a goal. It’s just fun. When you make it fun… And it’s the same for Mike… I know I don’t feel like I work every day because it’s fun. I get up every day, and I look forward to what is going to be different in the office every day and the challenges that come with it. When you have a trust with your executive teams, then it’s fun.

Michael

Yeah, I think that’s a big part of it. You know, when he talks about trust, I think that’s the first. There’s trust, and there’s buy in, and once you have that, it creates an opportunity to have healthy conflict. Of course there’s a lot… We listen to Patrick Lencioni, you know, a lot on his book, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, that talks a lot about it. But it’s so true to be able to sit in a room and speak passionately, you know, about your stance on something, and then to hear someone else out. And the goal is to truly be about what’s better for the organization. You know, it’s not about each individual, but I want to hear all of the different discussions and then to be 100% okay, if it’s not your idea, you know, that was gone after. And really it doesn’t matter whose idea it is. It’s about what’s going to make the organization better. And I think Derrick and I have that, and that’s what we try to create down to our teams.

Derrick

Mike’s better at it than me. I’m trying to learn from him still

Lanese

Speaking from… Again, taking from my own experience, this industry has changed a lot over the years. I started in 2010. Obviously, I was still like, you know, 10 years old then… Just kidding. I already had a career in marketing and communications working at a public relations agency. And so I did that for about five years. And then I joined the car wash industry. Over time, I’ve seen more and more women join into this industry. But one thing that really makes a huge difference when you’re coming into a room where maybe you are different than the rest of the people that are there is if you have a room that is open to listening to your thoughts or your ideas, and there is a sense of collaboration that everybody feels empowered to share. And I feel very fortunate that that’s been my journey. But it also takes building a culture that encourages people to share their ideas and to maybe you don’t adopt them. And maybe it’s not the right path for the organization. But if you have that culture where it’s okay to say something, and it’s okay to even have conflict, conflict isn’t the end of the world; that’s a healthy part of growth and a team. But if you have the safe space of everyone here is respected and everyone has their place, then that opens that dialogue. And I think that that’s the most successful teams are the ones that can have those conversations, and grow from them, and learn from each other and listen. And listening is the hardest part. Even I struggle with that. And that’s part of this whole process is just me listening to someone else talk, but it’s harder than it seems. It just seems very fundamental. But we’re all human. And it’s a learning process as well for me.

Derrick

I agree 100%. I’ve had the ability to learn under some very good listeners; my dad is a very good listener. I very much undervalued that and didn’t even understand at the time to appreciate that. Mike is a very good listener. He is methodical, and in everything he does he hears everybody out. I really believe to be a good leader, you have to be a good listener.

Lanese

Totally. I totally agree. Back to the car wash side of it what are your goals for 2023? We talked about some growth plans on numbers that you want to extend your store count, but what will you end next year feeling most proud about if it goes kind of according to what you foresee and what you’re what you’re planning out now?

Derrick

In 2019, we told PC&D magazine that we had a goal of getting to 50 locations in five years. And so that will be an awesome accomplishment for us when we get there by the end of next year. I didn’t think we would have to have the number of sales that we’ve had to get there, but we’ve very much always wanted to continue owning our own company. And that’s just because we believe in our mission, our vision statement and our values. And a lot of times when you bring in a partner that can change things. And so that’s been our heart behind it. It’s not been about the Merchants making money. If that was the case, we would have retired after last year. But it was very much about, hey, we’re building something cool here, we want to continue building that; we want to see what this thing looks like operating 50 car washes. That’s been the goal from the beginning,

Lanese

As we’ve seen the rise of different regional players, and just the scale of car washing changing so much over the last several years. a lot of people say that they want to get to, you know, 50 car washes or 100 car washes or 200 car washes. But I think in reality when people get started, sometimes it’s harder than it seems. And having all the things that we talked about on the leadership side and the infrastructure. And I think it goes without saying that, obviously, when you have all of those people on your team, they each have an important role with their HR, with their marketing, with their maintenance, with their store openings, and all of those things. But that’s really the hard part. Opening locations, just acquiring them or building them, you know, can be part of it. But it’s how do you run them after they’re open? How do you keep these stores successful? And so that is a really cool marker to have that magazine article and have that kind of goal that was publicly put out there. You’re like, yeah, we can do that. And we are doing that. Derrick, one of the things you just said right now is that part of that journey, not seeing that some of these locations would be sold or have a disposition of them… Was it hard to let go of those? Or did you just see that, for the bigger picture of the company, it makes sense to kind of let some go and then pursue your own path forward after that?

Derrick

Yeah, I would say it was hard. I think Mike and our marketing team probably breathed a sigh of relief when we said we’re just going operate one brand, instead of two separate brands. We didn’t realize what we were putting them through that time. It was always a vision to be at 50. Car washes, as everybody knows, have gotten extremely expensive over the last few years. And so yeah, it was kind of, we tried to be good stewards of the talents God gives us, and so part of that was having to sell a couple times to be able to really afford, not just to stretch ourselves thin, but to really afford being able to operate at that type of level.

Lanese

Michael, I hear you on multiple brands. It’s very difficult to switch gears; that’s hard. I’m sure that that was a sigh of relief to think, Okay, this is the one place that we’re focusing!

Michael

We very much like the idea of running one thing, one brand, one operational model, and so even when we do acquisitions now, that’s really the first thing we do is we convert it to our brand, our model, and we run one thing. We do the basics well.

Lanese

You know, I hate to be a cliché with the Chick fil A model, but they’re not serving hamburgers for a reason. They do their one thing, and they do it well. And that’s it, and they’ve got a line out the door every day. Michael, what has surprised you most about the car wash industry since you have transitioned your career to here?

Michael

Oh my goodness. Okay. So, honestly, coming from oil and gas to the car wash industry, the most noticeable change and a refreshing one has honestly been the people. So in oil and gas, it’s very cutthroat; you keep everything internal, and it’s very strategic, and you don’t want anybody to know your business. Whenever I got here, honestly, there are so many open doors from car wash industry people about just letting me ask all the questions that I want to ask. And I’m like, you know, are you sure this is okay? And so that has been tremendous. It’s something I try to be conscious of paying that back, you know, in different forms just because it’s such a friendly business, so that’s been the biggest change.

Lanese

You know, what’s so amazing is that I ask this question a lot. And nine out of ten people who came from a different industry say that exact same thing. And I think that that says something really amazing about this larger community of people that is… I don’t know that it’s exclusive to the car wash industry, but it is special about it. While we have a shift from kind of a more small business owner to a larger, more scalable idea of what car washing looks like, it doesn’t mean that we have to lose that really special aspect of it. And it’s something that I feel passionate about is that the car wash industry is a neat place. And once people get in here, they’re hooked forever. They don’t leave. So it’s not like people went from car wash to oil and gas because you just kind of get it in you, and you’re you want to be better. And there is no top of the mountain. As well as you do at any one area, it just shows you Pandora’s box, that there’s all these other things that you can tweak and improve on. A good case in point of that is Bill Martin, who’s on my team. He has a very successful car wash operator; he has been doing it for over 50 years. And when I talk to him, he is so humble about the improvements that he wants to make, and that they’re always tweaking things and coming up with new technology. And I love that about our industry that everybody’s like, ooh, but I could be better about this, or what are you doing about that, and sharing those best practices. And I think that’s really neat. Derrick, you’ve been in a longer, but I’ll ask you the same question. So coming from a development side on retail and these other still retail businesses like Dollar General or things like that, but what has surprised you especially about operating car washes, not just building them?

Lanese

That’s a good question. Yeah, the community. You know, the first people that kind of took us under their wing was Andrew Zamora with Racer Classic.

Lanese

That ould have been my guess.

Derrick

Yeah, his ability to just open up and share things. Most people don’t do that. And even in the development world, people don’t tell you what kind of rent they’re getting. Those are things you don’t ask. And so, for Andrew to do that for lots of other people along the way, that’s been fun. When it comes to operating car washes, I laugh and joke with my team because I’m on the board. I know the least amount in the building about operations. I’ll defer to Mike on all operational questions.

Lanese

I think one of the things that’s so interesting about the carwash industry is that yes, you have the development side, you have the team aspect of it, but when you are working with your team, you’re somehow a quasi-therapist, you are a chemist, you are a mechanic all of these… an accountant. Now that you guys have a larger team, you have someone that’s fulfilling the specific roles, but as an industry, I don’t think that people maybe don’t understand or don’t really think about all the things that go into having a successful car wash, whether it’s one location, or it’s 50. Or if it’s 300, that they all involve so many areas of school where maybe you weren’t paying attention. I know that I had to have a rough lesson in chemistry and all of those things that I just thought… I never thought. You know, just the soaps come on, and your car is clean. But it’s so much more than that.

Derrick

For sure. Yeah, for me, that was… When Mike said, “I want to bring on an HR team,” I thought that was the silliest thing in the world at the time. And I didn’t understand it.

Michael

Now, I can’t get him to stop using my HR team.

Derrick

I use them all the time! I love them!

Lanese

Totally. You are as good as your team. And it sounds like you guys have a very intentional focus on that. And that’s what really drew me to wanting to speak with you today is because I think it’s a great example of making team building a true part of your scalability and your operational plan as well. You have to have the people that can perform these jobs, and you have to have a culture behind that, to attract them, to retain them, to give them the skills and the tools that they need. We have talked a lot about culture kind of in general, like, you know, you get to pick the cool music, and people feel happy. But what are the guiding… Kind of at the core, when you break everything down, what do you think it is about your company culture that makes people feel part of the team and make them buy into what you’re doing?

Michael

I mean, I think it’s… There’s a Henry Ford quote, and I’m sure I’ll butcher it, but he basically says, a company that solely makes money as a poor business, however he says that, but there’s more… It can’t just be about money. You know, money is not in our mission, vision, and values.

Lanese

And do you want to share what your values are and what your mission statement is since we’ve referenced it?

Michael

They’re a little different. They’re similar on ours, but Campion’s mission is to be God’s Church serving as a car wash. And then our values our stewardship, hard work, excellence, difference and community, and we prioritize people over profit. And so I think executing just that is what we’re trying to accomplish. So it is about getting involved in your teammates’ lives, and so it really becomes less about… Car washing is what we do. But we like to say that we’re really in the people business. And hiring people on, and like I said, just being involved in their personal life, helping to grow them, them growing us, you know, I had to come to the realization a long time ago in life, that if I have to come to a job in order to make bills, then it’s just not within me to just go and do monotonous work. There has to be a reason that I’m showing up to work. And it’s not the money part of it.

Derrick

Like Mike said, at 7B, our mission statement is pretty similar. It’s to be the church serving as a construction and development company. Our vision statement is to build the kingdom of God by building people, projects, and our communities. We lead with people there. To build a culture, you have to focus on the people. When you have a team of achievers like we have… Kind of a cool story real quick. We had a lady come in and poll all our all our people on their different strengths…

Lanese

Like a Myers Briggs type of thing or something?

Derrick

Yeah, something similar. And she said that she had polled companies have 1000s of employees and companies smaller than we were, but that per capita, we had the highest percentage of achievers in their top 10. I thought that was kind of a cool statement. Because at the time, you know, it goes back into one of our core values, which is grind. We say we love the grind. And we love to work hard. And that comes from Ecclesiastes, where the Bible says the gift is the day; that’s the gift the Lord gives us. If you come into the day thinking this is the gift and you love the people you work with. Because we are intentional… With having a bunch of achievers, we often have to pull them out of the office for our monthly team building events. So we’ll drag the older ones… the younger ones kind of tend to buy in quicker to that. But we drag the older ones out and make them have fun type of deal.

Lanese

Yeah, absolutely. And you’re right. It is nice to wake up every day and think it’s a gift that I get to start this day. I’m a mom of two small kids, four and a half and two. Especially when they were younger — we’re still in the thick of it — but when they were younger, sometimes it’s like oh my gosh, I’m so beat down because you’ve got all these things, and you have work, and you’ve got your home, and everything. But for me I just had to really be intentional about not getting too caught up in missing everything that was good happening in the day, even though you’ve got lots of laundry and spit up, and you’ve got projects due, and all those kinds of things, but the fact that they’re there, and you have these amazing moments. And every single day that if you are especially looking for them, it’s so much easier to see them, and to be appreciative of them. And gratefulness is another trait that makes you feel better. It’s a good thing to be happy about your work, and about both your home or elsewhere, or at your day job. I appreciate you sharing that. And I think that you can’t go wrong if you’re starting the day and trying to do the best you can and provide those opportunities for those around you as well. And when you have between 50 stores, when you get to that, that’s a lot of people. And that’s not just on the leadership team. You have all of those stores, and you’re making a path for growth for each one of those. That’s an amazing thing to offer.

Lanese

Yes, we’re blessed.

Lanese

We have had a really nice talk today. I feel very passionate about the car wash community, and exploring this side of it that’s a little bit different from just talking about what it means on a very tangible level to make a successful car wash chain. You know, if you have this ratio of your chemical costs, or you have this equipment or you have this… fill in the blank on those sites. They’re all important. But the relationships that you develop within your team also shows outwardly to your customer; your customer feels all of those things. If you have people who are happy to be at work, who are high achievers, you have the recipe for success to provide that outwardly to your customers. And without your customers what do we have? Nothing. We need them. But you have to provide that to them. And if you’re not doing it internally, it makes it very, very unlikely that they will be able to give that outwardly to your customers.

Derrick

Yeah, that reminds me of the Sam Walton quote: “We have one shareholder, and that’s the customer. They can choose to fire us any day.”

Lanese

Right. And we talked just very high level about the economy. And it goes through kind of the cycles and everything. And as interest rates keep ticking up, and as we’re experiencing an inflationary environment, it also means that consumers, they might be changing some of their patterns of how they spend their money, and especially their discretionary money. And so I think that the car wash industry, while it’s discretionary, we do still provide a service. And I think the more that people feel connected to us as people and to the businesses that they frequent as people as well, that this is an uplift and an experience, that it goes beyond just a commodity of a car wash that’s interchangeable, and I can just find the cheapest one, or I can do it at home, or not do it, that when you feel that connection, like I like going there, because they always remember that my favorite fragrance is cherry, whatever it may be, but that connection is what brings people back and makes them loyal to your brand beyond anything else.

Michael

Yeah, we try to do that. I guess Champion’s way of doing that is, like you said, it’s always about the people. We have our Champion wave, so we actually want four to six interactions with a customer on our site, every every single customer that comes on. Four to six, and it doesn’t always mean speaking to them, you know, but a wave, eye contact. We like to say, “Have a Champion’s day!” at the end, and we really… That’s the experience that they should be getting when they leave the car wash, you know, like you feel after a haircut. You know, you feel great about it. We want them to leave with that experience.

Lanese

Oh, you noticed that I got my hair cut yesterday? Because I did!

Michael

I did. Yeah, it looks great.

Lanese

Yes, I love that. And you’re right, it’s not always verbal. The car wash, especially as an express exterior model, you may not have a long time to chat. And if you are, then the people behind them are mad. But you do have every opportunity as a staff member, and on the training side of it, to smile, to wave, to make some sort of connection with them. Maybe at the prep area, they’re guiding them on, but they have a smile, and they are there waving them forward. And they give them a thumbs up or whatever it may be. But I think that those touch points… And I love that you have the metrics on okay, this is how many we want to have from tire on to tire off.

Michael

Yep. And that’s part of our KPIs from our training team and our ops team, too, when we’re evaluating our sites, and we go on. Something I look for whenever I go to our washes is how many times do they engage me through this? So yeah, it’s fun to watch.

Lanese

I’m sure part of this is how they spoke to you about monthly plans and the services and things like that.

Michael

Absolutely. Yep.

Lanese

I have to admit that I go to car washes as a consumer, and I am asking all of those questions because I want to see what other people are doing.

Michael

Oh, yeah. My wife on vacation now — so, I got a dash cam, and I’m sure it’s become annoying for her — but when we go to different places, I go through washes with a dash cam, and I’ll evaluate and bore her to death.

Lanese

I actually hadn’t thought about that. That’s smart. That’s great. And I would be remiss if I did not also bring up that you guys have a hot air balloon, too. Can you tell me about the genesis of purchasing a hot air balloon for your carwash?

Michael

Yeah, so you hear about the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta? And I’ll say this was my first year to go to it. You really don’t understand the magnitude and kind of the beauty of it until you’re there, so I just would encourage anybody listening: this is something that you have to do! Honestly, the Balloon Fiesta gave us the perfect opportunity for community. Like you said a while ago, Lanese, it’s hard to talk to a customer on site because you’re an Express wash, right? And so this Fiesta gave us an opportunity to engage our community and you’ve got a booth there. The topic is already car washes, you know, so what a better chance to hear them and really to teach them from a whole industry standpoint, not just about Champion, but as an industry, we are still trying to educate the customer, right, on what is an express car wash? And why should they use it? And so we could teach them that it is safe, you know, it’s safe for your car, and all these things. Yeah, it gave us gave us a chance to be a part of the community, have fun games, and then the balloon. I think you’re going to see Champion continue to be a bigger part of that Balloon Fiesta in years to come.

Lanese

And what were the giveaways at the balloon fest?

Michael

Oh, so we had a game where you’re using a water gun to spray off bugs, and then dirt off of cars, and the winner gets to go spin a wheel. The big prize is getting entered into a chance to win a car wash unlimited for a free year, and so we had a drawing for that. And then single free car washes is another, so one free car wash, you know, text in a code. And then we had stickers. So we launched a sticker day, so that’s something that we’re excited about doing once a month in our region.

Lanese

So what’s sticker day?

Michael

Sticker day is just, we design out a sticker, you know, and so just trying to create some some buy in to come get our sticker. And so we launched that at the Balloon Fiesta, so our very first one was was a balloon. That was a lot of fun, too.

Lanese

So did you guys get to ride in the balloon?

Michael

We got two individuals; we were allowed to individuals to ride in a balloon. And so…

Lanese

Were you one of them?

Michael

I was not. I kind of wanted to be. But we really wanted to treat some of our individuals, our site leaders, you know, that have done a good job, so we offered that out to a couple of different site leaders and field team.

Lanese

Well, I would be happy to come to the balloon fest next year, because it has been on my bucket list that I have always wanted to go. And I will definitely come by and see. And if you’re giving away more rides, I’ll raise my hand that I can come up and give my two cents from the air.

Michael

For sure!

Derrick

We can make that happen.

Lanese

It’s about who you know, right? Who you have relationships with. This is just a case in point. Well, we’ll kind of wrap up here today. But thank you guys so much for sharing about you individually, and you collectively, and your team. And I really am interested to see your continued journey in the car wash industry and the car wash space. Because I think that there are things that… The intentionality that you guys have, and the focus that you have on excellence and excellence in team building and culture, and then how that spreads out to everything else that’s important was something, again, that I was really drawn to. And I appreciate you guys sharing about that. And I look forward to watching your continued growth and your continued success as you move along through your journey.

Michael

Very good. Yep!

Derrick

Yeah, thanks. I’m a follower of the podcast.

Lanese

Yay! So I’ve got you and my mom. I’ve got two people!

Derrick

I’ll say you do an excellent job and a big service to our car wash community. I appreciate that.

Lanese

Thank you. I very much appreciate that. This has been an interesting journey for me as well and a little out of my comfort zone. But it’s been fun. And I get to have these meaningful conversations with folks. And it’s fun for me even to go back and re-listen to them because I think that there’s a lot that we all have to share, and we can share with each other, and it’s just nice to have a forum to just talk about the great things that make our industry unique and what it is. Thank you guys so much.

Derrick

Thanks, Lanese!

Jet Brite Car Wash

With decades of hands-on experience as operators, when it came time to sell our car wash business who we sold to was important to Sam and me. Chris [Jenks] and the team at Amplify listened to us throughout the entire process. They found the right buyer in ZIPS who would be a good steward of the brand and helped find the best path forward for us where we can continue pursuing our passion for manufacturing high-quality car wash equipment.  

Jet Brite Car Wash  
Dave Delesandro  | Founder

Quick N’ Clean

My relationship with Commercial Plus over the past 20 years has been a very professional and trustworthy relationship. The feel of trust is very important in this business, and Jeff Pavone and his staff have exhibited a level of trust that makes me continue to feel that they have my best interest front of mind. I deal with many brokers across the nation, and my best experiences and results have been achieved with Commercial Plus representation.

Quick N’ Clean
Richard Karle | Owner

Zips

It’s been a great experience working with Amplify Car Wash Advisors to bring these sites into the ZIPS portfolio. We look forward to serving Dallas area customers with an enhanced car wash experience unique to ZIPS, with the added benefit of our extensive network of stores. This year we have continued our aggressive growth track with the goal to truly shine in our efforts to be the best express car wash provider in the industry and it’s acquisitions like this that help us reach our goals.

Zips
Gene Dinkens | CEO

ModWash

It was truly a pleasure to work with the Amplify team on our most recent acquisition of three additional operating locations in our home state of Tennessee. Their team provided great support and ensured a timely and seamless closing process, and we are excited for the additional growth opportunities this relationship will produce in our near future. We know this is the first of many transactions we will successfully complete with the Amplify team as we grow from our current operating store count of 23 to well over 200 locations across 14 states in the next two years.

ModWash
Brian Thornton | COO

Busy Bee Car Wash

For years I’ve talked to a lot of brokers with the same goal; sell your car wash chain as quickly as possible. But I chose to work with Amplify because they were interested and invested in the emotional side of selling my business and truly value long-term relationships. They weren’t forcing me to take a deal just to take a deal. They listened to my concerns and goals then educated me on all my options. And that’s how I decided on the right partner for my chain specifically. I went to bed at night after I signed the papers knowing I got the best deal possible versus just having any deal put in front of me that is only about money.

Busy Bee Car Wash
Jim Mulholland | Owner

Q Car Wash

We really appreciate Jeff and his entire team at Amplify. Their expertise and deep industry knowledge helped us navigate our options and best showcase our strengths to maximize our value. Caliber is a good fit for Q Car Wash as they look to expand in North Texas.

Q Car Wash
Viran Nana | COO

Cobblestone Auto Spa

I have known both Jeff and Bill for over thirty years combined, and respect them both as experts in our professional car washing industry. Their unique and individual strengths bring very strong talent and advice to operators, sellers, and buyers with sharp knowledge, client’s best interest in mind, and an actual personal touch. They hold the expertise and performance track record to hold a very high level of respect within this rapidly-changing car wash industry.

Cobblestone Auto Spa
Tuck Bettin | CEO

Oasis Car Wash

Turning over a business you started from one shovel of dirt 25 years ago and grew to several locations is a difficult and even uncomfortable process. So, when it came time for Larry and me to sell, we chose Amplify Car Wash Advisors to guide us through the process because of their strong reputation and thought leadership in the industry. Their team was professional and did a great job walking us through each step.

Oasis Car Wash
Dallas Hawkins | Partner

Busy Bee Car Wash

Selling our business after 52 years is big deal and certainly not a decision I took lightly, turning over our family legacy was an emotional process and I appreciated that the team at Amplify respected that. They helped me understand my options and found the best deal for me.

Busy Bee Car Wash
Jim Mulholland | Owner

Ducky’s Express

I have been a multi-site developer and operator in the car wash industry for over 30 years. Four years ago, a partner’s health concern forced me to sell a portion of my portfolio, and during that process, I was introduced to Jeff Pavone of Commercial Plus. I was immediately impressed with Jeff’s knowledge of my industry and his volume of successful deal closings. In a very short period of time, Jeff found the right buyer at a very fair price, and the transaction closed shortly thereafter. I was looking for a team with honesty, integrity, and a proven track record of success, and I found all of that in Jeff.

Ducky’s Express
Richard Miller

Trademark Car Wash

These are some of the most exciting times for car wash owners. As we grew 350% in revenue in just one year, we recognized the time to partner up with a top-tier team that has mastered growth in retail and specifically the automotive industry. Amplify Car Wash Advisors had helped us acquire, raise capital, and was the perfect partner to help us reach this next chapter of the Trademark story.

Trademark Car Wash
Andrew Goldberger