Kevin Greenwood, Maintenance Supervisor to Bulboff’s carwashes travels to each facility in an operations truck equipped for any maintenance job.
When Steve Bulboff wanted to buy a 2-bay wash instead of a house everybody told him he was crazy. Seven years later they’re singing a different tune. They’re wondering “Who’s crazy now?”
Steve Bulboff says his decision was fate. Everyone else had a different opinion. They said it was crazy.
He was 23 years old and had saved $20,000 from driving a truck for 5 years. He decided to buy a house. One day in the realtor’s office he saw a little 2-bay wash in the Multiple Listings catalogue. He had been looking at houses for 6 months and he knew absolutely nothing about carwashing, but he found himself saying, “I want to buy that carwash.”
The realtor looked at him with alarm and said, “You’re crazy,” and turned the listings back to houses. Bulboff turned back to the carwash and said, “I want to buy that car wash.”
The banks also thought he was crazy. Everyone he went to turned him down, refusing to finance him because he didn’t know anything about the carwash business. He may not have known anything, but he was a quick learner. When he went to the small business administration and they asked if he knew anything about carwashing he said: “Yes. My uncle had one for 20 years and I used to work there all the time when I was a kid.” And they said, “Great. You’re the kind of guy that belongs in the carwash business.”
When he went back to the bank and told them about the SBA approval they said it was a bad investment. Bulboff replied: “It may be a bad investment for you but it’s not a bad investment for Steve Bulboff. It’s what I want to do and I’m excited about it.”
“It may be a bad investment for you but it’s not a bad investment for Steve Bulboff. It’s what I want to do and I’m excited about it.”
He got the loan.
On that fateful day 7 years ago Bulboff knew next to nothing about the carwash business but he felt good. “It was really exciting. I just came here everyday and I cleaned and fixed and I bought one thing at a time. And every time I got a little money back I just put it back into the carwash.”
Today he owns 4 automatic and 2 self-serves in the greater Philadelphia area. And this year he opened a million dollar facility in Magnolia, New Jersey. While fate may have played a hand in getting him into the business in the first place, the underpinning of his success is much more prosaic: dedication, persistence, and hard work. Bulboff’s stubborn persistence is balanced by an openness to constructive criticism and advice. He cannot say enough about the people who helped put him on the map.
With the opening of his new carwash in Magnolia, New Jersey, Bulboff now operates 4 automatic and 2 self-service carwashes.
“I knew nothing about a carwash before I bought it. It just kind of grew on me. Then I met John Criscuolo from A.E. Styles and that was it. John would say ‘do this’ and ‘do that’ and I’d say ‘why?’ And John would say ‘If you do it you’re going to be successful.’ I might have disagreed a little bit, but I’d do it. And then 6 months down the road I’d look back and say, ‘John, you were right.’ He has 30 years in the business. And if I couldn’t get John to answer a question then I went to Dan Hanna. Between the two of them I got the best advice and best guidance in the world of carwashing.”
And Bulboff got the best advice available when designing his new facility in Magnolia, New Jersey, about 5 minutes from Philadelphia. A sparkling clean, beautifully landscaped, state-of-the-art operation on a spacious 175’x500′ lot, pulls the customers in by its sheer good looks. It has 5 self-serv bays with Monorail equipment and a Hanna automatic. In the future Bulboff wants to add 5 more self-serv bays and ten more vacs to the existing 14. He did his own research as well as having specialists do traffic impact and gap studies. Additionally, did his own general contracting so he could stay on top of the operation from the ground up and incorporate every lesson he’d learned from his other operations as he learned from the experts in the field.
“Hanna works with you from day one,” Bulboff said. When we did Magnolia, we had about 10 different locations that I wanted and they came out and spent time with me and went around and said: “This is the best location.” So we had some studies done and found out they were absolutely right. At that point we finalized the deal on buying the property and gave the survey to Hanna and John Criscuolo. They laid out the carwash to work at its best potential. Hanna people are really friendly and very, very helpful. In fact, if it wasn’t for Styles and Hanna, we wouldn’t be where we are today.”
And where Bulboff is today is a long way from that first afternoon when the truck ran into his vacuum. As ALN was given the grand tour of Magnolia operation, Bulboff spoke knowledgeably about developments in the industry and his own operation. “The concept of carwashing has improved tremendously over the last 2 to 3 years. For instance, we’ve learned a lot about cloth because there has been a lot of research about it.”
“The concept of carwashing has improved tremendously over the last 2 to 3 years. For instance, we’ve learned a lot about cloth because there has been a lot of research about it.”
“Essentially, the cloth should be formed to the shape of the car. Since cars have basically the same contour, our Hanna cloth is longer at the top for washing the windows. The tag areas are thinner and in the mirror you have less cloth. The cloth is in areas where it’s very critical. And the shammies are designed to turn a lot slower than they did in the past.”
“Another thing is we went from blasting the car with reclaimed water to dampening it with fresh water and putting the solution straight to the car. And our cleaning ability has improved tremendously. We dampen the car first, put on the solution, then it goes into the shammies and we lubricate the shammies. Before, we used to hit the car with high volume reclaim water then take foamers and cover the car with foam. But when you went through the shammies, it would wash it off. What happened was the foam was just laying on top of the reclaim water and washing off. So we were getting no advantage out of the chemical that we were using. With Hanna’s new invention, with this applicator, I can cut my chemical costs by 70%.”
“We also found that not only can the shammies wash, they can pull water of a car and assist in our drying. Our cloth is lubricated, which helps get the water off. Then we put a low-volume rinse with a drying agent onto the car. And we’re putting on de-ionized water so even if the dryer doesn’t get every drop of the water off, the car will dry spot free. We still have blowers but you don’t have to have hand dryers. I’m totally against hand drying because you get guys out there who don’t know what they’re doing and we’re really pushing safety. And I think the more we get away from completely touching the car, contact with the car, the safer we’re going to get.”
“And I think the more we get away from completely touching the car, contact with the car, the safer we’re going to get.”
“And computers have played a key part to our industry. I would say 5 years ago it would have been really difficult to run a multiple operation. Today we have these computers and we can punch in and know what’s going on. We know what time they open up, what time they close. And they can’t send a car through unless it goes through the computer. Today we have these sensors that Hanna invented called a Hanna Logo. The car has to enter this logo before the machine will run. No one can cheat you. And this makes it a lot easier for a guy to run a multiple operation. And it’s important to keep your labor down. We’re operating volume washes with one man.”
For Bulboff, that one man may be the essential factor in a successful operation.
“You can take the best location, equipment, traffic pattern, count, and best looking operation and a bad manager and you’ll have a carwash that won’t succeed. But if you take a lousy location or lousy equipment and everything else wrong but the right operator, you’ll do well. It’s very critical in this industry. And when you mix a great operatior with great equipment and a great location, you have something really exciting.”
Steve Bulboff, right, with his Operations Manager, David Chaplin
Bulboff found that great manager in Dave Chaplin who oversees the managers of each of the carwashes. For Chaplin, the essence of good management is attention to detail and a quick response to anything less than optimal operating conditions. This total commitment to top quality maintenance is exemplified by the service truck which Bulboff built. Inside is just about everything imaginable to service his carwashes. Included in the truck are: a band saw for cutting metal, a welding machine pipe vise, torch, extra chains, foam brushes, trigger guns, fittings, starters, air compressors, and a work bench with enough tools to open a hardware store. The truck is equipped with a generator and prewired with lights inside and floods out the back. It has a phone that will start blowing the horn if the driver is not in the truck to answer it. There’s even a lawn mower and a weed wacker in case some unsightly vegetation has sprung up overnight.
Bulboff is proud of his truck and finds it to be an essential component of his maintenance operation.
“With this truck, Keven Greenwood, our maintenance supervisor, has the capability of doing anything. What happens is Dave goes around and makes inspections and brings back a list of what has to be done. In the morning when Kevin comes in I’ll say, “Kevin, start in Deptfort, fix this, go to Magnolia and fix that and so on. That’s how we keep our operations going. And without this truck, I can’t see how we’d operate. I’d say that one truck with one service man can handle a maximum of 5 washes. And when I see other operators and all they have is a pair of pliers and a wrench I think these guys are doing a good job.”
Dave Chaplin agrees:
“We save a lot of time, too. Before, we’d have to call somebody and wait until they got down here. It might be another full day before they arrived. Now we can get to things right away.”
Bulboff won’t let anything stop him from making his appointed rounds. Not even the weather.
“I will never have a customer say, “I went to Shammy Shine and it was closed because it was cloudy or rainy.” If we in the industry close our doors when it rains, we’re essentially telling the public, ‘Don’t wash your cars today.’
“If we in the industry close our doors when it rains, we’re essentially telling the public, ‘Don’t wash your cars today.'”
“With that attitude, if you wanted to start a carwash chain in Portland, Oregon you’d find it impossible because of all the rain.Well, Dan Hanna owns a lot of washes in Portland and he’s open every day. I’ve been out there in the pouring rain watching customers sitting in line to get their cars washed. He’s open every day because he never told people not to wash their cars in the rain. He broke them of that and I’m going to break them in the Philadelphia area.”
“And if we close down to do service or update machinery or something, I have the manager stand out there to explain that we’re closed for service so we can do their car better in the future and we appreciate their driving in. And we offer them a free wash for the next time they come in. And what happens is they always they always come back.”
Steve Bulboff has earned his success by a total dedication to providing the best car wash he can to his customers. And he’s never stopped learning. Over the last 8 months he has washed his car nearly 2700 times to study the effects of continuous washing (“All it’s done is improve the finish of the car tremendously.”) He’s still as excited as he was the first day he opened his two bay in 1979.
“I feel I’m getting good,” he said, “and every time I do something I get better. And then I find another way of getting better. And, guess what, there’s no end to getting better!”
Article: “The Shammy Shines Bright for New Jersey Carwash” from Auto Laundry News | September 1986