Superwash Express Brings 40 Jobs to Heart of Palm Coast and Lava of Choices For Car Care
FlaglerLive | February 15, 2017
You likely won’t see George Carlin, the Pointer Sisters, Richard Pryor and Danny DeVito at Superwash Express, Palm Coast’s newest mega carwash, on Cypress Point Parkway.
But if the cast of the 1976 “Car Wash” movie Roger Ebert called “almost wash-and-wax-M*A*S*H” can’t make local cameos (half those names are technically not on the planet anymore), Universal Pictures’ actual promo at the time of the movie’s release could have been written for the 40-employee business that marked its grand opening last week in the heart of Palm Coast: “Only determination, dedication, and a tough crew of men can get the job done. They’ve got a sharp boss who always has control of the situation. They’ve got teamwork. And most of all they’ve got the will to work. This is the west and wild world of the car wash, a business a man can be proud of, where the only rule is: do it with style. It’s hard work, ’cause sooner or later everyone comes through here.” (See the trailer below.)
The hint of outdated sexism aside—women are very proud to work at Superwash as well—the one thing the workers don’t do anymore, contrary to the promo, is wash by hand: car washes have long ago become mechanized by vaguely frightful maws of encircling cloth, jets of liquids and what this particular car wash calls its signature “lava bath,” a “carnauba wax ‘n shine” that flows all over your car’s paint with Vesuvian efficiency. (Carnauba wax, claims a team of authors in a college textbook, is the “queen of waxes.”) But there’s still plenty of work to do for those many employees once the vehicle is past the conveyor belt, with three lanes of cars making it possible to have up to six cars worked on simultaneously.The opening was something of an event at Superwash last week, drawing the chairman-elect of the Flagler Chamber of Commerce, Palm Coast’s mayor, a few county and city elected officials and others to mark what is, after all, a significant occasion, going by the sheer number of new jobs. The business drew some 120 applications even though most jobs start off at minimum wage (currently, $8.10 an hour), not including tips.
“We’re the drive-through society,” John Subers, the chairman-elect at the chamber, said before cutting the inevitable ribbon. “We’re excited about it, from the chamber’s and the community’s standpoint, it’s another business that’s decided to come to Palm Coast, investing in Palm Coast, and shoot, look at the number of employees. There’s got to be 20 here today, on a midweek day, so it’s exciting, the crowd out here supporting Paul and Superwash.”
“It’s the second biggest investment, their car, and they like taking care of it.”
Subers was referring to Paul Bradley, 55, a Port Orange resident who came over from England in the 1980s with $1,500 in his pocket, and is now the president and operating partner of the Superwash Express companies, of which Superwash in Palm Coast is only the latest of four businesses: the emerging empire includes car washes in Port Orange, Ormond Beach (where the facility is called Sparkle-N-Shine) and Mount Dora. Bradley had started down the sparkled path with his brother in the early 80s, running a detail business, then a full-service car wash before he bought the Ormond Beach business in 1999.
“I couldn’t do what I’m doing here in England,” Bradley said, “One, because of the weather, it rains constantly, and the land cost is just outrageous over there.” They wash cars in England of course, but mostly in driveways or at small businesses, by hand. It’s a little different in the United States. People almost adore car washes. “It’s the second biggest investment, their car, and they like taking care of it,” Bradley said. “It’s part of them, it’s part of their image.”
But the principal force behind Superwash is Jack Barrett, 70, of Mount Dora, who started in the business in 1982, when he was a real estate broker in Orlando, according to a brief synopsis of the company he emailed. (Barrett was not able to make the grand opening in Palm Coast.) Getting into the self-serve car wash industry was an outgrowth of his commercial real estate ventures. He built the first Superwash in Altamonte Springs in 1982, enhancing the experience with personalized service that made it more attractive for car owners to skip the automatic car wash at the gas station and opt for the extra attention. Barrett himself took particular care to build environmentally responsible car washes. And to nurture new business leaders. His first customer service employee? Paul Bradley.Barrett’s approach has developed a brand of management within the company, relying on its employees to make it up the ranks as they learn the business—among them, Paden Davis, who runs the Palm Coast Superwash after working in Port Orange 10 years, and David Verduzco, 31, general manager of the various Superwash locations and a part owner who started at the Port Orange location 13 years ago, when he was in high school.
Listening to these stories one gets the sense that the diverse microcosm created by “Car Wash,” the movie, was no fiction: there’s a compelling tale behind every name in the real thing. “I started in the Port Orange location in my senior year of high school,” Verduzco said. “Just needed a little part-time job, worked there through high school, worked there through college, got my college degree, and then was going to start looking for a job, and Paul said wow, wait a minute, why don’t we see what we can do here.” So he started running the Mount Dora location, then ran the Port Orange location.
Can Palm Coast support two major car washes? (Gunnar and Pamela Hildemann’s Coconuts, “the car wash you’ll fall in love with,” opened in 2012 near the corner of Old Kings Road and State Road 100 and got a “Standing O” recognition from the Observer the following year.) Verduzco’s answer was revealing: “We see it in our Port Orange market, we have competition about a mile and a half, two miles down the street from us. Look, there’s a lot of cars in this town, there’s a lot of business for the car washes. There’s enough business for two car washes that are doing the right thing.” He added: “As long as both car washes do the right thing and put out a clean car, it’s good for business in general, because it gets people in the habit of washing their cars, and that’s what we want.”
There’s something verging on the mystical in the way Verduzco talked about clean cars. “I love the business, I love cars, I love being around them,” he continued. “I’m a car guy. I’m a gearhead. I love taking care of people’s cars, I love putting out a quality product and having a relationship with customers and talking with them, it’s just something I’m interested in, and then I get to deal with their cars, so it’s perfect.”
It’s not just a job for Verduzco: he is a part-owner at the Palm Coast location: “I took the opportunity, invested everything I had, took a second mortgage on the house, liquidated the 401(k), and made the move, put all the eggs in one basket,” he said. It was no small acquisition and investment: the cost of the 2.2-acre parcel alone was $1.65 million. “With his guidance and experience I knew it would be a success, and so far, so good.”
There again, without knowing it—he was not yet born when the movie came out—he was essentially paraphrasing the “Car Wash” promo: “Between the washing and the cleaning, there’s always room for dreaming, and the next car through might be the answer to your prayers.”