Capital Car Wash!
Written by Kurtis Baker on November 16, 2018
Capital Car Wash!
This week, we are very pleased to have with us Scott Servetah, who is the owner of Capital Car Wash. He was born in Brooklyn, New York and raised in Monmouth County, New Jersey. He spent 21 years trading commodities as a floor trader. He met his business partner, Stephen Ward in 1989 on the trading floor.
00:09 Kurt Baker: You’re listening to a podcast of Master Your Finances with me, Kurt Baker, a certified financial planner professional, Sunday mornings at 9:00 AM on 1077thebronc.com.
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00:44 Kurt Baker: Good morning and welcome back to another edition of Master Your Finances, presented by Certified Wealth Management and Investment. I am Kurt Baker, a certified financial planner professional hosting your show today. My office is located in Princeton, New Jersey. I can be reached through our website which is www.cwmi.us or you can call me directly at 609-716-4700. This week, we are very pleased to have with us Scott Servetah, who is the owner of Capital Car Wash. He was born in Brooklyn, New York and raised in Monmouth County, New Jersey. He spent 21 years trading commodities as a floor trader. He met his business partner, Stephen Ward in 1989 on the trading floor. They both worked in the World Trade Center during 1994, and the 9/11 attacks. They purchased Capital in September of 2007 after the trading floor was sold to Electronic Trading Company, eliminating floor brokers. Capital’s a full-service car wash and complete detail facility, and they started an unlimited wash program in December of 2016. This is kind of interesting to me, ’cause as you know, of course I’m a financial planner so we get involved in the investment side of this a little bit. I’m not a floor trader nor would I ever want to be one or wish that upon anyone, I don’t know how you did it frankly.
02:03 Scott Servetah: Well, they don’t exist anymore, so.
02:04 Kurt Baker: [laughter] Right. So, I guess, how did you get involved in floor trading? I mean, it’s an interesting job to begin with. So, what got you to there to start with? That’s an interesting place to go.
02:13 Scott Servetah: I have a cousin who’s probably in his late 60s now that was a gold broker back in the ’70s, and it was always a great career. And when I was going to college, I was taking accounting and finance and ultimately I might have ended up there anyway and he gave me an opportunity to get a job on the floor, so I took it and I originally worked with Prudential Bache as a runner. And back in the old days, you had a runner, you physically took the ticket and you ran it to each different commodity and you gave it to the broker, the order, and they would execute the order. It was a good learning experience. You learn how the markets trade, how the brokers buy and sell, and then you get a little bit of experience, you go on to the phones and then you start dealing with the customers directly on the phones. The floor which was kind of like a virtual casino, it was a great place to work, and it gave me the knowledge to eventually become a trader, and a broker. Because I…
03:15 Kurt Baker: I figure it’s like Trading Places, right? [chuckle]
03:17 Scott Servetah: That’s exactly what I did. When you see the movie, Trading Places, that’s exactly where I worked and what I did.
03:24 Kurt Baker: So what did you think of it? It’s an interesting career. It obviously doesn’t exist now, because it’s all electronic, right?
03:28 Scott Servetah: It doesn’t exist, it’s all electronic.
03:29 Kurt Baker: It’s all computers, we just type them now.
03:30 Scott Servetah: When I first got on the floor, you couldn’t even be alone with your own thoughts for a second, and then after a month or two, it’s like you just block out all that noise, and it’s just become second nature and you walk around the day and you talk to people, same kind of conversation we’re having now and you don’t even hear the ring anymore. You don’t even hear the yelling and screaming. But once you get in the middle of it, it’s very apparent what’s going on.
03:50 Kurt Baker: Okay.
03:51 Scott Servetah: Yeah, you can hear it. When it gets busy, you hear the volume pick up and then when it’s quiet and everyone’s…
03:55 Kurt Baker: So my guess is you’ve learned how to focus. [laughter]
03:57 Scott Servetah: You have to learn how to focus. You have to learn how to focus.
04:00 Kurt Baker: So it definitely taught you how to focus. I guess, you transitioned out when they… ‘Cause you had a couple of things going on here. You were involved in the attacks, unfortunately, it sounds like, so that was awful.
04:09 Scott Servetah: Yeah. It actually it was in ’93.
04:12 Kurt Baker: Right, that’s right. You’re right, ’93 in the basement.
04:15 Scott Servetah: The Exchange was a lot bigger then. The Exchange was four exchanges, it was Cotton Exchange, Coffee, Sugar, Cocoa, COMEX, which is all the metals and the Mercantile Exchange, which was all the oils and platinum and plating and so forth. So the floor was a lot bigger. When the bombing happened in ’93, everyone left. I remember it was a snowy day and then we weren’t displaced, because it didn’t really affect our floor and then it was back to business as usual. But in 2001, you didn’t really know what the magnitude of what happened yet by the time we got out of the building. And then obviously the rest is self-explanatory. We went to Long Island City, Queens, we had a backup facility. And the floor was actually smaller now at that point. The Mercantile Exchange had their own building, and they brought the COMEX along with them, so the gold and all the oils were in one building. And then cotton and Coffee, Sugar, Cocoa were still in the Trade Center. For some reason, they planned on having a backup facility for any kind of maintenance or anything. We had to have somewhere to go not knowing we’d be in Long Island City in this little makeshift room for two years.
05:23 Kurt Baker: Wow, two years.
05:24 Scott Servetah: And then finally we ended up going back, taking space in the mercantile floor, from, I think, 2003 until the floor finally closed in, I think 2009 or 2008. I was already gone by 2007. Once we went electronic, I already saw the handwriting on the walls, “This is not gonna work out.” So I already left. My partner Steve stayed along. He still trades commodities to this day but we ended up buying the car wash together.
05:49 Kurt Baker: Okay so, you just kinda saw the writing on the wall, and now the next step is… Okay, you have this nice job, that you like, I’m assuming you liked it, and now you’re like, “Okay, what am I gonna do next?” So how did you go through this process of deciding, “Let me go down to buy a car wash,” I mean, there’s a big difference between trading and running a car wash, I’m assuming.
06:06 Scott Servetah: Well, if you know what it is, but here’s the thing.
06:07 Kurt Baker: What did you do?
06:09 Scott Servetah: When you’re a floor broker, it’s just mass pandemonium. It’s just you’re yelling and screaming. And the more orders… I’m also, beside trading for myself, which is how I made my living, I’m also executing orders for customers. So the more orders you get, you have to just get it done. So when you have, let’s say hypothetically a 1000 lot, which is like a share in a stock, what we called a lot, L-O-T, lots in commodities, if you have a 1000 lots to do, you’re just trying to sell it, and guys are buying, buy 10, buy seven, buy six, buy… You have to keep adding that up in your head to get to the 1000 and you have to remember who you traded with and you have to remember what price you traded with, so it’s a lot of work.
06:48 Kurt Baker: Sure.
06:49 Scott Servetah: And I kinda correlated a little bit to the car wash business because the busier we get… I had that mindset, “I’ll just get it done.” And Stephen and myself, we’re both hands-on guys, so we do a lot of detailing for car dealers that go to the auction wholesale accounts. And if at the last minute they need more cars done, we’ll just get it done. Like there’s nothing I think I can’t do. I mean, I have my limitations, but as far as the mindset of, “If somebody needs something done, it will get done.” If it’s car washing, if we’re busy, I’m always there to help out. I’m there six days a week, Stephen’s there one day a week, we will fill in whatever needs to be done. We’ll shampoo, we’ll drive, we’ll wipe, we’ll dry, we’ll do windows. As far as detailing…
07:31 Kurt Baker: You are used to a high velocity type business, trading.
07:33 Scott Servetah: We’ll get it done. It’s the same…
07:34 Kurt Baker: So each car is like a trade. [chuckle]
07:36 Scott Servetah: Pretty much, exactly. You’re absolutely right.
07:40 Kurt Baker: How did you… I mean I know you are saying that now, but I’m like, if Im sitting on a trading floor, trading stock. How did you go from, “I’m trading stocks today, maybe I should buy a car wash.”
07:48 Scott Servetah: Well, you know what’s funny? Well, I’ll tell you whats funny…
07:49 Kurt Baker: What brought you from trading stocks all over to car wash?
07:51 Scott Servetah: There was a time… On the trading floor…
07:51 Kurt Baker: They’re very different to me.
07:52 Scott Servetah: You see the trading floor was the best job in the world. Number one, the trading floor was only open three hours a day, which was fantastic, so we were done…
08:00 Kurt Baker: It’s better than a banker.
08:01 Scott Servetah: It’s better than a banker. So we worked, we traded from 9:00 to 12:00 basically and we were done. I was back home by 1:30 every day, was fantastic. When things are great, you don’t ever realize it’s ever gonna get bad. So we’d always say, “Well, if this thing or this place ever closes… ” We always talk about, “We’ll buy a car wash,” you know, just fooling around. We’ll say like hot wax, or you know, just making crazy things up.
08:22 Kurt Baker: Okay, gotcha.
08:23 Scott Servetah: Only to find out that the floor was gonna close. I never thought it would. And so my dad’s best friend, who is an entrepreneur, he has many, many, many businesses.
08:35 Kurt Baker: Oh, okay.
08:35 Scott Servetah: And cleaning businesses, and he employs a 1000 people. He has banks, and among his portfolio of real estate, he also has car washes. So, I went to him, and I said… His name is Jack, Jack Aronson, and I went to Jack and I said, “Listen, we’re thinking about buying a car wash, and we looked around… ” And Stephen, my partner, who lived in Pennington, now he lives in Connecticut, Capital was his home town car wash and Jack knew the owners of Capital, so everything kinda led back to Capital. And it had a history, was built in the early ’60s, a lot of generations grew up at Capital. So, Stephen had a relationship with it, Jack knew it, it’s relatively close to my house. I live about 20 miles away. So everything just worked out perfect and we led us into Capital.
09:25 Kurt Baker: Well, there you go, that’s networking and opportunity and so forth. That’s fantastic. So when we come back, we’ll find out what it was like when you first bought the Capital and how it’s been as far as running a car wash, which is probably a little bit different than trading on the exchange.
09:38 Scott Servetah: A little bit [chuckle]
09:38 Kurt Baker: We’ll be right back in just a few minutes.
09:44 Announcer: It’s all about how you manage your money. Now, let’s get back to learning how from Kurt Baker of Certified Wealth Management and Investment with Master Your Finances.
09:54 Kurt Baker: Welcome back, you’re listening to Master Your Finances and I am Kurt Baker here with Scott Servetah. And we’re talking about the fact that he was a trader on Wall Street and kind of saw the writing on the wall and decided maybe something he had been joking around with his friends there after hours, “Maybe I should go buy a car wash,” said, “Well, maybe I should go buy a car wash.” So, ultimately, I guess it was… Who was it? Your father-in-law, I think it was?
10:20 Scott Servetah: My father’s friend, Jack.
10:22 Kurt Baker: Father’s friend. Your father’s friend, Jack, had a lot of business and just knew a lot of things and, I guess, put you in touch with your local car wash. And turned out you cut a deal. Now, congratulations, it’s like you just delivered your baby, got your new business. So what was the first thing that you noticed that… I guess, the first thing you noticed that you said, “That’s just really cool.” And then the first thing you noticed like, “Well, that’s not so cool.” [laughter]
10:44 Scott Servetah: It was a little overwhelming in the beginning.
10:46 Kurt Baker: What was it too, like positive, ’cause you always have a positive and a negative when you take over a business. You’re like, “Oh, that’s great.”
10:50 Scott Servetah: When I bought the business I kinda thought I’d be more of a figurehead and just kinda just like be there just to make sure everything is done and then you quickly realize that you’re dealing with the public and you wanna do the best job you possibly can at all times. And it doesn’t matter if it’s the best wash or the least expensive wash, we wanna give the same level of service. And if someone calls in sick or if we get short-handed, for whatever the reason, we’re not even… For any reason, I wanna be involved and I wanna learn every aspect of the business, and I wanna help out wherever we can. I want my guys to understand, there’s nothing that I won’t do that they won’t do as well. In other words, if they need help with something, just ask me and I will be the first guy to jump in.
11:40 Kurt Baker: Okay. So you’ll go on the line if you need to, so to speak. You go out there…
11:44 Scott Servetah: I do it everyday. I do it everyday. I’m 11 1/2 years into this. I work every single day.
11:48 Kurt Baker: Yeah. Nothing like leading by example, so to speak.
11:50 Scott Servetah: That’s the best way to do it. Let your guys know you’re there for them. And if they get caught in a bind or if a customer has a special attention to something, they need a little extra cleaning or a little extra attention, I’m there to fill in. And then we can keep the level of service the same throughout the whole day.
12:04 Kurt Baker: Right. The thing I personally notice is, I have a greater… I appreciate my car gets washed but the times I really appreciate it when it’s like 8 degrees outside. You’re like, they’re basically trying to get the car dry before it freezes. [laughter]
12:17 Scott Servetah: Well, that does happen sometimes, yeah. That does happen sometimes.
12:19 Kurt Baker: I really feel like… They get a little extra money on those days.
12:21 Scott Servetah: But you know what happens on those kind of days? That’s a day more going… There’s like salt on the road, it’s basically we’re just getting the salt off our car. We’re just basically cleaning the car. And then we’ll do the best job we possibly can, but there are some days that it’s a little tougher than others.
12:36 Kurt Baker: No, no. But I certainly appreciate what is done because I know that I certainly don’t wanna get out there and do it myself on those days, that’s for sure. And you gotta do it. Especially the winter up here, you gotta, you have to clean your car.
12:46 Scott Servetah: The salt is so corrosive and also that brine solution they put down now, when you see those white lines on the road.
12:50 Kurt Baker: Oh, yeah.
12:50 Scott Servetah: That’s even more corrosive than the salt and it’s a terrible thing. It just eats away at the body, so.
12:55 Kurt Baker: So how do you… ‘Cause, well, you’re dealing with a kind of an entry-level job. I’ve noticed that there tends to be a relatively high turnover there. So, how do you keep people motivated and try to keep them around? ‘Cause I know the cost of getting a new employee and training them, and then if you lose one and all that. So what are some thoughts that you have about how you encourage the right people to work there and make them as happy as you can, right? What do you do to do that?
13:20 Scott Servetah: Right now, if I have 18 employees, I would say at least a third to maybe more, have been there way longer than I have. And I’m there 11 1/2 years.
13:35 Kurt Baker: That’s great.
13:36 Scott Servetah: My manager’s been there since 1980. I have employees there since the early 2000s, My detailers, my driver, so it’s…
13:45 Kurt Baker: So why do you think they like it? What’s…
13:47 Scott Servetah: I think it’s, I treat them fairly.
13:49 Kurt Baker: Okay, that’s good.
13:51 Scott Servetah: We’re a team. I always tell them. We wear uniforms.
13:54 Kurt Baker: Right.
13:54 Scott Servetah: We don’t have to wear uniforms, but it brings a togetherness. So I think that, when it’s cold, I’m always… I buy them coffee. I buy them soup. Not that I’m looking for anything for it, but they’re people. And the customers don’t necessarily always see them as people, they see more of them as a worker. I see them as my friends and my employees, and my co-workers. So I’m very, very fair with my guys. I think it’s very important. Once again, Stephen, and myself, we work with these guys so we know there’s a lot of camaraderie between us, even though the language barrier might be there sometimes, but we find a way to all get along.
14:31 Kurt Baker: Okay.
14:31 Scott Servetah: And we just, I try to make it as easy as possible for them, but they know when it’s time to work, it’s time to work. And I always tend to not micro-manage. Even when I was on the commodities floor, my clerk, and the guys that answer the phones for me, and the guys who checked my trading cards, I don’t ever tell them what to do. They know what to do. If they don’t do what they’re supposed to do when it’s supposed to be done, then it’s an issue. But if we get it out right upfront, I’ll leave you alone. I’ll leave you alone but when it’s time to work, it’s time to work.
15:04 Kurt Baker: So you’re more worried about the results than the in between part.
15:08 Scott Servetah: It’s the result, exactly. You’re absolutely right, you’re absolutely right.
15:11 Kurt Baker: So, if you’ll makes them feel a little bit more empowered like…
15:14 Scott Servetah: Yes. ’cause they’re not…
15:14 Kurt Baker: As long as the result is the way you want it to be.
15:16 Scott Servetah: There’s not anyone, all day long, watching them over their shoulder, they know what to do and they all know and they’re all cross-trained. So in other words, if a guy has to do extra work on a particular car, another guy can step into his role temporarily to… Whether it be windows, whether it be shampoo, whether it be doing the wax, they all know what to do. We have a routine, we all follow it. And they all know, if one guy is not available, they all know how to step in and help out whether it’s detailing, whether it’s just shampooing, we all know what to do.
15:51 Kurt Baker: Okay. So what do you see as… Now, you’ve got a great… You got there core people that are there a long, long, long, long time. And I’m gonna guess here, man, ’cause I used to work like in a fast food restaurant, so I knew I was only gonna be there a couple of years ’cause obviously I was gonna go off to college and stuff. So you must have different… Do you get that kind of thing where somebody is maybe a college student or are they mostly…
16:09 Scott Servetah: They’re mostly just, they’re family guys, mostly family guys. We have a couple of guys that… I don’t mind a guy who wants to better himself. So I understand it could be stepping stone and I’m all about that. It’s no problem whatsoever. I have a guy working for me now that I even offered to another business, ’cause I’m trying to help the guy out. As much as I need employees, I’d rather see the guy succeed. And I understand, to some people, working at a car wash might not be the greatest job in the world for an employee, and this guy has a family, and I know somebody that has a business that he can make more money and have better hours. I offered my friend, this one of my employees, just to help him out. Just because once again, you become friends with these guys and I can get somebody else to work for me, but I would rather see this guy succeed in life.
16:54 Kurt Baker: So how do you encourage people to come work for you, ’cause you need…
16:57 Scott Servetah: It’s a lot of word of mouth. It’s a lot of word of mouth.
17:00 Kurt Baker: A lot of word of mouth?
17:00 Scott Servetah: A lot of word of mouth.
17:01 Kurt Baker: So if people like the job, that usually helps, right? Do you take like employee referrals and things like that?
17:05 Scott Servetah: We take employee referrals. We also work with a couple of different agencies where we help people that need some rehabilitation. We work with one group called, A Better Way, and it’s men that have been released from incarceration and then we give them a chance to work with us. We work with some… Just different employment agencies, but a lot of times it’s people that need an entry-level job. And then from there, it’ll grow,’cause we’ll teach you, we’ll teach my guys how to detail, how to buff, how to shampoo, how to do other things. And that could either stay with me or in turn, go somewhere else and further their career. So which is very important, I can’t just hold people back. As much as I want my business to grow, I want people to succeed in life, so.
17:55 Kurt Baker: Yeah. And I think that’s kind of key ’cause you feel like… ’cause you hear about certain franchises like McDonald’s has these little programs where they help you, like they train you, but they know you may or may not be there, right? But a lot of people stay, but it’s also careers, there’s good careers, right?
18:07 Scott Servetah: There’s nothing wrong with helping people. There’s…
18:08 Kurt Baker: Of course not.
18:10 Scott Servetah: Yeah, we’re all in this together. So I want my business to succeed, obviously, it’s my family, but at the same time as a neighborhood or as a community, we all need to succeed and that in turn will eventually help my business in itself also.
18:24 Kurt Baker: Right. Right.
18:24 Scott Servetah: So I think that we’re all fighting the same fight. So we need to…
18:29 Kurt Baker: So it sounds like you created a nice family atmosphere and the people like to work there. So what do you think is your biggest challenge with employees? ‘Cause everybody has… I mean, right now, did you hear about minimum wage as an example may be going up?
18:40 Scott Servetah: That’s a huge problem for us.
18:41 Kurt Baker: There’s always other factors that you don’t necessarily control. That’s one of the concerns I’m hearing about just…
18:49 Scott Servetah: That’s a very, very big concern for all small businesses especially a service business, especially a service business. I mean there’s only so much you can pay a guy to work if I wanna keep prices reasonable. But obviously, once minimum wage goes up, we’re gonna see it across the board, I personally think it’s very shortsighted on the gover… You can’t just keep raising minimum wage. There’s a business attached to… Someone owns that business. You just can’t keep raising prices to help employees. At some point, the business is there to obviously turn a profit, and I can only charge so much for my service, so at some point, it outweighs what’s normal to what’s fair for both.
19:36 Kurt Baker: Yeah. My concern is you’re gonna have… ‘Cause they’ve already had seen it, like in Seattle, Washington, where they had less people…
19:40 Scott Servetah: Less employees.
19:41 Kurt Baker: There’s less.
19:42 Scott Servetah: That’s what’s been happening.
19:42 Kurt Baker: But you have the waitresses, the service goes down. Some of the businesses went out of business. They just simply… The business wouldn’t work anymore. They said, “I can’t do this.”
19:49 Scott Servetah: There is a way to make it work. We will make it work. That’s not an issue. We have to just…
19:54 Kurt Baker: No, no. I think that you will but I but it’s always a concern when you… Well, as an entrepreneur, you feel like that’s an artificial push, because you’re always trying to… There’s always a battle for employees, right? So…
20:05 Scott Servetah: Exactly.
20:05 Kurt Baker: You gotta pay them what you can.
20:07 Scott Servetah: And plus, everywhere you go now, there’s signs. Any business you go past, there’s signs, “Help wanted. Help wanted.” So the pool of men…
20:13 Kurt Baker: That’s right. Do what you can, right?
20:14 Scott Servetah: That’s it. The pool of men is much smaller than, or, men and woman, is much smaller than it used to be. People can’t get employees. So now, it becomes a game of who can pay the most to take them in.
20:24 Kurt Baker: So minimum wage is quite going up anyway, not by law but by necessity…
20:28 Scott Servetah: Exactly.
20:28 Kurt Baker: Of employers and themselves.
20:29 Scott Servetah: It’s supply and demand.
20:30 Kurt Baker: Yup. So that’s a great conversation. We’ll be right back in just a few minutes to talk more about Capital Car Wash with Scott. Thank, Scott.
20:41 Announcer: It’s all about how you manage your money. Now, let’s get back to learning how from Kurt Baker, of Certified Wealth Management and Investment with Master Your Finances.
20:52 Kurt Baker: Welcome back. You’re listening to Master Your Finances. I’m Kurt Baker, here with Scott Servetah, the owner of Capital Car Wash. And we’re talking about his interesting journey from Wall Street to literally Main street, washing the cars on Main Street. I just recall the dirty car economic indicator. Have you heard of that?
21:11 Scott Servetah: No, I haven’t.
21:12 Kurt Baker: What you do is you go out and you look and you see how many cars are dirty. You can figure out whether or not people are making money or not.
21:16 Scott Servetah: That’s a good point.
21:17 Kurt Baker: And so… ‘Cause they tend not to wash their cars if they’re not making the money. But I know everybody’s making money now ’cause they have jobs, right? ‘Cause we talked about in the last segment is that you literally have kind of a battle for your entry level employees right now, and that’s kind of that minimum wage thing. So there might be a market value of whatever, 12, 13, 14, if they press it to 15, you’re like, “Okay, now your business model is getting squeezed.” Right?
21:37 Scott Servetah: Well, I’ll tell you what happened though. When we first bought the car wash in September of ’07. And obviously, we know what happened in 2008. So you can start seeing the correlation of high gas prices, people being unemployed, and business across the board, not Capital, not anybody in particular but across…
21:57 Kurt Baker: I know, everybody.
21:57 Announcer: Across the state, across the country. Business went down. And it was a pretty significant hit. Like I said, Capital’s been there since 1962, or so, so they had a track record. And knowing what we were doing, versus what other people were doing. And like I said, my father’s friend was in the business, so he gave me an indicator of what his business… And it was the same percentage across the board that went down. As things got better, the volumes obviously started increasing again. And you see now, when gas price are cheap, it’s… You see people washing their car more.
22:29 Kurt Baker: They’re driving more. They’re out more.
22:30 Scott Servetah: They’re driving more. That is more disposable income. And in Lawrenceville, which is a weird economic breakdown, you find that people, I think, tend to own their cars more rather than lease their cars. When you lease your car, obviously, you spent good money to have a nice car but you might not be as financially or psychologically attached to the car, ’cause it’s not yours.
22:58 Kurt Baker: You know you’re trading it in a few months.
23:00 Scott Servetah: You’re trading it in, so…
23:00 Kurt Baker: [chuckle] It’s like, “I got a new one.”
23:01 Scott Servetah: So I might just get a basic wash. But people that own their car tend to take better care of their car.
23:07 Kurt Baker: Oh, yeah, absolutely.
23:08 Scott Servetah: They wash their car more frequently. They do more ancillary services, as far as…
23:13 Kurt Baker: It’s like you wanna wax everything.
23:14 Scott Servetah: You wanna wax the car because you want…
23:16 Kurt Baker: You wanna protect it.
23:16 Scott Servetah: ‘Cause you may have that car for 10 or 12 years.
23:17 Kurt Baker: Right. Absolutely.
23:18 Scott Servetah: And you wanna know what? There’s nothing wrong with keeping your car that long. It’s nice to have a new car every three years. But you wanna know what? If you keep your car in nice shape and it gets you from point A to point B and you have no payment, that’s great itself.
23:28 Kurt Baker: Yeah, but the average ownership is roughly seven years now, right? Somewhere in that range.
23:30 Scott Servetah: Somewhere in that range, exactly.
23:32 Kurt Baker: That’s a long time. It used to be like… I remember my parents used trade them every three years. So it’s roughly like three, four years. Now, it’s like seven. It might even be getting longer.
23:38 Scott Servetah: Yeah. But think about it ’cause they run. Well, they work. They work.
23:41 Kurt Baker: They work.
23:41 Scott Servetah: They work great, yeah. The car, it’s… Yeah, even American cars, they have made a huge comeback. We see more American cars than ever before, on the roads. And aside from buying a house or your children’s college, what’s the most expensive thing you’re ever gonna pay for? It’s your car. I mean, cars are 20, 30, 40, 50 and…
23:58 Kurt Baker: And up.
24:00 Scott Servetah: And up and forever. So it’s a huge number. So it’s like having piece of art on the street that you pay for. You have to take care of it.
24:08 Kurt Baker: Right. Right. Yeah, definitely. You need to take… I am a big believer in taking care of the car, ’cause you don’t want the rust and all that stuff setting in, ’cause then it’s really expensive.
24:15 Scott Servetah: Oh, yeah.
24:17 Kurt Baker: That’s so… [laughter]
24:17 Scott Servetah: Yeah, I see it all the time, yeah. Some cars just have a flaw in them. They tend to get some rust spots on them. And it just keeps eating it away. It’s like a cancer.
24:26 Kurt Baker: And once it gets started, it’s ruined.
24:28 Scott Servetah: Once it gets started, it’s hard to stop.
24:28 Kurt Baker: ‘Cause they’re treated at the fact… Nowadays, at least they treat it ’cause I go over at Florida where salt was a really big issue near the beach. And once they started treating, it’s like a huge difference in how much rust ’cause actually… They do like a… Not electrolysis, but electric… They charge each side of it.
24:43 Scott Servetah: They charge both sides of the car.
24:44 Kurt Baker: Like the paint is charged and the body is charged and they literally bond.
24:48 Scott Servetah: Exactly.
24:49 Kurt Baker: That’s so pretty cool.
24:50 Scott Servetah: Yeah, and they put a lot of these ceramic shields on the car now, and it keeps everything off the paint. So it’s almost like a virtual like layer of a clear coat over the paint that keeps it clean and keeps it protected.
25:00 Kurt Baker: Okay. Yeah, I’ve heard of that. Have you seen that helps the cars? Is that…
25:03 Scott Servetah: We do a clear coat treatment. Excuse me, we do a ceramic treatment and it comes with a three-year warranty from the manufacturer and nothing will stick to the paint.
25:14 Kurt Baker: Oh, wow.
25:15 Scott Servetah: Tree sap, road paint, road tar, bird droppings. It makes like an invisible shield. Everything comes right off the paint. It’s a good investment for, once again, for someone who owns an expensive product.
25:30 Kurt Baker: Okay, so there you go. I’ve heard about it, read about it. Known a could people get it, they say something which is kind of nice…
25:36 Scott Servetah: Yeah, it’s a fantastic product.
25:37 Kurt Baker: You see it on a bigger scale. So it probably makes the car easier to wash too, right?
25:41 Scott Servetah: Yeah. Everything flies right off, nothing sticks to the paint, so everything flies right off exactly.
25:46 Kurt Baker: So when you bought… So were there any surprises that you didn’t anticipate after you purchased the… I mean, as a new business, you go in and…
25:54 Scott Servetah: I didn’t realize the maintenance was so much. A lot goes into it. You have a combination of water and metal and ice and soap. There’s a lot of things can go wrong. And nothing typically… I don’t wanna say ever breaks, but there’s a lot of maintenance. My manager, like I said, who’s been there since 1980. He has a very, very thorough work schedule.
26:17 Kurt Baker: That must have been helpful, since he had a long history of work in the machinery.
26:19 Scott Servetah: He’s also like a mechanic. So I don’t have to worry about anything. As far as calling anybody in, he knows how to change and maintain everything. So the previous owner, who had the business for 20-something years, he instilled in my manager a schedule and a chart of when everything was changed and when it has to be changed again and we stick to that schedule. When we change something, we write it down. We write down when we have to change it again. Or if we flip a chain or if we change a part, or if you change a filter, we write everything down. We always have extra parts on hand. So God forbid something does go down, we don’t have to wait to order it, we have everything. But there is a lot of maintenance that goes into a car wash to keep everything running efficiently.
27:08 Kurt Baker: Now one of the things I remember reading once, and you maybe can expand on this, it’s actually more environmentally friendly to use a car wash than it is to go home and wash your own car ’cause you actually recycle the water and so forth? Like all the water?
27:17 Scott Servetah: We don’t necessarily recycle the water, but we use very little water. It’s a lot of nozzles, so if you run your garden hose, it’s whatever the volume of water that’s coming out of your hose versus all compressed nozzles just spraying out a stream of water. So it looks like a lot of water, but it’s way less than washing it at home. Also, everything that we use is, we use a Simoniz, which has been a product for probably a 100 years now.
27:41 Kurt Baker: Yeah, I remember when I was a kid, we used it on the car… [chuckle]
27:42 Scott Servetah: Yeah, and that was actually synonymous with when you wanna get a wax, get you car waxed.
27:47 Kurt Baker: You Simonize it.
27:47 Scott Servetah: You say, “I’m gonna Simonize it.”
27:49 Kurt Baker: You Simonize the car.
27:50 Scott Servetah: Yes, that’s the brand I’m using. Everything is water soluble. Everything is safe to go into the streams and the gutters and it’s a good product and there’s nothing caustic that we use and nothing dangerous for your car. I think it’s a great product.
28:04 Kurt Baker: Some people don’t know that. They don’t realize that it’s actually environmentally friendly to go to a car wash.
28:07 Scott Servetah: Yes, you have to. Yeah, you have to. That’s where the business is going. Everyone’s… You know as far as lawsuits and as far as damage to the car, so they make a product that’s safe for all finishes. And we don’t use brushes in the car wash, everything is cloth. So everything’s gotta be spelled out. Everything’s gotta be industry standard for every… Acceptable for every car.
28:29 Kurt Baker: So I know they went from the brushes to the cloth ’cause the brushes would like scratch the car. Is that what used to happen?
28:34 Scott Servetah: That was before my time, but yeah.
28:35 Kurt Baker: Yeah, yeah, I remember that.
28:36 Scott Servetah: You can’t use brushes now, everything in the car wash is cloth.
28:39 Kurt Baker: So it’s just like if you’re going home and just washing it yourselves, you should not get like the scratch… Like with the brush ’cause I remember that was actually an issue a long time ago. People wouldn’t use it.
28:49 Scott Servetah: In between every wash and during every wash, it’s being sprayed with water. So every piece of cloth in the car wash is sprayed in between every car. So there’s no contamination from one car to the next car.
29:01 Kurt Baker: Okay, so I’m assuming the system is set up so it keeps everything nice and clean ’cause you have one car go through and then the next car comes through.
29:08 Scott Servetah: Yes, there’s a lot…
29:09 Kurt Baker: So I don’t worry about the guy with the dirty truck in front of me, right?
29:12 Scott Servetah: No, no. Also, we don’t allow any trucks with any kind of debris in their pick-up truck in the bed.
29:17 Kurt Baker: Oh, debris. Oh wow.
29:18 Scott Servetah: Any kind of debris in the bed. It’s a big sign, “All debris must be removed from the pick-up truck beds.” And plus, we do a lot of prep. Where some places everything is automated, we actually have guys out back prepping every vehicle. So we have guys with hog’s hair brushes, which is almost like human hair, prepping all and cleaning the windows, cleaning the sides of the car. Then we power wash every vehicle to remove any kind of loose or excess debris before… Excuse me, dirt, before it actually goes into the wash. So the car is kind of clean…
29:50 Kurt Baker: Okay, so there’s a lot more involved than you think. [laughter]
29:51 Scott Servetah: Yes. It’s kind of clean before it goes into the car wash. But then, once again it also gets back to the minimum wage talk that it’s a lot of… It’s very labor intensive, a lot of people.
30:00 Kurt Baker: Yeah, I just remember the winter like they’ll say you got to get rid of the ice chunks you get under the bottom of the car. You can’t, they don’t want you going through that stuff on there, right?
30:08 Scott Servetah: Yeah, that’s it.
30:09 Kurt Baker: You got to remove it all. You can’t have the snow…
30:10 Scott Servetah: We clean cars. We don’t remove snow.
30:13 Kurt Baker: Right. [laughter]
30:14 Scott Servetah: So, I can’t have the whole tunnel. And also, it’s also dangerous for my guys because we have a very, very high-pressure blowers that dry the cars off. And I can’t have ice when it hits… The car hits the blower. I can’t have that blowing ice and snow all over the place. It can really injure somebody and break a window or damage a car.
30:34 Kurt Baker: Right. So there’s reasons for all of those things?
30:37 Scott Servetah: There’s a method to the madness, yeah.
30:40 Kurt Baker: [laughter] So what have you enjoyed about owning a car wash that you didn’t expect? What’s kind of like, “Oh, wow. I really like this work.”
30:47 Scott Servetah: I met a lot of nice people. I’ve had, for the past 11 years now, I have people that will be my long-time friends. I have customers… You just don’t know people, you just don’t know people until you meet them and until you… I have a conversation where I try with everybody and you just meet a lot of nice people. And also the satisfaction of… Sometimes an older person might come in, some person might come in with a handicap and you do something that they can’t physically do, it makes you feel good and you help them out. It’s you’re helping people and you’re doing a job and you try doing a job, you know, a well-done job. But also, you know, the sense of satisfaction.
31:24 Kurt Baker: No, that’s fine. So, yeah, so it’s more of a people business than it is…
31:29 Scott Servetah: It’s absolutely people business, yeah. If you’re not a people person, it’s a tough business to be in. You just can’t stay there and just, you know, stay in your office and hide. You have to be out front. You have to be out and about and you have to… The people like to be engaged. “I like your car. I like your wheels.” You pick up a little conversation with everybody and it makes them feel special. When I do it, it’s a genuine thing, I’m not just trying to give them fluff. I genuinely enjoy engaging with the customers. So that’s a nice part of the business.
32:03 Kurt Baker: Wow, that’s really cool. So what are some of the things that you think you do that they like? So when we come back, I’m gonna talk a little bit about maybe like where things are headed, ’cause obviously the car wash business has been around a long time. Cars have changed a little bit. Maybe the business model’s changed a little bit. So we’ll talk about that a little bit when we come right back.
32:28 Announcer: It’s all about how you manage your money. Now, let’s get back to learning how from Kurt Baker of Certified Wealth Management and Investment with Master Your Finances.
32:40 Kurt Baker: Welcome back. You’re listening to Master Your Finances. I’m Kurt Baker, certified financial planner professional here with Scott Servetah, the owner of Capital Car Wash and we’ve been talking about a very interesting business to me ’cause actually it’s one of those ones I was always kinda curious about. When you go out there and you think, “Oh, what kind of business might you wanna own.” I drive through and what I thought was interesting was like, “Oh, I’ll just… ” You buy the car wash and then it’s just, cars go through and you make money and you just blew that whole idea up [laughter] because you have to be involved like any business, right? So really what you’re selling is like personality and service. It’s more of a relationship than it… I mean you’re cleaning your car, right, but it’s the experience of cleaning your car, right?
33:18 Scott Servetah: Exactly.
33:18 Kurt Baker: And I think, one of the things this has reminded me is like, as an example, I mean, I’ve gone into different places, like in a McDonald’s, an Applebee’s and I feel like they always wanna shove a computer in front of me and I’m like, “No, I wanna be there for human interaction. I wanna be there for an experience not just to have food.” But when I go to a car wash, because I do the same thing. I go… I mean, I don’t live near you unfortunately, but where I go is the same exact concept. I know Larry when I go there, I talk to him and then I go through and I talk to everybody as I walk through the place. I mean it’s fun.
33:47 Scott Servetah: We tried to fight off technology as much as possible. And what happened was, coming from the trading floor, everything was pencil, well pen and pad. Which is, if you think about it, kind of archaic when a computer can do it faster. So I don’t disagree with the way that my previous life changed. It does do a better job faster, but everything worked fine. When we bought the car wash, every… When customer would come in, we would give you a ticket on a piece of paper and we have Sharpies and we’d circle the ticket we give it to you, you go to the cash register and everything flowed. It never broke down as long as we had a new Sharpie and we’ve never had a problem.
34:26 Kurt Baker: You just have no Sharpies on hand.
34:27 Scott Servetah: But then in 2016, we started the monthly car wash plan which helped increase revenue and business, but it also increased our technology. So now, in the back there’s no more Sharpies and there’s no more pads. Everything now is a greeter station. Everything’s computerized. We push the button that tells the car wash exactly what to do. The cars go in and it goes in sequential order and then the cashier then just scans a ticket and then it’s all automated. So I did try to resist technology but it did make the car wash better and more efficient. And the monthly car wash plan is something else that I tried to resist thinking, “How can I allow a customer to pay once a month and come every day?” But it does make sense. It’s the same idea as going to a gym. You go, you pay whatever the gym might be, Planet Fitness or Retro Fitness, you pay them once a month and you go when it suits you. And it works out better for the customer, and it works out better for the business. As much as I didn’t I think it would, it actually does.
35:47 Kurt Baker: I have to agree with that, ’cause I had the same analysis myself, and I think in my case was I wash it at least two and a half times or something like that, right. You’re like, “It made sense,” and…
35:53 Scott Servetah: That’s exactly what it is. That’s the breakdown, yeah.
35:56 Kurt Baker: But then I was like, “Well, am I really gonna do that,” because right now I’m coming once or twice a month, but what I found out was, is now I’m actually happier, because I actually do wash my car almost every week roughly. I don’t quite do it, ’cause you go on vacation, so we’re coming out somewhere about even in my case, so well…
36:12 Scott Servetah: And even, but now it gives you flexibility if you wanted to just run your car through again, it doesn’t cost you anything, ’cause…
36:17 Kurt Baker: And I’ve had that happen where especially in the winter, I might run it two or three times through the car wash, and now I’ve got a clean car.
36:24 Scott Servetah: You’ve got have a clean car.
36:25 Kurt Baker: And there are other times of the year where I may not or maybe it’s raining, I’ll still come in and wash it before it rains, ’cause the rain does not clean your car. [laughter]
36:31 Scott Servetah: Correct, correct.
36:32 Kurt Baker: It just makes it wet.
36:33 Scott Servetah: It makes it wet, exactly.
36:33 Kurt Baker: And so…
36:35 Scott Servetah: We take a little bit of soap and a little bit of friction.
36:37 Kurt Baker: So I have no problem with driving out of the car wash and cleaning it, even literally before it’s gonna rain in the afternoon.
36:41 Scott Servetah: And my guys don’t even mind doing it, because a guy who comes on a somewhat regular basis, his car is cleaner. It’s easier for them to work on. The car is cleaner, so the outside of the car looks as good as it possibly can, and the inside of the car is cleaner, so it’s easier for them to vacuum. It’s easier to clean the windows and wipe the dash and then wipe the console down because they’re coming on a regular basis. If you neglect your car, you only come once every eight weeks or so, it’s a lot more, it’s more labor intensive for the employees, so they prefer cleaning a cleaner car. So it works, it benefits everybody.
37:13 Kurt Baker: And the interior, I know that on the carpets and stuff, if you don’t clean those, you actually wear the carpet out faster.
37:18 Scott Servetah: You do. Yeah.
37:19 Kurt Baker: Basically, there’s like a sandpaper in your… [laughter]
37:21 Scott Servetah: Yeah, yeah, yeah. But a lot of people now, they tend to put rubber mats down, and…
37:24 Kurt Baker: I don’t like that. I tried those. I didn’t like those. I took ’em out. I personally don’t. I was like, “Why don’t I just wash the car.” But so, that’s just me.
37:31 Scott Servetah: And plus we offer shampoo, so we can always shampoo your mats, and that’s really inexpensive.
37:35 Kurt Baker: Yeah, so that’s just where I ended up. But yeah, I think you’re right, so. But I agree, I think the monthly thing works better. So from a business model, so that was the modification you made as far as going from just hoping everybody comes. So that probably evens out from business model. So now you know, “Oh, I’ve got so many people subscribing.” So now you’re kind of a baseline…
37:58 Scott Servetah: Exactly.
37:58 Kurt Baker: At the beginning of the month, right?
38:00 Scott Servetah: We know that if it rains, and this year has been a disastrous year for the car wash business ’cause it rains every weekend and every… I don’t know the exact number, but we had to be closed 100 days this year.
38:10 Kurt Baker: Oh, wow, that many.
38:11 Scott Servetah: I would have to say so. But we know at least we’re getting X amount of dollars per day, per week, per month, whatever the case may have, however you wanna break it down, so we know we have that. The customers don’t really mind, ’cause they still come in enough times to use their monthly pass, and they know, and we’re still open most days, even if it’s drizzling in the morning or raining in the morning, we give it a few hours. But people, they take advantage of it and there seems to be no one unhappy with the way the system works. And we’re more of the subscription business now than the car wash business. We really would rather people just sign up for monthly plans, and it just makes it easier. Everyone comes in, they come and go as they want, they’re driving by, there’s no line, they pop in, they pop out, it just works out better for everybody.
38:52 Kurt Baker: So how do you promote that to get people on the…
38:54 Scott Servetah: We have signs.
38:55 Kurt Baker: Subscription plan.
38:55 Scott Servetah: We have signage. My guys, like I’m wearing now, my sweatshirt, has the monthly price on the back of the sweatshirt. We have signs all over the car wash. In the store, we have handouts. The cashiers try to to inform the customer, “Well, if you’re gonna spend $26 today on this wash, it could be free, ’cause for twice that amount you could pay for the whole month.” And then, so we give them some literature and if they decide they wanna…
39:21 Kurt Baker: Do you do anything outside? If I just moved to Lawrenceville, and I had no idea where you were, how would… What do you do to try to bring people in from that aren’t current clients, right?
39:29 Scott Servetah: Well, we advertise. We have obviously a Facebook page, we advertise still in the phonebook, whoever still uses the phone book. We have a…
39:37 Kurt Baker: I don’t even have a phonebook anymore. [laughter]
39:38 Scott Servetah: Exactly. I don’t… I don’t even know what I’m paying for, but I still pay. [chuckle] I pay for it every month. We advertise in the newspapers. We do money mailer. We advertise at Ryder University. We cross-market with a lot of different people, a lot of different businesses, so…
39:52 Kurt Baker: Cross-market, so how do you cross-market?
39:54 Scott Servetah: As far as like car dealerships, as far… We do work for them when we advertise with them, we have hand-outs. Jiffy Lubes, we have information there. We try to…
40:04 Kurt Baker: So what about Fleets? Do you ever get involved in… ’cause certain people, like if I have, I don’t know, a limo or something or…
40:09 Scott Servetah: We do all the limo businesses, we do taxicab businesses. We do…
40:13 Kurt Baker: Well, that has to be a pretty good baseline, ’cause they always need to keep their stuff clean.
40:16 Scott Servetah: They’re always keeping their car, yeah. They come in a lot.
40:17 Kurt Baker: They have to.
40:18 Scott Servetah: We give them a good discount and they come in a lot on a regular basis and they also, it’s word of mouth. ‘Cause a lot of it’s word of mouth. If we do a good job, and then people tend, “Oh, my friend told me,” or, “You did a good job.”
40:26 Kurt Baker: I’m just thinking out loud. What about a dealer? I always wonder when I walk by a dealership, I’m wondering who… I guess they must send… They just send somebody out to wash all those cars. [laughter]
40:34 Scott Servetah: No, a lot of car dealerships now have car washes in the dealership.
40:37 Kurt Baker: Oh, okay.
40:38 Scott Servetah: Yeah. But we do a lot of washing for car dealers around here that don’t have dealerships… Excuse me, that don’t have car washes.
40:42 Kurt Baker: I got you.
40:43 Scott Servetah: We wash all their cars, their rental cars. We do detailing for them also. And a lot of times they’ll force… Not force, they’ll recommend us to their new clients and their new customers, and we’ll get new customers that way also.
40:58 Kurt Baker: You always ask your dealer ’cause they’re local usually, right? “Hey, where do you go, who do you use,” for whatever the case may be.
41:04 Scott Servetah: We do a lot of state work since the Capital Car Wash, capital of New Jersey.
41:08 Kurt Baker: Better be doing the capital stuff, right? [laughter]
41:09 Scott Servetah: Yeah, well, even though we’re a Lawrenceville but they chose Capital back in 1962.
41:14 Kurt Baker: That’s pretty cool.
41:15 Announcer: So a lot of the state workers will obviously wash their own cars there aside from their state vehicles, so we try to capture everyone that we possibly could.
41:24 Kurt Baker: It’s amazing. Well, great business, I appreciate you coming on and talking about…
41:27 Announcer: Thank you so much.
41:28 Kurt Baker: The car wash business. I always found it fascinating. I think it’s a cool business. I learned a lot today. I hope everybody else did as well. You’ve been listening to Master Your Finances. I am Kurt Baker. You can reach us through our website which is, www.cwmi.us or you can go to the specific site just for the radio show which is, masteryourfinances.us and subscribe to the podcast. Remember, together we can master your finances so you can enjoy financial peace of mind.
41:58 Announcer: It’s hard to keep up with the fast-paced financial world but because of Master Your Finances, you have a headstart. Thank you for listening to this week’s edition of Master Your Finances with Kurt Baker, our certified financial planner professional. Only on 107.7 the Bronc and 1077thebronc.com. Tune in next week, Sunday at 9:00 AM to get a boost on your financial planning. But if you missed a week, you can check out past episodes. Just go to masteryourfinances.us to check out past episodes and more. Master Your Finances is underwritten by Certified Wealth Management and Investment, LLC. Money doesn’t grow on trees, but it can grow your portfolio. Thanks to Kurt Baker and Master Your Finances on Sundays at 9:00 AM, exclusively on 107.7 the Bronc and 1077thebronc.com.