The car wash industry is filled with stories of multi-generational, family-owned businesses. This is one of those stories, but with a unique twist.
While the father and son duo of Ed Bergen Sr. and Jr. are co-owners of Big Ed’s Car Wash in Fair Lawn, NJ, neither one of them had any experience in the car wash business prior to opening their doors in May of this year. What the Bergens lacked in car wash experience they made up for in years of preparation and lifelong fascinations with the automobile and obsessions with keeping them clean.
“We love cars, we are car guys,” Ed Bergen Jr. says. “We have always been interested in car washes and cars in general. It was a passion of ours that we always wanted to take on.”
The partners put their dream into motion two years ago when they bought a prime piece of land on one of Fair Lawn’s main thoroughfares and began the long process of converting the 1.5-acre property into a full-serve car wash. The site is the former home of a motor tool business and sits directly across from ShopRite, the town’s biggest and busiest grocery store. The four-lane road has great traffic counts thanks to the anchor store across the street , granting Big Ed’s with plenty of visibility, enabling it to hit the ground running when it opened its doors this past spring.
The wash’s highly visible location, paired with the modern styling of the building, made the business an instant hit with the community. The exterior design of the wash is a combination of a traditional Cape Cod style home (one of the most popular style houses in the Northern New Jersey suburb) and the crisp design of a modern industrial building.
“We wanted a clean modern design,” Bergen says. “But the building also has a touch of a beach house feel to it. We used stucco and stone on the outside of the building so it is relatively maintenance free. In the inside the tones are dark gray mixed with a black stone floor.”
The Bergens’ commitment to designing an eye-catching and memorable site has paid off — customers are drawn to the wash and are constantly complimenting them on Big Ed’s appearance. In addition, the town bestowed its annual beautification award on the wash as the most beautiful building of 2016, further validating the design choices.
While the wash’s skin is certainly impressive it is what lies underneath that has truly positioned Big Ed’s for success. The 110-foot full-serve tunnel features Belanger wash equipment with all of the bells and whistles the owners’ could cram into the compacttunnel design. While the 110-foot tunnel is short by full-service standards the staff’s commitment to effectively pre-treating vehicles and providing a thorough wipe down at the tunnel exit ensures each car drives off of the lot clean, shiny, and dry.
While much of the industry is turning toward the express exterior concept, the Bergens opted to build a full-service location to provide customers with a higher level of clean. Before the Bergens built Big Ed’s, Fair Lawn had two full-serve washes on either side of town, conditioning the motoring public to the model. The full-service competition consists of a tunnel location, and a popular hand wash site with a short conveyor for rinsing, product application, and drying.
“We looked into all different types of washes,” Bergen says. “Both me and my father prefer a full service wash. We figured if we are going to do this we are going to want to do everything and offer a complete service.”
The wash menu sports five wash packages that range in price from $9.95 to $45 depending on the level of service. Big Ed’s two most popular menu options are its middle ground Silver wash and top-of-the-line Platinum offering. For $18.95 Silver wash customers are treated to triple foam and tire shine and their choice of air sprayed interior fragrance. The $34.95 Platinum offering adds Lustra shield, Carnuba Wax, and a spray-on super sealant wax that is buffed into the finish, which amounts to a mini detail of the car’s finish. Big Ed’s just introduced its VIP package for $45, which focuses primarily on the car’s interior. In addition to the exterior treatment, the menu option features carpet shampooing, Armour All application, and leather conditioning.
Complementing the full-service tunnel is a separate nine-car detail center that offers standard interior and exterior details as well as some differentiating services. The available services include leather revitalization, interior steam cleaning, and scratch removal. Big Ed’s has recently began offering a 45-minute deodorization service powered through the steam cleaning unit that eliminates foul-smelling odors from the vehicle, which has become very popular for lease turn-ins. The detail center also offers a hand wash option, which has been a big hit among the community’s large antique and vintage car owner contingent.
Rounding out Big Ed’s services is a three-bay quick lube center, which has been very successful in the early going. “The car wash has been a big theatre for the lube,” Bergen says. “We cross promote the car wash and lube. Every car that comes in gets $5 off an oil change. On rainy days when the wash is closed the quick lube and the detail center are still open. We are a seven-day-a-week operation. Even with bad weather we are never really closed.”
Prior to entering the car wash industry Bergen was a television producer, which he says helped him build the skills necessary on the marketing front to help make Big Ed’s a success. The wash uses a host of different marketing tactics to draw customers in and keep them coming back again and again.
Big Ed’s engages in a lot of direct mail, both traditional snail mail and the electronic sort, to stay in touch with customers and offer promotions and discounts to entice customers to return. The wash also offers a 10th wash free program that is tracked by the site’s computer system, freeing customers from the old-school paper-based loyalty punch cards of the past which were often lost or damaged before they could ever be redeemed.
In addition, Big Ed’s is actively involved in the community, building long-term engagement with its customer base. Among its various community-building efforts are its sponsorship of the Fair Lawn PBA, its local food bank drop-off facility status, and its participation in a toy drive run by the police department for the holiday season.
The wash’s service offerings runs the gamut and matches its owners’ do-it-all approach to running the business. “I am here full time, everyday,” Bergen says. “I am everywhere and am doing it all. I am in the tunnel, at the greeter stand, wiping down cars, whatever needs to be done.”
That can-do attitude will serve Big Ed’s well as it builds its brand and foothold in the local community. The wash continues to differentiate itself from the competition and build a loyal washer base thanks to its commitment to not just doing it all, but doing it all well.