My uncle, my mother’s brother Bill Thacher, started in the car wash business in 1947. In the ‘50s I started working for him during vacations and holidays from school. My duties varied from steam cleaning white walls to being a swing manager when our regular guys were on vacation. It was very hard physically but as a kid, to be around automobiles all day and to learn how to run a business, it was an incredible learning experience.
In the mid to late ‘50s Bill purchased Sherman Car Wash Equipment Company from Sherman Larson and relocated the business from Detroit to Palmyra, NJ. Now my vacations were spent both in the factory as well as our car washes. Uncle Bill was my hero and my mentor, a World War II navy officer, an entrepreneur, and the man to whom I owe intense gratitude for bringing me to the car wash world and a lifelong career.
Bill grew Sherman to be the largest car wash equipment manufacturing company in the world. Being a “car washer” first, Bill possessed an amazing vision for our industry. He truly was a pioneer who, along with Sherman Larson, brought many innovations to our industry. He was also a founding father of ACWA (Automatic Car Wash Association).
After I finished my undergraduate degree and military requirement, I joined Uncle Bill in the car wash business. My parents were dismayed when I told them I was going to wash cars the rest of my life. Dad suggested that I first go to graduate school and get an MBA. But I was determined to fulfill my lifelong dream of owning Sherman; the MBA could wait. Eventually, in the mid to late ‘70s, my cousin and I bought Sherman and all our car washes. We sold Sherman in 1993.
In the late ‘70s I joined the board of ACWA, which later became the ICA. Gus Trantham (then the executive director) asked what I hoped to accomplish while on the board. My response was simple: to help raise the professionalism of the car wash industry.
At various professional and social events, when asked what I do for a living, my response is always the same: “I wash cars.” I am constantly amazed at how often people would turn on their heels and walk away as if I were not worth being given the time of day. It’s as if car washers were near the bottom on the totem pole of respectable occupations. Fortunately times have changed. The professions that used to be at the top have proven to be far less respectable, while small-business owners — including car washers — have gained favor and respect.
A number of years ago McDonald’s ran an ad campaign that took pride in how many “burger flippers” got their start at McDonald’s and went on to be senators, congressman, and successful entrepreneurs. I know that our industry has had the same impact. On the left, I’ve shared some thoughts on being a car washer.
Fred Grauer is executive vice president – new business development with Sheridan, WY-based Vacutech LLC.
Who am I?
I am your neighbor, your friend, a son, a daughter, a business owner
I am a service provider, an entrepreneur, a hunter, a gatherer
I am an employer, a coach, a teacher, a risk taker
I support my community through taxes, charity, and personal involvement
I am opportunity, an income provider, a bill payer
I am a parent to many, a disciplinarian to some
I work when many rest, my days are long, I persevere
I am a family member, when you are sad I also am sad
I am there for you
I am a dreamer, a visionary, a doer,
Mine is not work; it’s the means to an end
When I sweat the taste is its sweet reward
I am obsessive; my favorite colors are red, white, and blue
I am a giver
I am passionate and proud of the choices I’ve made
Who am I?
I am a car washer!