The Anthony family en-tered the car wash business with dreams of wheel barrows full of quarters being lugged to the cashier’s window every week. Although the mountains of coins didn’t materialize quite as quickly as planned, after 50 years washing cars the family has certainly made its mark.
In 1964 Jack Anthony Jr. and his wife Margaret were in the grocery business and looking for a change of pace. After setting their sights on the self-serve car wash industry the entrepreneurs dove in head first, building three Northern California locations in just 18 months. Although the washes weren’t an instant success, the Anthonys stayed dedicated to their chosen profession increasing their holdings and slowly growing a loyal customer base.
It wasn’t until their son Jack III entered the family business in the mid-70s that 7 Flags Car Wash began to truly take off. Father and son continued to expand the self-serve business while experimenting with conveyor washing, building an 11-site empire that today includes both detailing and fast-lube services that complements its core self-serve car wash business.
Jack III credits 7 Flags’ early adoption of the self-serve foaming brush as a key moment in the evolution of the business. “Dad was up in Oregon one time traveling,” he says. “He stopped in a wash and saw the precursor to the foaming brush. It had a handle, it had a brush, and it had soapy water. He thought it was the greatest thing since sliced bread. We ended up installing it at all of our washes. It was rudimentary but it worked very well. All of a sudden business started taking off because customers could actually clean their cars.”
The brush worked so well that the Anthonys actually made the convention circuit giving presentations on the new technology’s features and business benefits and are credited with helping bring what they called the sudsy brush to the main stream. “We didn’t invent it, but we saw something that worked and implemented it and promoted it throughout the industry,” Anthony says. “I am proud that we were able to kind of introduce it to the industry.”
The other watershed moment that helped bring 7 Flags from struggling coin-op to industry leader was the introduction of “Wash as Long as You Want.” At all of their self-serve locations, the Anthonys have eliminated the inconvenience of fighting the meter by offering customers 20 minutes of wash time for $5. Customers have access to the entire self-serve dial and no longer have to worry about dropping a few more coins in the meter every minute or two.
“It made a huge difference in our income and customer satisfaction went through the roof,” Anthony said. “For one set price customers know exactly what it is going to cost to get their car clean. A lot of people wouldn’t try it because they are in the business of selling time as opposed to providing a service for a fee. But it worked for us.”
When the Anthonys first opened the business 50 years ago they were operating under the Wash-O-Mat name, a moniker Jack Jr. never liked. The two Jacks were in the market for a new name but were unable to come up with anything they liked until they visited a Six Flags amusement park and became fascinated with the flag concept. It wasn’t until a historian published a piece in the local Vallejo newspaper however that the new name was solidified. The article outlined the seven different national flags that had flown over the city during its history, lending historical significance to the Anthony’s flag obsession.
The newly-named 7 Flags Car Wash proudly flew the seven historical flags at all of its locations until it became too difficult and costly to constantly track down vintage examples. Today the wash keeps the 7 Flags concept alive by flying seven flags sporting the company logo at each location.
The Anthonys currently own seven self-serves, three flex serves, one express exterior, and one oil change center. The chain’s latest addition to its wash holdings is its express exterior offering. The Anthonys were drawn to the express model due to its low labor costs and high throughput potential. “We have 150 employees,” Anthony says. “The bulk of the employees are at the full serves. Any time you are dealing with 150 employees, you have the headaches of a 150 employees. The express concept is easier in that regard and is a lot more fun to operate.”
7 Flags is an environmentally-conscious car-wash chain. At its express location its 20 free vacuum stations are powered by two 30-hp producers controlled by variable frequency drives that gear up and down to meet demand — saving valuable power while simultaneously adding to the bottom line.
Four years ago the Fairfield wash became the first Green Certified business in Solano County, and since then all of the flex-serve locations have earned the distinction. Becoming Green Certified is an extensive process — businesses need to recycle paper, water, ink cartridges, among other eco-conscious initiatives.
In addition, 7 Flags has solar power systems at two of its locations with a third set to come on line shortly. Each system the Anthonys have put in place has been bigger and more efficient than the last. The first unit supplied 30%-35% of the wash’s electrical needs, the second around half, and the third set to go in place in Fairfield will provide 65%-75% of the wash’s electrical power.
Despite just celebrating its golden anniversary 7 Flags Car Wash is far from retirement age. Jack III’s son Jason has been with the company for three years and is the VP of marketing and development and is driving the continued expansion of the brand. “Since my son came on board he has been pushing me to grow the business and we are doing just that,” Anthony says. “We are continually looking for either existing sites that we can take over and upgrade or potentially new builds.”
As the head of marketing, Jason oversees the wash’s extensive promotional efforts that include television advertising during Oakland Athletics and San Francisco Giants games, radio spots, traditional print advertising, coupon mailers, and social media. To help celebrate its golden anniversary and further promote the wash, 7 Flags gave away 50 hand waxes, 50 Ultimate full-service washes, and 50 one year, unlimited car wash pass
In addition to its advertising effort, 7 Flags builds community goodwill through fundraising for both local and national charities. In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness month in October, the wash donated $1 from every wash to the Susan B. Coleman Foundation to help fund breast cancer research. 7 Flags also encouraged its customers to contribute to the foundation and set a goal of $10,000-$15,000 raised between the wash’s and its customers’ contributions.
7 Flags Car Wash has been a fixture in the Northern California car wash scene for over five decades. Through the introduction of innovative concepts and their willingness to explore any and all possible industry trends the Anthonys have grown their car wash business from humble beginnings to an industry leader. Although they are still waiting for their mountain of coins, a golden anniversary celebrating 50 years in business is a nice consolation prize.