Operator double-teams with NBA veteran for carwash success
By Julie Riddle
Charles Oakley, Washington Wizards
At first glance, the worlds of pro basketball and carwashing don't appear to have much in common, although athletic skill could come in handy when it comes to handwashing a long line of cars in a short amount of time.
But at Oakley's Car Wash, a full-serve with locations in New York and Ohio, the two worlds have come together to create a successful carwash operation. Partners Anthony Pezzo and Washington Wizards power forward Charles Oakley, along with third partner Harvey Diamond, have seen their wash not only win a number of awards, but win the overwhelming support of the community.
Launching a Dream
Pezzo, who is now one of the partners in the company, first met Oakley when the athlete became a regular customer at his father's gas station in White Plains, N.Y., where Pezzo worked. Knowing that Oakley already owned a carwash in Cleveland, Pezzo, a native New Yorker, suggested he open a wash there, where he was then playing for the Knicks.
After scouting locations for six months, the two opened their first wash, in the Bronx, in 1994. While many people would find opening a business there daunting, Oakley had insisted that his carwash be located in a culturally diverse neighborhood.
"It was a really tough start for us too. I was very new to the business," Pezzo says. "I didn't really do my homework as well as I should have, and the first six months to a year were very, very difficult."
Those things, he says, included working seven days a week, running out of money and not being able to afford help. After borrowing money, he managed to renovate the wash, and it began to take off. The location was later sold.
Although at one time there were seven Oakley full-serves, there are now three--located in Yonkers, Brooklyn and Long Island.
Charles Oakley (left), Anthony Pezzo (front) and Harvey Diamond towel-dry a car.
"New York prices had skyrocketed out of control," Pezzo says. "We decided to sell the ones where we didn't own the property...the carwash market has exploded in New York in terms of prices."
While Oakley isn't involved in the day-to-day operation of the washes, he is a frequent visitor.
"He lives right up the street from the Yonkers location, so he comes around a lot. I talk to him every day," Pezzo says. The grand opening of that location also created one of Pezzo's most memorable moments in the business, when NBA stars Patrick Ewing, John Starks and Herb Williams showed up to celebrate.
In keeping with Oakley's main profession, services offered at Oakley's are basketball-themed, from the basic $9.70 Fast Break, which includes a vacuum, window cleaning and hand towel dry, to the $19.40 All Star, which offers an undercarriage wash, rust inhibitor, hot wax, clear coat protectant, tires and interior dressed, mats cleaned, air freshener, Wheel Brite and triple polish. The Interior Super Clean is offered for $19.99 in combination with any of the full-serve washes.
Detailing services, which feature Simoniz products, range in price from $19.99 for Scotchgarding, to the $199.99 Super Complete Detail, which includes a complete detail--claying and wet sanding if needed.
Competition in the area includes two full-serves in Yonkers, and five in Brooklyn.
Because the Knicks' training facility is less than 10 minutes away from the Yonkers location, players like Latrell Sprewell and Allan Houston often drop by for a wash.
"All the Knicks wash their cars here," Pezzo says.
The gift of game
The wash's stucco buildings were designed by New Jersey architects. Eventually, Pezzo hopes to create uniformity among the three locations.
"We want to have the same look at each location, at one point," he says. "It's just a pattern--we have a basketball theme. Inside, we have all the pictures of different moments in basketball history, and a lot of signed autographs from all NBA players that have been there."
In the 1,000-square-foot gift shop in Yonkers and the 3,000-foot store in Brooklyn, customers can purchase signed basketballs, and eight-by-ten photos. The 15,000 customers entered into Oakley's database also receive a different basketball postcard each month.
"When the Knicks won the playoffs in 1998, we sent out a postcard of Patrick Ewing lifting his hands," Pezzo says. "We always get a good response from the postcards."
The starting lineup
While employees at Oakley's may have visions of rubbing elbows with the stars, each is held to a high standard.
"They go through extensive training, and we're fanatics about services and having a really clean operation," Pezzo says. "They also are required to wear uniforms."
Oakley's employs between 25 and 30 people per location, Pezzo says.
"They usually don't work the line until they work with a manager for at least a week," Pezzo says.
A core group of about 20 employees has been with Oakley's since the beginning, Pezzo says, while another five tend to come and go.
Pezzo can watch the location at night through the Internet. Needless to say, crime isn't much of a problem for Oakley's.
"The Yonkers location is in a very good area," Pezzo says. "We've got about a $16 average here. The ones in the boroughs, like the Brooklyn location, it's a lot harder. We're a little more security-conscious on that location. But we stay on top of it just like anything else--it's management and how we run our business."
Gaining a fan base
In the nine years they've been in business, Oakley's has quickly gained a loyal following, along with recognition from the community and the carwashing industry. The carwash has also received a number of awards, including being voted Best Carwash in Westchester County for four straight years. In 1999, they were recognized by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce as a recipient of the Blue Chip Enterprise Initiative Award, which honors small businesses that utilize resources to overcome adversity or create opportunities, while emerging stronger.
Oakley's has also made it a mission to give back to the community. When they opened their Brooklyn location, a portion of the proceeds earned went to the YES Mentor Foundation of the Children's AIDS Foundation of Brooklyn. The Westchester location has also raised funds for the Westchester Coalition for the Hungry and Homeless, in addition to serving as a drop-off point for food donations. Four or five events are held each year.
Capitalizing on Oakley's name, events are also held throughout the year with him and other NBA stars.
"We always like to plan different events, charity work and community stuff, and I try to arrange with him when he and other NBA players will be available, then we can create some goodwill," Pezzo says. "We like to take advantage of his ties with the NBA."
In particular, Pezzo is working on getting one of Oakley's teammates out to the wash. His name? Michael Jordan.
"He's very friendly with Oakley," Pezzo says. "I'm still working on getting him here."
Looking down the court
Currently, Oakley's is building a location in West Point, near the famed Naval Academy. It will include a carwash, convenience store, Domino's pizza and a Subway shop. Because building permits are difficult to obtain in New York, they took over a location started by somebody else. The new location will mark a shift to self-serve for Oakley's.
"I think the future trend is to try to get away from labor as much as we can and develop more automated carwashes as much as possible," Pezzo says. "For us at least, it is more towards our concept of Oakley's Exterior Express, which we're introducing at the West Point location. It will be a very modern, clean facility, with all the bells and whistles, but only exterior."
Although at one point there were plans to add more NBA players to the business and expand to different cities across the United States, Pezzo says the idea didn't pan out.
"The problem is the market conditions. It's very difficult. We want to stay in New York at this point and capture this market and then eventually move on. We're still looking to grow, but at this point we're trying to buy right so it makes business sense for all the partners."