BY TOM GRESHAM
When Fast Eddie’s Express Car Wash opened its first location in Maine, the wash polled community members to see which local charities they should support. The top choice was the local food banks. Since then, the wash has maintained steady support for those organizations. So, when COVID-19 struck and area food banks were faced with long lines and a shortage of available food, Fast Eddie’s was ready to act.
The wash held a haunted car wash during Halloween in 2020 at its Augusta location, donating $5 of each wash to Camp Out Hunger, an annual event that collects food and monetary donations for area food banks. Costumed scary clowns and a smoke machine helped set the mood, and the wash raised more than $7,000. In addition, the wash collaborated with a local radio station launching its own campaign, so that the radio station promoted Fast Eddie’s effort and Fast Eddie’s helped promote the station’s.
“There was a huge response,” said Ed Goff, Fast Eddie’s Owner. “Our customers really supported it. On top of the proceeds from washes, we had a donation jar that people filled up. It was great.”
Car washes that support community organizations often steer their largesse toward causes that directly promote the health and well-being of their communities. These efforts allow washes to provide support for customers who face an array of health challenges and to address their communities’ most pressing needs, while demonstrating gratitude for the business they have provided.
“Our communities have always been supportive of Silverstar as we’ve grown, and customers continue to select Silverstar as the car wash business they use when they need their vehicle cleaned, so it is important to us to give back to the community that has supported us and our growth over the years,” said Andrea Vetos, Regional Manager with Silverstar Car Wash, which has 16 locations in South Dakota, Iowa and Nebraska.
Goff said Fast Eddie’s support of local organizations derives from that belief.
“We’re a small business — we just have two locations — and as a small business we’re really a part of the community here,” Goff said. “And, as a small business, it’s very important to us to give back to those who have helped us make a living here.”
Similarly, ZIPS Car Wash, which operates 204 locations in 19 states, sees its ongoing support of Susan G. Komen, the nonprofit breast cancer organization, as one way to show its customers that it cares about them. The company’s Wash for a Cure this year ran from May 1 to June 30. The company uses pink soaps and lights in the wash as part of the fundraiser and has pink buttons at pay stations that give customers options for making direct donations to Susan G. Komen. Team members wear pink Wash for a Cure T-shirts. In addition to the direct customer donations, ZIPS donates $5 from the purchase of every Top Wash to the organization with a goal of reaching at least $100,000.
Tim Hicks, Chief Marketing Officer for ZIPS, said women constitute a large component of his company’s customer base, so supporting Susan G. Komen is a way of demonstrating the company’s appreciation for them.
— Andrea Vetos, Silverstar Car Wash”
“It’s incredible how responsive customers are — clearly this cause means a lot to them,” Hicks said. “By donating the way they do, our customers show us that they appreciate what we are doing and they support the organization.”
Fundraising for organizations can lead to a greater understanding of a car wash’s customers and communities. For instance, an initial Silverstar fundraiser for Feeding South Dakota opened the company’s eyes to the far-reaching impact the nonprofit had on the health and well-being of the community. Silverstar team members were inspired to build on the relationship and donate proceeds from its haunted car wash each year to the organization.
“When we first selected the local food bank for the donation from our first haunted car wash event in Sioux Falls in 2019, we were not aware of how much they did for our community,” Vetos said. “After our initial donation, we gathered our management teams together to volunteer our time packaging food, and the staff there was kind enough to give us a tour of their facility. After the tour and the information they shared, we were blown away by the scale of what they do and how many families they help in communities across South Dakota.”
ZIPS engages with customers in a variety of ways as part of the Wash for a Cure, and that engagement illustrated how its customers have been impacted by breast cancer and how much they appreciated the support marked by the event. For instance, Hicks said ZIPS is active on social media during Susan G. Komen fundraising activities, and cancer survivors and others post on the company’s Facebook page to share their experiences and to express support for others.
“It’s about engaging with people and doing something we can do to make things better,” Hicks said. “That’s good for our brand, but it’s also good for our communities.”
That strong sense of connection is an essential part of effective community engagement. Goff said supporting an organization such as a food bank, which is deeply integrated into the well-being of the community, strengthens Fast Eddie’s roots in the area.
“When they think of a car wash that’s part of the community, we want them to think of us,” Goff said. “Based on the feedback we’ve gotten, customers appreciate knowing that their money is going back into the community. It definitely gives us a good rapport with the community and helps show that we’re more than just a business.”
Vetos said outreach efforts lead to positive feedback from customers and others who notice the extent of Silverstar’s efforts.
“When it comes to community giveback, we don’t see this as a ‘strategic’ benefit as much as an overall benefit — being able to give back to improve the communities we’re in can only help our business grow and improve,” Vetos said.
One sometimes overlooked component of charitable support is the benefits it has for employee engagement. Vetos said supporting community organizations boosts employee morale and makes team members feel more attached to the company.
“It’s important for our team members to see that it is a priority for us to give back whenever we can, and to give to a variety of different organizations through different avenues and events throughout the year,” Vetos said. “We hear quite a bit of feedback from our employees that they enjoy seeing the way Silverstar gives back.”
Goff agreed, saying community fundraisers give team members a greater sense of purpose in their jobs. It is a way of showing the important role car washes can have in their communities.
“It makes our employees feel more a part of the community — more connected to it,” Goff said. “They feel more of a connection with our customers, and it makes them feel good about the work that they’re doing. They’re washing cars, but they’re also doing more than that.”