BY TOM GRESHAM
Daniel McCutchen, owner of Big League Car Wash in New Braunfels, Texas, finds the car wash business demanding, but it’s still easier than his previous job — professional baseball player. A pitcher who played parts of five seasons in the major leagues, McCutchen has faced some imposing challenges in his day.
“Running a car wash isn’t easy, but the hard things I do now might be dealing with a damage claim or figuring out how to handle new competition moving in down the road,” McCutchen said. “That’s easier than facing Albert Pujols in his prime in front of a big crowd, and he’s just licking his chops to take me deep.”
McCutchen fell in love with the car wash business when he was still in pro ball. His brother-in-law, Tyler Furney, operates Today’s Car Wash in Texas, and McCutchen began to learn the business from him. An economics major at the University of Oklahoma, McCutchen visited and studied car washes during fall training in Arizona and Florida and planned for a career after baseball. Within a year of his retirement from pro ball, he had his first Big League Car Wash location up and running.
McCutchen is among an array of pro athletes with ties to the car wash business. Ex-big leaguer Jose Canseco opened a wash in Las Vegas called Showtime Car Wash, where he hosts a podcast and frequently signs autographs, and former All-Star selection and World Series champion left-handed MLB pitcher Mark Redman owns Triple Play Express Car Wash in Tulsa, Okla. Even former NBA superstar Shaquille O’Neal has invested in car washes, such as Mr. Big’s in Orlando.
The cachet of a pro athlete being connected to a wash can help give it an appealing hook for customers and raise its prominence. For instance, in June, a customer at a Club Car Wash location was surprised to find Kansas City Chiefs’ All-Pro tight end Travis Kelce washing her car. In the TikTok video she posted sharing the experience, Kelce can be seen with a wide grin on his face as he sprays water across the hood of the customer’s vehicle. The video was shared and picked up by a variety of outlets, including SportsCenter’s Instagram account. It now has more than 4 million views, providing valuable exposure for Club Car Wash.
The attention came courtesy of Kelce’s new ties to the company. Club Car Wash announced its partnership with Kelce as an owner and investor in January this year. As part of the partnership, Kendell Palmquist, Director of Marketing for Club Car Wash, said Kelce would help to tell the company’s story and be a voice for Club Car Wash in all markets.
“The response from our customers has been electric,” Palmquist said. “Our customers are equally as excited to have Travis as a part of the Club Car Wash family as we are.”
— Daniel McCutchen”
Kelce’s involvement coincided with Club Car Wash’s announcement that it would open its first metro Kansas City location in mid-July. The company has five additional Kansas City-area locations in development for 2021 with plans to increase to 10-15 locations after that. Club Car Wash will partner with Kelce’s foundation, Eighty-Seven & Running, which seeks to provide support for underserved youth, as part of his involvement with the company.
“After learning about the trajectory of the industry and knowing my partners have significant knowledge and experience in the space, I thought Club Car Wash was a fantastic opportunity, and I’m excited to be onboard,” Kelce said in a press release.
Scott Brooks, former NBA player and past coach of the Oklahoma City Thunder and Washington Wizards, has been in the business for decades. He opened Dribbles Car Wash in Manteca, Calif., in partnership with his mother, Lee, 20 years ago. Lee ran the wash for 13 years until her death. For Brooks, the car wash was a family operation and a chance to partner with the person he has cited as his most important influence as a coach.
“I owe a lot to my mom for teaching me a lot about life including the importance of a good work ethic,” Brooks told the Manteca/Ripon Bulletin in 2016.
Michele Brazil Ballard, the Dribbles General Manager, said Brooks has been a hands-on, engaged owner from the outset. She said Brooks pays close attention to the car wash, even in the midst of the rigors of coaching in the pressure-packed NBA. Ballard said Brooks sees Dribbles as a way to give back to his hometown and step away from sports.
The car wash helps a wide array of youth organizations with fundraising projects and has provided college scholarship support to employees, she said.
“Our interactions are very focused on customer service here, and that’s the way Scott wants it,” Ballard said. “His guidance has always been that everyone should leave Dribbles happy.”
Brooks calls in payroll every Sunday, no matter where he is on the road. It’s a tradition he had with his mother, and he’s kept it going, Ballard said.
“With modern technology, he doesn’t need to do that, but it means something to him,” Ballard said.
The tradition is emblematic of Brooks’ ongoing commitment to the wash and to the impact his mother had on him, Ballard said.
“He knows every day what’s going on with the car wash,” Ballard said. “He knows how many cars we’ve washed, he always knows how we’re doing. It’s important to him.”
McCutchen was drawn to the car wash business, in part, for the appeal of working with his hands and being his own boss. He has found parallels to lessons he learned during his baseball career, such as the importance of teamwork, remaining even keeled through successes and challenges, and adapting to changing circumstances.
— Kendell Palmquist, Club Car Wash”
McCutchen has had fun with the baseball theme at his location. Large trash cans have seams painted on them to look like baseballs, and large bats are on site for decoration. Working with his architect, McCutchen sought to give both locations the feeling of a stadium, and each even has an expansive 15,000-square-foot patch of artificial turf out front. Wash packages are called single, double, triple, home run and grand slam. Members are season-ticket holders.
McCutchen said some customers clearly enjoy the baseball theme and the presence of a former major leaguer attracts attention — “I’ve signed some autographs for kids, and I’m probably more famous now as a car wash owner than I was when I was playing. I also get hit up by every Little League team within 30 miles of here to sponsor them.” However, that only goes so far.
“If we don’t have good customer service and we don’t provide a clean car, the car wash theme doesn’t really matter at all,” he said. “People aren’t going to say, ‘Oh, my car is dirty, but this guy played major league baseball.’”
McCutchen said he feels fortunate to be involved in the car wash industry. He’s found other operators to be extremely helpful and welcoming, and he has reveled in the opportunity to play a role in boosting the local economy and helping his team members build burgeoning careers. The work is hard, but the experience is worth it.
“I absolutely love the industry,” McCutchen said. “Car washing is sexy right now. The secret’s out, and I’m glad I’m a part of it.”
Carwash Make History by Sponsoring Local Athlete
Effective July 1, the NCAA suspended its rule prohibiting student-athletes from selling the rights to their names, images and likenesses (NIL). The very next day, University of South Dakota junior volleyball player Brooklyn Bollweg signed an endorsement deal with Silverstar Car Wash, becoming the first South Dakota athlete to sign a sponsorship deal.
“Brooklyn will forever be known as a trailblazer for South Dakota athletes of the future,”
Silverstar Regional Manager Andrea Vetos wrote in a statement. “Our Silverstar team members are proud to be a small part of local history.”