Stephen Dalby didn't set out to be a success in the car wash industry. He didn't dream of washing cars his whole life or grow up in the industry. But Dalby's dedication and commitment to people – especially his customers – is nothing short of inspiring and everything the industry is about.
Dalby's story begins with what seemed like an average day. "I was driving home one day and had a unique experience with this vacant lot," he said. "I parked the car and looked at this vacant lot and I couldn't get it out of my mind. I went home and said to my wife, ‘Hey, honey, what would you think if we built a car wash in Coalville, Utah?’ And all she said was, ‘OK.’ That was the conversation. We've never built anything in our lives other than the property we live in – I've never done any commercial land development or commercial real estate. But we put a good team together and lo and behold, we have the Old Rock Car Wash. That's the story – nothing else to it. I'd love to say that this is something I'd been thinking about for years, but that wasn't the case."
That lot that Dalby became attached to? Turns out it has a rich history. “The lot we're on has some historic meaning in the state of Utah, especially the city of Coalville," he said. "On this particular lot, President Brigham Young, an early pioneer and president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, came here and dedicated a schoolhouse in 1868. The name of the schoolhouse was the Old Rock schoolhouse. As a consequence, we built the first architecturally designed schoolhouse car wash and we called it Old Rock Car Wash. The original school bell is still here on the lot."
Dalby understands the significance of history to this town, and he shares pieces of its history with pride. "The bell is historic marker number 13 from the International Society Daughters of Utah Pioneers," he said. "This is a historic landmark in the state of Utah, and the town of Coalville has a lot of historic meaning to the state."
Coalville was founded in 1859 by an early Mormon freighter, William Henderson Smith, when he noticed that wheat spilled by wagons moving through the area would grow to maturity. Initially called Chalk Creek, the town was renamed when a coal vein was unearthed, and hundreds of tons of coal were shipped to Salt Lake City.
Because of the town's focus on history, some people weren't necessarily excited about a car wash being put on this lot.
"I'd be lying if I said that everyone was jumping up and down for joy," Dalby said. "There were obstacles to overcome. Much of the success of the business had to do with us doing what we said we were going to do. For example, if you look at our landscaping, you'll see how we do it to fit what the town values: historic meaning.”
The development of the wash was definitely a process for Dalby. “We went to town hall meetings, city hall meetings; there were codes that needed to be amended. In order for this facility to be built, we went through a process and it wasn't easy,” he said. “But that's OK. I don't think many things that are worthwhile in life come easy."
In the end, Dalby's commitment to the town and its people and values paid off. "I hear all the time from people in town that when they heard a wash was coming, they didn't like it. But then they thank me for building it," Dalby said. "They believe it's been such a great thing for the town."
According to Dalby, the process for building and opening the wash, while lengthy, went incredibly smoothly. Part of that was because of the team around him. "We opened to the public in July 2018, so I don't have a lot of experience in the car wash industry," he said. "I've surrounded myself with a great team. This project has been relatively easy, and so much of that has to do with the team, the distributor and the support I've received."
Dalby strongly believes in the power of a good team. "I've been asked about the keys to entrepreneurism, and the one thing I really recommend is surrounding yourself with a good team," he said. "If you're the smartest person in the room, you're in the wrong room. There's nothing wrong with not having the answer, that's why it's important to rely on good people next to you.”
So far it seems to be working. "When looking at our wash counts and volumes, nobody can figure out how we have this much volume," Dalby said. "If you look at the data and the stats of the town and surrounding areas, we do not have the amount of population to support this type of success that we're having."
Perhaps the key to the project's success is the continued dedication to the community. "The general contractor is local, the landscaper is local, the engineers, the electricians, everything is local," Dalby said. "The site manager lives across the street. Our account manager lives down the road. This is really a community, and it was built for the community."
Dalby also made a point to give back to the community from the very beginning of the wash being open. "I'm a big believer in education, so our very first day open, we had a free car wash for the whole town, and all donations were given to the local elementary school that day," he said. "The line was a block and a half long, and it took 90 minutes to get your car washed. For me, what's really unique about a car wash is how many people actually benefit, not just in the washing of cars, but how many service opportunities can really come from owning a car wash."
For Dalby, it's all about serving the people of the community. "This is a people business," he said. "You have to genuinely care about the happiness of people. The service you're providing can't just be about the bottom line.”
“There's been a lot of times that a car's gone through the wash with a lot of bugs – this is a rural community. If I felt like there were too many bugs still on the car, I'll ask the customer if they're pressed for time because if not, I'll pay for another wash to get more of the bugs off,” Dalby said. “When you do things like that, people notice that you care more about them than the bottom line. That's made a lot of difference."
The service to the community extends beyond fundraisers and putting customers first. Dalby also speaks with college students who are worried about their career paths. "My advice to them is to just buckle up and enjoy the ride," he said. "Go find something and pay attention to what you're good at, which will prepare you for the next thing and the next thing. It all ends up working out, we just have to be willing to be a leaf in the stream – be willing to be brought where we're supposed to be brought. It's taken me about 40 years to realize who I am and what it is I'm on the path to become. I'm just starting to get a clearer vision of that for myself."
Aspects of car washing work have brought peace to Dalby. "I find a lot of happiness in drying off the cars," he said. "When I'm a little grouchy at home, my wife will tell me I need to go to Coalville and dry off some cars."