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It Starts and Ends with Family at the Utah Auto Spa

Phil D’Agostini, West Valley City, Utah
6 minute Read
 

Phil D’Agostini has been interested in the car wash industry for decades, but he didn’t take the plunge until a few of his cousins opened car washes and shared their experiences.

D’Agostini was living in California, where he was investing in real estate properties. “California was getting expensive and crowded,” he said. After visiting Utah while his kids were living in the state for school, he decided he liked the idea of living there too. “It’s beautiful, has all four seasons and is easy to get around,” he said. “When I was looking for a change, both in business and geography, Utah seemed like the right fit.”

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After the reassuring conversations with his cousins who were part of the industry, D’Agostini felt comfortable with the idea. “I had been looking for investment properties in Utah,” he said. “When this car wash came up for sale, I thought this was it. I’d always wanted to get into this industry and now it was available. I just jumped in at that point.”

D’Agostini has owned the Utah Auto Spa in West Valley City, Utah, since May 2011. He’s learned a lot since those early days, especially the challenges of running a business that’s available to customers 24 hours a day, seven days a week. “We’re open 24/7, so basically it’s on your mind 24/7. It took me a year to settle down and think that if something’s not working, it’s OK, we can fix it tomorrow,” he said. “That was the biggest thing for me to get used to. I like when things are working. When things don’t work, I get upset and frustrated.”

In 2018, D’Agostini and his team decided it was time to renovate. “We’ve been here seven years. When we originally bought the wash, we looked at it mostly as an investment and we figured that the seven-year mark would be a good time to either sell, if we weren’t liking the business, or renovate,” he said. “As we’ve gotten more into it, we really enjoy it and decided to renovate it and stay in the business. The recent tax changes were also part of that decision. We knew it would help us write off our improvements faster, so we thought it would be a good time to do it.”

Since the renovation, the team has noticed a change in business. “We’ve seen quite a bit of difference,” D’Agostini said. “We’ve hit some highs we’d never hit before just in the first few months of summer. Even our lows aren’t as low as our old lows. We have to see what happens as the months progress, but so far we think we made the right choice to do the renovation.”

With renovations complete, D’agostini and his team are looking forward to the next phase of their future, which in this case, involves hiring.

When customers visit the renovated Utah Auto Spa, they have quite a few options for cleaning their vehicles. The location features four self-serve bays and two in-bay automatics. The renovations also saw the inclusion of nine new hoop vacuums, along with a dedicating a space for shampooing.

Another change at the wash is the new monthly unlimited pass. “We have a number of customers who want to get their cars washed whenever they want, without worrying about whether there will be some rain to ruin the wash they just got,” D’Agostini said. “So far it’s been good, but we’re hoping to increase our marketing efforts in the next few months to get even more customers interested.”

D’Agostini and his team have been working hard to put the customers in the center of what they do. “The good thing about the car wash business is that most of the time, people are happy. They’re happy to be here and want to have a nice, clean car,” D’Agostini said. “But we do have unhappy customers once in a while, which we’re striving to change, and I think we’ve done a good job. The improvements we’ve made through the renovations have contributed to that. We made some changes to the lighting, which has an impact on the safety element for many customers, especially women. It’s important, because customers like to feel safe. On top of that, they can see their car while they’re cleaning it.”

With renovations complete, D’Agostini and his team are looking forward to the next phase of their future, which in this case, involves hiring. “We’ve just started our detailing service, so I’d like to do some hiring to help increase those sales,” said D’Agostini. “We get a lot of calls about detailing, and we’ve had to say no. I think hiring an additional one or two people would help spread the workload and make things operate even better.”

D’Agostini is also thinking longer-term, and considering it was his cousins who helped him make the jump into the business, it’s only fitting that family continues to play a role. “I’m getting older and don’t want to do this forever,” D’Agostini said. Thankfully D’Agostini has a son who was in the construction business who wanted to be part of the car wash business.

“I made him an offer and now he’s on board,” said D’Agostini. “As a millennial, he knows the ins and outs with technology and social media and other aspects of marketing. He’s been a huge help with that. His push to do more marketing and more managing has helped get other family members interested in the business, so we’re bringing them in too. Not everyone who works here is family, but as an Italian, that’s the way it is – there’s always family around and that’s important to me. I have other investments, and those family members help with those properties as well. That’s really important to me.”

For those interested in joining the car wash industry, D’Agostini said it’s a balance between having some obstacles you can tackle on your own while knowing when you need to call in the experts. “The car wash business can be a good business if you’re mechanically inclined and like to do things yourself,” he said. “If you’re not, you can still make it work, but you have to pay those people who are going to do that for you. I think our business is a combination. We do a lot of things here, but I know when to rely on my talented suppliers and vendors to help us keep things going.”

D’Agostini also recommends reinvesting in your business. “You gotta put money back into the business every year,” said D’Agostini. “People let their place get run down, which makes it hard for customers to want to visit your site. Try to get at least 10 to 15 percent of your profits back into your business every year to modernize and keep up with things, otherwise the competition will drive you right out.”  


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