Sometimes the knowledge you acquire from your time in the car wash industry comes in handy in wildly unexpected ways.
For example, toilets.
When Thomas Mussoni, vice president of development for Autobell Carwashes, was working on a non-profit project in Central America, the water filtration techniques in use at Autobell helped him establish proper separation to build septic tanks and sanitary sewer systems in Nicaragua.
Mussoni founded SAIL Central America in 2015 because he wanted to do something to give back. He wrote down everything that mattered to him and decided he wanted to open schools in Nicaragua. But, the road to achieving that goal wasn’t a direct route.
“I started looking into what it would take to open schools in Central America and found there were other challenges that needed to be addressed first,” he said. “We needed to get them running water really before we could do anything else.”
So Mussoni took a class to learn how to drill wells, and then a welding class. Along the way, he found his way into projects beyond schools, from heart surgeries to eye clinics to … toilets.
“I have a plaque in my house that says ‘Thomas’ Toilets’,” he said. “And that might be my one of my favorite items.”
During one of his projects, he noticed that patients were having surgeries, and then having to walk to an outhouse to go to the bathroom. Not an ideal sanitary situation.
“There was no septic system and there were no toilets in the hospital,” he said.
That’s when he leveraged his car wash experience. “It was amazing how much my experience at Autobell helped. It was like it was meant to be.”
“Everything is our pleasure. We exist because of the customers and we recognize that, and our growth opportunities have to align with that."
After spending the days in 106-degree heat and nights in 94 degrees installing toilets in the 33-bed hospital that served a 120,000-person population, Mussoni was awarded his coveted toilet plaque by local residents.
When he’s not busy with humanitarian efforts, Mussoni puts in a full day with Autobell Car Washes. He began working with the company in 1990 and left his previous firm to work exclusively for Autobell in 2003.
“It’s been nearly 30 years in the car wash industry for me,” Mussoni said. “I love talking about the car wash business. People love to have clean cars!”
Fresh out of college in 1986, Mussoni set his sights on commercial real estate, specifically related to the automotive sector. “The recession was kicking into play, but getting into commercial real estate was a very targeted move for me,” he said. “Automotive users were starting to pay more money for vehicle maintenance, national chains like tire stores, Jiffy Lubes and others were taking off, and I saw a great opportunity.”
In 1990, a cold call set Mussoni’s course on a path he couldn’t quite have predicted. “The property was zoned, and I got a call from Autobell and so we worked on it together,” he said. “When that first project was done, Chuck [Howard] said ‘let’s do another’ and here we are.”
At the time, Autobell had fewer than 20 locations. Now, the company boasts more than 80 locations across North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Maryland and Virginia.
“For 50 years, Autobell has never closed a store,” Mussoni said. “I think that’s something that we can point to for planning departments and landlords as we look at development opportunities to show the stability and consistency of bringing Autobell in.”
The future growth trajectory looks just as strong for Autobell and Mussoni. But it’s not without pressures. “My goal is always in that 5-7 range,” Mussoni said. “But there’s always pressure because we have good people who are assistant managers who grow and want to get to that point where they have their own location, so I feel that pressure to find new property opportunities.”
Even with the pressures, at the end of the day, for Autobell and Mussoni, it comes back to a core tenet for the company brand. “Everything is our pleasure,” Mussoni said. “We exist because of the customers and we recognize that, and our growth opportunities have to align with that.”