Industry Veteran Shares Practical Wisdom
5 Lessons from a 45-Year Car Wash Career: Industry Veteran Shares Practical Wisdom
5 Lessons from a 45-Year Car Wash Career:
Industry Veteran Shares Practical Wisdom
In 1976, David Gauthier was 20 years old, managing a 7-Eleven convenience store in Arvada, Colorado, and trying to figure out his future. Everything became a lot clearer when a criminal robbed the store at gunpoint.
“Nobody was hurt, fortunately, but I decided to look for a different job,” says Gauthier, who went to work for Harry Matthews, who owned A-CO Sales and Service, which would become Mark VII. Matthews distributed self-serve car wash equipment in Colorado and hired Gauthier as his new parts manager. “I had been in charge of ordering supplies for the 7-Eleven, and I found that the parts manager job required similar skills,” he says.
From those humble beginnings, Gauthier grew a career that has spanned 45 years with Mark VII. As the company’s chief engineer, Gauthier reflects on five key skills that have proven essential to his success.
- Become a problem solver. There were only nine employees at Mark VII when Gauthier started in 1976. The small team wasn’t afraid to dream big. “Harry Matthews was very imaginative and was willing to invest in things he thought would work,” recalls Gauthier, who notes that Matthews became like a second father to him. “I was a good fixer and problem solver, and Harry kept nurturing that in me.” That motivated Gauthier and his colleagues tackle new challenges, like retrofitting gasoline pumps. “Around the time I started with the company, gas prices were rising from under $1 a gallon to over $1 a gallon,” Gauthier says. “We were retrofitting and installing gas pumps for this change. Harry encouraged us to be incredibly entrepreneurial.”
- Try new things. Working with Harry Matthews meant ongoing opportunities to try new business ventures. “Harry wasn’t content just selling stuff,” Gauthier says. “He wanted to design and build things, too.” That meant adding a metal shop. “We decided to design and build a roll-over car wash,” Gauthier says. Even when an economic slump in the early 1980s hurt other companies, it helped spur the growth of Mark VII’s manufacturing capabilities. “A number of our suppliers were closing or going bankrupt,” Gauthier says. “Harry bought up patents from these companies, and we decided to make these components ourselves.”
- Don’t fear failure. Mark VII began manufacturing more of its own components around the time that car-wash technology was transitioning from mechanical switches to electronics. Gauthier’s role? Make the electronics work. “We were a ‘rag-tag’ group back then that didn’t always hire engineers,” says Gauthier, who noted that coin-operated car washes were the norm when he started in the business. “We hired people from the car-wash industry who could solve problems.” Mark VII’s culture fostered innovation and incorporated technology to make the user’s experience better, Gauthier adds. “A fear of failure wasn’t a specter hanging over us. If we thought we could accomplish something, we were encouraged to try it.” This practical, hands-on experience paid off for Gauthier, whose name is included on multiple patents. “I’m especially proud of my control systems. My goal has been to make equipment as simple and functional as possible.”
- Expand your skills. Gauthier’s electronics background came in handy as Mark VII experimented with a variety of new equipment through the years, including touch screens. The Mark VII team has long focused on designing and manufacturing cost-effective, reliable, rugged equipment, while making it more user-friendly and fun, as well. “We were regularly coming up with new concepts before many other competitors did,” Gauthier says. “Not everything we built worked, but a lot of it did.” One big success was the Bubble Brush. “Harry had an idea to put a foaming brush in self-serve car washes, along with high-pressure sprayers,” Gauthier says. “I used to travel a lot for business, and I’ll never forget a trip to Bangkok, Thailand. Some of the local kids were shouting in English ‘Look at the bubbly thing!’”
- Embrace creativity. While many engineers work in office cubicles and design only one part of a system, Gauthier appreciates the diverse nature of his work. “When our sales team sells products to fit unique niches, we get to design these solutions,” Gauthier says. “Sometimes these jobs are quite challenging, but we make them work.” Changes in technology, environmental regulations and other factors also keep Mark VII’s projects interesting, Gauthier adds. “If you like hands-on work and being able to see a project through from beginning to end, consider the car-wash business and Mark VII. This is rewarding, satisfying work.”
Sometimes people ask Gauthier when he plans to retire. He says he’s not ready to slow down just yet. “I’m 66, but I like my work. It’s still fun.”
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