“The Car Wash Business Gets in Your Blood”
Larry McCarty Shares Sales Success Tips
While it’s easy to stress about finding the “perfect” job, it’s also easy to forget how common it is for people to switch jobs throughout their career. When Larry McCarty made a major, mid-life job change from the retail sector to the car wash industry, he wasn’t quite sure what he was getting into.
“My mentor, Moose Tyree, told me, ‘Once you get in this business, it will get in your blood, and you’ll never leave,’” says McCarty, who rose to vice president of sales before retiring from Mark VII in January 2022. “I thought that was crazy.”
Turns out Moose was right. McCarty is glad he made the switch to Mark VII after 25 years in the retail world. It’s not that McCarty was unhappy with his previous jobs with Dollar General and Family Dollar, where he served as a regional manager and training manager.
“I was just intrigued when a friend from church told me his company needed someone to lead sales and training,” says McCarty, recalling that 1998 conversation about a Mark VII distributor.
While McCarty knew nothing about the car wash industry, he said yes to this new challenge. After all, the mid-point of a career is the only time a person has experience and possibility in equal measure. Plus, McCarty wasn’t starting from scratch. “This was an interesting position that built on my previous work experience.”
5 strategies for success in business and in life
Not only did McCarty thrive in his new role, but he has become one of the most knowledgeable leaders at Mark VII, respected by colleagues and customers alike. Here are five things McCarty learned along the way:
- Leverage your experience. A native of Detroit, Michigan, McCarty figured he’d work in law enforcement, like his father, a Detroit police officer. In high school, however, McCarty started working part-time for the Grant City department store. This led to jobs with Pic-Way Shoes, Dollar General (which prompted his move to Tennessee) and Family Dollar. “Growing businesses regionally and nationally taught me about sales budgets, training and how to work with people,” McCarty says. “All this was helpful when I came to Mark VII, because the car wash industry is a people business.”
- Listen. A big part of learning the car wash industry and growing the business means more listening than talking. “Listen to the customer,” McCarty says. “This will help you identify their challenges and concerns so you can provide better solutions.”
- Try new things. Answering customers’ questions also provided useful content that McCarty shared through a monthly newsletter program he implemented. “I knew there’s a lot to learn about the car wash industry, and I wanted to help keep our customers up to date,” McCarty says. The newsletter’s success inspired McCarty to try another new communication tool when the internet became more widely used in the early 2000s. “When we were still a distributor, we developed a website to provide information for customers and prospects,” McCarty says. “A lot of it was answering the questions people had about the car wash business, and we attracted a lot of interest.” McCarty applied this philosophy to sales training to help convenience store cashiers learn about Mark VII equipment and how to promote the car wash. “The more education you can provide, and the more your customers know what to expect, the better the results,” says McCarty, who credits this for helping Mark VII’s c-store business grow rapidly. “We’re always looking for ways to help our customers increase their car wash revenues.”
- Speak human. As he found new ways to enhance Mark VII’s marketing and sales efforts, McCarty thought back to Moose Tyree. “He knew the company’s car wash machines inside and out, but he also did a great job of breaking down complex information and explaining it clearly. This helped me learn the business, and I knew this was how I needed to pass along information to others.”
- Mentor others. Every industry has myths and half-truths, and the car wash business is no exception. McCarty has spent years sharing the facts and advising others how to succeed. “There’s the myth that all car wash chemicals are the same,” McCarty says. “One of the biggest factors in the carwash experience – and one of the most highly price-competitive – is the chemicals.” The temptation is always there to switch to a less expensive chemical program, but the savings can be an illusion. “You may save $100 on a drum of soap, but it often costs you more when the cars aren’t as clean as they used to be,” McCarty says. Then there’s the myth that running a car wash means easy money. “A potential investor drives by, see long lines at a car wash and figures owning a wash is just like printing money,” McCarty says. “A successful carwash, however, requires a significant investment of money, time and effort. Car wash operators are some of the hardest working people I know. I’ve also discovered they’re also some of the nicest, most generous people.”
McCarty valued the opportunity to pass on his knowledge to help customers and colleagues succeed, including Luke Schoenbeck, who has been promoted to vice president of sales at Mark VII. “Luke will take over for me, and he’s starting out the same way I did, going from marketing into sales,” McCarty says. “I’m glad Mark VII promotes from within, because Luke will do a great job. The strength of Mark VII is its people.”
Editor’s note: Following his retirement, McCarty will continue to give back to his community. After a tornado hit his area in 2020, McCarty was overwhelmed by all the people who came to support his family. “If there’s something my wife and I can to do help, especially when people are in need, we will.”