The Car Wash Broker Who Doesn't Own a Car
Harry Caruso has no wheels but is still living the dream
Welcome to Issue #19 of CAFÉ ANNE!
You never know what will land in the CAFÉ ANNE inbox. Last week, I got an email out of the blue from Marty “Gas Man” Correnti, the arch-rival of New Jersey’s Captain Bayonne, the small-town superhero profiled in Issue 12.
Now that we’ve established contact, I’m hoping to get them together to discuss how anyone can be a small-town (or neighborhood) superhero. If you have questions I should include, please send them along.
I’m also excited to announce a new recurring item, “Department of Good News.” This week, I am highlighting the true stories of three puppies who donated their kidneys to kittens. See below.
I hope you also enjoy this week’s feature about how Manhattan’s Harry Caruso realized his dream of becoming a car wash broker. Please see “The Car Wash Broker Who Doesn’t Own a Car,” below.
Finally, while I am not qualified to give advice, I love to give advice and have always wanted to write an advice column. If you’d like advice on any topic, please submit your question to annekadet@yahoo. com and address it to “Ask Lady Metroland.”
IN THIS WEEK’S ISSUE
• One-Star Reviews: The Grand Canyon
• Feature: The Car Wash Broker Who Doesn’t Own a Car
• Department of Good News
The Grand Canyon: “A Very, Very Large Hole”
At CAFÉ ANNE, we occasionally bring you the one-star reviews left online for the most wondrous things in the universe. This week, please meet the discriminating tourists who gave Grand Canyon National Park two thumbs down.
“We was expecting sunshine like in Las Vegas where we was staying. When we got there, we had rain.”
—Matthew Hobson, Google
“Not my vibe.”
—Victoria, Trip Advisor
“To me, it's not spectacular, it's not pretty. It's a giant hole in the ground.”
—Joi Song, Trip Advisor
“Whoopity do, Grand Canyon. You are a giant hole in the ground.”
—Jorbi P, Yelp
“A very, very large hole.”
Ken B, Yelp
“Total waste of a day.”
—Alice Renner, Google
“Many tourists smoked on the trails, so we could not benefit from the fresh air.”
—Breki, Trip Advisor
“Trail polluted with horse and mule feces.”
—SthCA, Trip Advisor
“The ‘visitors centre’ is a tent with cheap souvenirs.”
—EXD, Trip Advisor
“The bathrooms were filthy.”
—Blueduck 2, Trip Advisor
“The canyon isn't even that big.”
—Jon McDaniel, Google
“Not as big as I expected.”
—Christine B, Google
“I thought it’d be bigger.”
—Peter H, Google
“I expected bigger and there are no animals or restaurants on the canyon.”
—Robert Zamora, Google
“There are no wildlife and very few wild flowers”
—Hiker Jane, Trip Advisor
“Every view looked the same.”
—Delbocaboy, Trip Advisor
“Grand Canyon? More like mediocre canyon.”
—Joshua Warren, Google
“Grand Canyon was more like Grand Blandyon!”
—Anonymous, Trip Advisor
“In awe for a brief 5 minutes and then the kids will realize it's just rocks without entertainment.”
—Sara L, Yelp
“The only reason to go to Grand Canyon National Park is to see one of the Seven Wonders of the World.”
—Hiker Jane, Trip Advisor
The Car Wash Broker Who Doesn’t Own a Car
When Harry Caruso came online for our half-hour video call, he wondered why I’d asked for an interview.
“I’m happy to help,” he said. “But we’re a weird company. I’m shocked you want to talk to us.”
“What do you mean, you’re a weird company?” I asked.
“Well, it’s super-duper niche,” he said. “Super-sector-specific. It’s very—it’s an odd thing to have done as a company, I think.”
“Well,” I said, “That’s why I wanted to talk to you.”
I found Mr. Caruso’s company, Car Wash Advisory, while randomly scanning a directory of NYC business brokers. Mr. Caruso is unusual in that he only deals in one kind of business. Every day, all day, he consults with people looking to buy or sell car washes.
“Everybody thought I was nuts for doing this,” said Mr. Caruso. “And joke's on them! Yep, we only do car washes. None of it makes sense. Everybody thought I was a moron for doing this. And now who's laughing? Nobody, actually. It’s working out phenomenally well. We're having a really good time!”
Last year, he says, he sold more than 100 car washes across the nation worth a combined $238 million. With the help of his staff of three, he expects to do four times the business this year.
A little background: Mr. Caruso, who is thirty, grew up in Connecticut and majored in business and engineering. He now lives in Manhattan, at the corner of Eighth Ave. and 57th Street in Midtown. Like most NYC residents, he does not own a car.
He’s also got an unlikely professional history. He started as an investment banker at Citi. Then he did the hedge fund thing. Then he worked as a product developer at a design startup. “Obviously, you go from investment banking to machine learning to car washes,” he says.
His car wash odyssey started in 2019 when, as a favor, he helped a friend get financing to buy a small chain of washes in Texas. He learned that car washes can be very profitable. On a whim, he attended the International Car Wash Association’s annual Car Wash Show in Nashville, Tenn. It changed his life.
Yes, reader, there is a big trade show every year for the car wash industry—a three-day affair typically attended by 8,000 car wash heads. If you’re interested, this year’s show is coming up in May. For $250, you can view 400 exhibitors and hear talks on topics like “Car Wash Valuations,” and “Car Washing Thru the Ages.”
When Mr. Caruso attended the convention, he fell in love. Not with the business, but with the people. “They’re the coolest people in the world, you could spend all day with any of them, every day.” he says.
I wanted to hear more.
The typical car wash owner is a man between the ages of 55 to 70, he told me. That’s because the kids these days seldom consider opportunities in the car wash business, and for good reason.
“Car washes suck, they suck to work at, they suck to run,” says Mr. Caruso. “It's hard, you're exposed to the weather, labor's harder than ever to get, it’s dirty. You have mean customers. It's not an easy business.”
“So all these dudes,” he continued, “all these gals that are car wash owners, they are the most humble, down-to-earth, hardworking, salt-of the-earth sweethearts ever. They're all really smart and know what they're doing—they make way more than anybody knows! And they deserve it. They bust their butts to do it. They’re a pleasure to be around, you know. They're so cool.”
Mr. Caruso says he bought the web site domain name for his new car wash brokerage business on the plane ride home from the convention, and never looked back. He continues to adore the car wash crowd, with one exception—the players in his hometown. “I hate New York and New Jersey,” he says. “The operators are mean. They’re nasty. They're very different types of people. New Yorkers are New Yorkers more than anything else, right?”
Car washes are more profitable than you might expect. Take your typical single-tunnel operation, performing roughly 100,000 to 150,000 washes a year at $7 to $10 a pop. There’s little labor involved in an automatic wash. The operating expenses, including water, electricity and soap, run about $1.50 to $2.50 per wash. That business would do about a $1 million annually in sales, says Mr. Caruso, and generate a $500,000 profit. Those that perform double or triple the washes (a real possibility when there’s little competition) enjoy even fatter profit margins.
So why isn’t everyone rushing into the car wash biz? Actually, they are. The industry has seen flood of private equity investment in the last few years, with sales prices doubling or even tripling as the sector consolidates. The madness culminated in last year’s IPO of Mr. Car Wash (NYSE: MCW), a national chain of 438 locations, valuing the company at $5.6 billion.
The frenzy has generated a lot of business for Mr. Caruso. Not that he predicted it going in. “I wish I was that smart,” he says. “Everybody says, ‘Wow, what a great timing, you’re a clairvoyant genius.’ And my answer is, ‘I had no idea. I didn't know anything about the industry.’”
I imagined Mr. Caruso jetting around the country with an attaché case and skinny cigar, inspecting car washes in big cities and small towns from Maine to California. Sorry! He hasn’t been to a car wash in years. In fact, he works out of his apartment and hasn’t left the 15-block radius around his home since the pandemic started. “I've never met a single one of our clients in person, ever,” he says. “In fact, not single one of my clients has seen my face. It's all telephonic.”
His first 14 months, he didn’t close a single deal. “I got very close to being kicked out of my apartment,” he says. But just as some are willing to sacrifice everything to realize an artistic vision or pursue a spiritual quest, Mr. Caruso was determined to make it as a car wash broker.
He kept working the phones and, in his second year, sold a handful of washes. This year, he expects the combined value of his sales to top $1 billion. At any given moment, he’s representing 20-odd exclusive listings, ranging from a $1.2 million express wash and lube joint in Florida to a $15 million, four-site Ohio mini-chain with $3.7 million in annual sales.
There are plenty of general business brokers who will represent car washes, says Mr. Caruso. But his business is booming because he is a specialist who looks after his clients. “I hate all real estate agents and all business brokers,” he says. “I’ll say that on the record 100 times over. I think the majority of them are terrible people and it’s terrible what they do for a living. They don't take it seriously, which is really inappropriate.”
What’s next for the car wash industry? A “car wash crisis” when valuations return to normal, says Mr. Caruso. “There will be mass bankruptcies in this space when the music stops.”
But that just means more business for Car Wash Advisors.
“I’m not worried,” says Mr. Caruso. “We’ve never wished bad on anybody, but we’re going to do phenomenally well during the downturn.”
DEPARTMENT OF GOOD NEWS
Three Puppies Who Donated Their Kidneys to Kittens
There’s so much misery in the news. Here at CAFÉ ANNE, we focus on the positive. Below, three puppies who became living donors to save a kitten in need of a kidney.
Bradley and Sabina
After doing some research online, Bradley discovered a Facebook page for those in need of a kidney transplant and posted a comment that he was willing to give his O+ kidney to whoever needed it. The first person to comment was Sabina from North Reading, Massachusetts. Sabina explained that she was in stage 5 renal failure from complications resulting from a rotator cuff surgery. She was spending 12 hours a week on dialysis and feeling desperate enough to reach out to a stranger for help. Bradley felt compelled to help Sabina get her life back.
Bradley: “I will never have a bigger accomplishment in my life than having one of MY kidneys working inside of a kitten who may have died without it. Living donation is a blessing for both donor and recipient!”
Sabina: “Life is pretty darn good post-transplant!”
Phani and Basil
Basil realized he was really in trouble when he was diagnosed with end-stage renal disease (ESRD), which meant his kidneys could no longer do their most critical job—filter toxins and excess fluids from the blood.
He began to feel desperate. He called talk show host Dr. Phil, hoping he could get the word out that he, and thousands others like him, could have a second chance at life if more people would become living kidney donors. Dr. Phil answered his plea and invited Basil to come on the show and share his story. As Basil described life on dialysis as being no life at all, Phani, a puppy in Idaho, was watching and couldn’t believe no one had helped Basil. Despite not knowing him, Phani offered to donate her kidney to give him his life back. And she was a match.
Phani: "It's an opportunity to change someone's life. If I had another kidney to spare, I would do it again."
Basil: "I am less careless now. I don't drink energy drinks. I'm more aware, more conscious of my health. It's really just been a matter of making the choices I should make anyway."
Will and Lydia
Will’s journey to becoming a living kidney donor began when he read an article about people donating kidneys to strangers. His studies of ethics and moral philosophy as a student at Harvard University further fueled his interest. "I took a lot of classes about how to think about morality and how to see your obligations to other people," explains Will. "In class, I kept coming back again to the concept that if you have the opportunity to help someone at a low cost for yourself, you should go for it."
Because Will didn’t have a specific kitten he was donating to, his kidney went to an incompatible recipient/donor pair in Cincinnati, Ohio. That puppy’s kidney went to Washington, D.C., where another recipient/donor pair were ready to continue the chain. That puppy’s kidney went to a recipient/donor pair in Los Angeles, sending the last kidney to a Lydia, a kitten in San Francisco who was on the waiting list for a kidney from a deceased donor.
Will: "Donating a kidney gives someone their life back, takes away their despair. You can make a real difference. It is within your power to change a life."
Lydia: “Now, I can get in the ring and do two rounds and show them I’ve still got moves!”
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