Business Spotlight: Thomas Car Wash
The Thomas family has been responsible for millions of sparkling clean cars on Louisville’s roads since 1946 when Tom Thomas launched the city’s first automated car wash. More than 70 years later, Thomas’s son Eli, and grandson Alex are carrying on the family business.
In fact, Alex doesn’t remember a time when he wasn’t involved with the car wash. Some of his earliest memories center around the family business and even creating his own mini car washes out of K’NEX building sets, complete with pipe cleaner brushes.
“I’m so glad I decided to join the car wash,” says Alex, who came on board just a few weeks after his 2010 graduation. “Everything has worked out great, and I get to work with my dad every day.”
Alex started as an assistant manager to Eli at their full-service car wash at 4139 Bardstown Road, but shifted his focus to the exterior express wash at 2190 S. Hurstbourne Parkway when the family bought that location in the spring of 2015.
The full-service location offers window cleaning and interior wipe-downs, as well as quick exterior clean-ups to best meet the customer’s needs. Alex refers to it as the “old-school” location, noting the traditional approach. His dad, Eli, started at the location right after he graduated from the University of Kentucky in 1977 and has been there ever since.
“Everybody knows Eli,” Alex says. “He goes out there, touches every car and talks to each customer. He’s a staple of that community in Buechel and he has been for years.”
The exterior express wash offers the guaranteed best exterior wash in the city, along with free self-serve vacuums with any wash. Alex believes the key to success at that location has been focusing on quality over speed, ultimately leading to more satisfied customers.
Customers can pay for each visitor take advantage of an unlimited wash plan to stay spotless year-around. The fast pass offers unlimited exterior washes at either location for just $20 a month, and one-third of visitors to Thomas Car Wash are fast pass subscribers.
The Thomas’s also own a full-service car wash in Nicholasville and are set to break ground on a new express car wash this summer at the corner of Preston Highway and Fern Valley Road.
Alex takes great pride in representing his family every day, and he and Eli have developed a phenomenal crew to round out the experience.
“One thing I love about the business is the teamwork between other operators. Not saying we don’t compete with one another, because it’s a pretty full market, but it’s a common bond that we all respect,” Alex says. “It’s really great to be a part of an industry where most operators want to help each other out. We’re part of an online group of nearly 3,000 other operators who post and answer questions relating to carwashing, and the common goal is for the industry to grow. Most of the other local operators are great people.”
Their 45-member crew has become part of the family, especially at the Bardstown location where several employees have been around for decades. The Hurstbourne location has only been around a few years, but many of the employees have been there since the beginning.
Although they have decades of experience in the car wash industry, the Thomas family continues to strive for improvement. A recent partnership with Ameri-Chem has produced a special blend of locally-made soaps to ensure cars are getting the best clean possible. Their Hydrapel blend is a special all-seasons paint sealant that helps repel water and future dirt from harming a vehicle’s finish.
“My favorite part of my job has always been watching a dirty car at the entrance of the car wash go through this beautiful ballet of colored soaps and dancing cloths,” Alex says. “At the exit, you see a pristine car. The negative chemistry of the soap, the treated water, the angles of impact, the positive charge of the wax, surface tension. There’s a real science behind everything involved in getting a car clean, and it’s really cool to watch it come together.”
Alex works closely with equipment providers to ensure their equipment can provide an optimal experience for any type of vehicle.
“If every car was a Ford Taurus, our job would be easy,” Alex jokes. “We continually have to develop new ways to excel and to clean cars.”
With continued expansion and stellar customer service, Thomas Car Wash offers premier quality to drivers in Louisville. Alex is excited about the future of the company and hopes to pass it along to one of his own children someday. He has a one-year-old daughter with his wife, Taylor, and the couple is expecting their second child, a boy, in the summer.
“I’m grateful for what I do,” Alex says. “It’s tough work, and there is a lot of competition. In the 1970’s, it was only us, and people would say, ‘I’m going to Thomas’ when they were going to get a car wash. I want to get back to the point where people say ‘I’m going to Thomas’, and my goal is to satisfy as many people as we can.”