Bubble Bath family-owned car wash chain expands to wash San Antonio’s growing number of cars

On average, dozens of people move to San Antonio once a day. When the trip is over, they may find that their car needs washing.

The Lopez family has captured a share of this growing market by expanding their Bubble Bath chain of car washes from a self-service station when it was founded in 2005 to six car wash locations across town today. . The most recent opened last month on Culebra Road in the far west. A seventh should open next year on Guilbeau Road, on the northwest side.

Competing with national chains such as Zips and GO Car Wash, Bubble Bath is emphasizing its local credentials through its social media accounts, touting partnerships with charity group DoSeum and K9s for Warriors. In August, the company asked its Instagram followers to film themselves eating breakfast tacos while having their cars washed in a contest for a $ 100 gift card.

“The truth is that outside companies, with these giant bureaucracies, will never be able to do as much as we can. We can always pivot faster, we can always do more for our community, ”said Nick Lopez, president of the company. “When our community spends here, we spend back in the community. “

Cars roll out of a Bubble Baath car wash, a fast-growing chain headquartered in San Antonio.

Robin Jerstad / Robin Jerstad

He runs the business with his father, Larry Lopez, the CEO. Larry worked as a dentist until two neck surgeries forced him to leave the profession. After a friend found success as a car wash operator, he and Nick’s mother, Rose Mary, opened the first Bubble Bath location on Bandera Road outside of the 1604 Loop. She now heads the company’s human resources operations.

Nick joined the company after graduating from college in 2008. The channel now has 63 employees, but it remains a family affair, with Nick’s wife drawing artwork and his daughters helping to sing a jingle in the advertising.

Nick and Larry Lopez recently interviewed to discuss the job market, minimum wage and the “constant battle” of small business ownership. The following has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Question: What do you like about the car wash business?

Pseudo: I didn’t grow up wanting to wash cars for a living. In fact, I graduated in psychology. But growing up in a business that requires you to be an expert on 12, 15 different things at once – that gives me something to run with. There is always something around the corner, there are always new goals to be achieved. There are always new ways to reach our staff and reach the community.

This year alone, we gave all of our staff a 30% raise. We went to a starting salary of $ 15 an hour, brought our managers to career salaries. And the response has been tremendous. Seeing guys who’ve gone from trying to be successful at buying their first home, buying their first car, getting loans from the bank because they now have that ability is something that’s incredibly rewarding. More rewarding than a shiny car.

Nick Lopez, President of Bubble Bath Car Wash and Founder Larry Lopez are the owners / managers of the fast growing car wash chain.

Nick Lopez, President of Bubble Bath Car Wash and Founder Larry Lopez are the owners / managers of the fast growing car wash chain.

Robin Jerstad / Robin Jerstad

Question: What sort of things do you have to be an expert at?

Pseudo: HR, electricity, plumbing and mechanics. Psychology, sociology, marketing, branding, advertising, it’s all everywhere. We have to be our own lawyers, our own lawyers, we have to be our own lawyers in the city so that we can get the permits. It is a constant battle for small entrepreneurs. There are no easy streets, there is no easy paved path.

Question: Larry, you have just trained in dentistry. How did you learn to run a small business?

Larry: You know, dentistry requires very fine attention to detail. We work with micrometers, you know. But my undergraduate degree was chemistry. So dealing with soaps and waxes and all that stuff was easy to figure out. We had help from the Small Business Development Center at the University of Texas. They helped us at the start.

Question: Did they give you any advice?

Pseudo: HR advice, how to deal with unemployment, banking privilege, banknotes, how to go through bank processing. I went to Sonny’s CarWash College, learned how to maintain and repair a lot of our equipment. And then we have built a network of experts and people we know who advise and help us constantly. I became a lover of George Bush, a guy who knew he wasn’t smart enough to do it all but had enough friends and enough people who could give him advice on getting the job done.

Question: What prompted you to give your employees a 30% raise?

Pseudo: Honestly, we always believed we were at the top end of the salary scale. Before that, we were actually at $ 12 an hour. As we watched the rest of the city increase their pay scale, we thought it was time to go at the same pace, but we wanted to do better. So we went beyond Chick-fil-A, went beyond McDonald’s and what everybody else has to offer, to say, “You know what, great. If Bernie (Sanders) was screaming for 15, I’ll do 15. ”And we’re going to be able to give these people 100% health, 100% dental, 401 (k). We are going to bend over to take care of our people.

Nick Lopez, President of Bubble Bath Car Wash and Founder Larry Lopez are the owners / managers of the fast growing car wash chain.

Nick Lopez, President of Bubble Bath Car Wash and Founder Larry Lopez are the owners / managers of the fast growing car wash chain.

Robin Jerstad / Robin Jerstad

They took care of us throughout the pandemic – we never closed our doors. My staff worked through it all. Thanks to our own COVID exposures here on site, we have had to deal with this. But we were fortunate enough to be able to provide an experience that was safe enough and free of exposure that we could continue to wash. And they held us together. We’ve actually grown 20% through 2020, and we’ve grown even bigger this year.

Larry: We have always been sensitive to the minimum wage. It’s way too low and it’s been like this for so long that no one can live with it. That’s why we were paying 12, but when the discussion, nationwide, started around 15, we agreed. This is where it should be.

Question: Did you mention you were exposed to COVID?

Pseudo: In fact, we never had an exhibition there. No one has had COVID from here. It was always, “Hey, I’ve been exposed at home, I have to stay.” So we would lose people for weeks. Some of the people we employ have other family members working for us as well, so we would lose two or three people at a time, which is really difficult. We are conducting a tight operation. We don’t have a ton of overhead when it comes to our staff. They all work long hours, so when we lose someone, it’s a lot for us.

Question: We talk a lot about a tight labor market. Having trouble finding employees?

Larry: Not when you’re paying $ 15 an hour.

Pseudo: We now have a sales and training manager, we pay very well, we have a full training program. We have found that when you combine a reasonable rate of pay with good training and culture, you don’t have employee issues. I have 30 applications on a desk. We have no fear about it. I’ve tried to keep encouraging other small business owners who find this a big deal, “Guys, you’re going to have to pay a little more. There are better options now.

Question: On my way down Culebra I saw a few more car wash stations. Is it a competitive business?

Pseudo: This was not the case.

Larry: What’s happening in San Antonio is foreigners come in and buy or build car washes. For example, GO Car Wash is owned by a private equity firm based in Toronto, Canada. Watershed is owned by certain people from Phoenix, Arizona.

We were born and raised here. It’s our home. So, yeah, we have challenges from the outside, but we think we provide better service and produce a nicer car than these people because we spend a lot of time on the details.

Question: Tell me about your water collection system.

Pseudo: Each of our car wash systems uses a reclaimed water system that reuses about 70 percent of our water – pulls it out, cleans it, bleaches it with peroxide. It’s a tank system – as the water moves from tank to tank it leaves sediment on the outside, so by the time you enter the third tank you get much clearer water .

So all the water that is sprayed again to clean the cars is actually water that we have recycled, reused. And that cuts our fresh water consumption per vehicle to between 18 and 22 gallons, depending on which car wash we are in.

We also have solar panels on three of our car washes. We use biodegradable chemicals and soaps so that nothing we do is harmful to the environment. Because we use water harvesting services, we can operate in high level droughts. So when you can’t wash your car in your driveway, you can always wash it in Bubble Bath.

Question: I noticed that you offer monthly plans where customers receive unlimited washes for a flat rate. Are they popular?

Pseudo: Extremely.

Question: San Antonio has an automotive culture, right? Do you think that’s part of it?

Pseudo: The whole of the South has an automobile culture. You also talk about a city that does not keep its cars clean. You can’t just leave your car outside and it will stay clean even for three days. If you park your vehicle outside it gets dirty: pollen, mud, rain, dirt, whatever it is, there are things in the air here. This is the kind of place where, even for safety reasons, you have to wash your vehicle fairly regularly.

Question: Any ideas for expanding beyond San Antonio?

Pseudo: Sure. You know, for us, branding and marketing and our city in particular allows us to remain very local. But as the opportunities multiply, so will we.

Larry: We would like to stay within driving distance.

Pseudo: I make a point of making sure I’m at our washings five days a week so people can find me – my staff, our customers, whatever it is. The further we go, the more we grow, we don’t want to lose that. This is what makes us special.

Comments are closed.