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Cleaning up for 30 years at The Wave

Loyal customers and long term employees put the shine on car care business

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You could say that Wayne Palinckx grew up at the carwash.

Palinckx has been the 0wner of The Wave Car Care Center Wave, at 9195 Wadsworth Parkway, for 15 years but he’s been part of the business’s family 30 years.

“It’s been an unbelievable story,” Palinckx said. “I was interested in being a mechanic and was interested in that and driving all the way to Alameda and Federal work. When I saw the opportunity to work right here in Westminster, I couldn’t pass it up.”

Palinckx roots are in Westminster.

“I lived in the area my whole life,” he said. “I was 19 years old and saw this billboard for a futuristic car wash coming soon. It was on a two-acre property with a single horse on it.”

Palinckx, a Pomona High student at the time, hired on, working in the detail shop for $3.55 per hour. That was 1988, and he stuck with it, working under the cars and operating the car wash. He was promoted to supervisor and then the General Manager.

“Then, I received an offer to purchase it,” he said. “The ownership was a silent partner and I only dealt with him one to two times per month, so when he came to me and asked if I was interested in purchasing it, I didn’t know how I would do it at first.”

Palinckx knew he needed a 30 percent down ownership stake and wasn’t sure he could come up with it. Still, it was too good an opportunity to pass up.

“My wife and I got loans and almost 15 years to the day, February 20, 2003, we became the official owners,” Palinckx said.

What began as a job and a way to take care of his family has grown into a real sense of community.

“Everyone knows The Wave,” Palinckx said. “I can be in Littleton and people know The Wave.”

And the widespread reputation shows itself in the daily interactions.

“I’m really proud of what we’ve done here,” he said. “I can go into the lobby and can talk to customers who have been with me for 30 years.”

Not that simple

The key to Palinckx’ success is customer service, he said.

“Car washing is very simple, but it can be very difficult,” Palinckx said. “We have to figure out what’s important to you. Is it speed or quality or both? It’s different for everyone. I have some people who want the convenience. Others are retired and want you to take their time. We have to change gears to adapt to each customer’s wants.”

But The Wave’s longevity stems from investing in the business.

“We’re bit of a dying breed,” Palinckx said. “There are not very many full-service car care shops. There might be an express lube or express wash, or spray-your-own type business, but we’re the only car service in Westminster, in this part of town and that’s why it is so important to invest in technology for what we do.”

A summer drought led him to invest $100,000 in a water reclamation system several years ago, for example. That innovation helped the business cut water usage by 80 percent - environmentally friendly, but it also trimmed the company’s water bill by 66 percent.

“I now have computers managing electricity for the motors in the car wash as well,” he said. “They determine when to kick on and then off like a bell curve.”

His reinvestments are not all behind-the-scenes, however. He’s recently updated the lobby and employee areas.

“It doesn’t look like a 30-year old business,” he said. “We redid the lobby, the coffee area, and now the restrooms. We try to make it a nice place for everyone.”

The secret sauce to running a successful business always comes down to people, he said.

“I think people that come to a car place to work think it is a very temporary position, but then they discover it’s a really fun place to work,” Palinckx said. “People stay because even though they could make more money elsewhere, they know we value the best employees.”

The Wave employees as many as 90 employees at a time, and Palinckx said it’s important to take care of them all.

Employee Leticia Deherrera said it’s a great atmosphere.

“I love it here,” Deherrera said. “I’ve only been here for a year, but I’ve done everything from vacuuming, detailing, cashiering and now greeting cars. It’s a great atmosphere. The employees are team players. Everyone works as a team instead of individuals. We have a lot of regular customers and positive feedback.”

It’s a community feeling, Palinckx said.

“My employees stay with me for a long time. We’ve had 17 employees stay with us over the last 15 years. In fact, we have such a sense of community, I’ve been the best man in six weddings!”

Palinckx points to the sense of community loyalty he’s seen evolve over time, as employees become lifelong customers.

“It’s a group that stays together,” he said. “We kind of `go to war here.’ There’s so many people who meet their spouses and leave and then come back to wash their cars.”

It isn’t just the customers and employees who have really become involved in The Wave’s evolution either.

“At times, we get so busy and the Westminster police department has to intervene to help manage traffic when everyone wants to get in here. There’s something special about the kind of people who can help.”

Weathering the quirks

There are worries about running a car wash, however - particularly the weather. He recalls one snowy year that almost shut him down.

“When it snows, we’re closed,” he said.

They’d clean up from one storm, get ready to reopen and another storm would crop up.

“How do you keep 70-90 employees from finding other work when we aren’t active for six weeks?” he said.

He had to take out loans to cover the payroll, rather than let his employees go.

“We had to really sit down and ask ourselves what we were going to do and we decided to keep our people because we couldn’t keep the culture going and the cost to re-train new employees would be too expensive,” he said. “Managing the car flow from 0 to 15 to 800 cars is challenging with the weather, but you really have to take care of your people.”

After 30 years of business, Palinckx’s said he’s learned to be grateful to his customers and his employees.

“I look at people spending money with me and I just appreciate them spending money, hiring me, paying me, and I appreciate it so much,” he said. “The pride of ownership and pride of working is really present here. At some businesses, it feels like they just want your money and they’re gone.”

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