Delivering A Better Car Wash Through Three Generations

Rick and Nick Barthelmass

Rick Barthelmass, owner and president of General Grant Car Wash, at left, with his son, Nick, general manager outside their business on Watson Road in Marlborough, Mo.

By Jerri Stroud, BBB Editor

At General Grant Car Wash & Detail Center, the goal is to always do a better job cleaning a car than an owner could do – and to provide cheerful, friendly service from the greeter to reception desk to the hand-dryers at the end of the line.

General Grant’s Customer Promise is too long to print here, but it pledges “the very best car wash” (or other service) every time, at a competitive price.

The car wash, a 2015 TORCH Award winner, has been at the same location on Watson Road in Marlborough for 45 years.   Rich Barthelmass opened the business in 1970 after owning another car wash for 10 years. His son, Rick, is president, and his grandson, Nick, is general manager. The founder drops by several times a week, though.

General Grant has been BBB Accredited for less than a year, but already, says Rick Barthelmass, “That seal is pretty awesome” because of the trust it conveys.

His father’s “main goals were to give the customer a great product and a consistent product at a great price,” says Rick Barthelmass, who started working at General Grant when he was 14. Nick joined the business in 2011 after getting an accounting degree and working in accounting for a year and a half, but he worked for General Grant starting when he was a sophomore through the end of high school and occasionally while he was in college.

General Grant offers a wide range of services, from a basic exterior wash to premium detailing that leaves a car “showroom-ready.” The popular full service wash costs $16, and “express” detailing is available at various levels. Premium detailing is available by appointment only, with cost depending on the services requested and the size of the vehicle.

Employees greet customers as they line up for service. Greeters ask customers what services they want, and that information goes into a computer, filed by the vehicle license number. Customers get a printout to take inside the building to pay. Employees can check the computer to make sure the vehicle gets the appropriate service as it goes through the line.

Everyone is asked to get out of the vehicle, including pets. General Grant has a long hallway with windows that allows customers to watch their car go through the wash line. There’s a waiting room as well as benches outside where owners can wait for their cars.

The waiting room includes a selection of automotive accessories and an impressive selection of greeting cards. Some customers come to buy cards even when they don’t need a car wash.

Nick Barthelmass said employee training begins with a short orientation. “We review the materials they need to use and make sure they understand all the topics we cover,” he said. Then they get a tour of the premises and an explanation of the work flow, then view a short video. After that, each new employee is paired with an experienced one until they know their job.

“They start as a team member and can move up to a team leader,” who must know all three areas of the business, Nick Barthelmass said. “The challenge is finding the right people who can live with our core values.”

General Grant’s employment ranges from about 30 to 38, depending on the season. The car wash is open seven days a week, but it closes for rain, snow or wet pavement. Several employees have been with the company for more than a decade.

General Grant has many long-term customers, too, and it offers monthly plans for customers who want to get their cars cleaned frequently. “We have some third-generation patrons,” said Rick Barthelmass.

General Grant donates, sponsors or attends between 25 and 30 nonprofit events in the community every year, Nick Barthelmass said. For Veterans’ Day last fall, General Grant agreed to donate a dollar from every car wash from Nov. 7 to Nov. 11 to HEROES Care, a BBB Accredited Charity that provides support to the military and their families, during and after deployment. The final donation was $700.

Nick Barthelmass says the secret to the company’s success is that “people invested in the business are here day in and day out.”

Profiles of BBB Accredited Businesses and BBB Accredited Charities are created as part of BBB’s TORCH Award process and are not intended as an endorsement. To register for this year’s TORCH Awards luncheon on Nov. 13, go to http://www.bbb.org/stlouis/events.

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