If you want to know how the economy is doing ask Fred. Well, maybe not the details about the national debt but ask Fred Tautenhahn about his local car wash business.
and he will tell you,“this is the time for a business to dress up and not become complacent,” he said.
Tautenhahn is the owner of the Westlake Touchless Car Wash in suburban Daly City, which is adjacent to San Francisco heading south along the Peninsula. Westlake Touchless Car Wash has been a long-standing family-owned business on busy 87th Street for over 40 years.
Yet Tautenhahn has been in the business of car maintenance for more than half a century. In 1958 Tautenhahn opened his first service station in San Francisco on Divisidero & Oak Streets.
Two years later Tautenhahn expanded his business to include a coin-operated one parking stall car washing service and by 1968 he established where he is today in Daly City, which back in 1968 was among the few full service automated conveyor car washing businesses around.
The term or title “Touchless” came later in the 1990’s after a major equipment remodel. Touchless car washing simply means that no menacing carpet strips, chamois curtains, dangling cloth, unruly brushes and measuring wands are used or touch your vehicle during the washing process.
Locals, such as Daly City residents and those from San Francisco frequent the car wash at 87th Street and Sullivan. Yet it is the long-time patronage that Tautenhahn is very grateful for like the Broadmoor Police Department they are located right around the corner on 88th Street.
“My wife Sharon has taken her car there many times,” said local entertainer and historical author, Dave Crimmen. He pointed out that Westlake Touchless Car Wash is not officially in Daly City, or Westlake like the name indicates. “Actually it's in Broadmoor,” said Crimmen.
Tautenhahn noted that “yes, that is so, a portion of the lot on which the carwash sits is on unincorporated land of San Mateo County,” the details of the zoning complexity is but another story of the area’s history.
Tautenhahn saw opportunities in the post-World War II era economy. Much of Daly City and the surrounding communities were farmland. Tautenhahn noted that a San Francisco homebuilder, Henry Doelger, purchased some 600 acres.
In Crimmen’s book “Broadmoor Village” the farmland and sand dunes by 1950 were growing with new houses, roads and cars. “I always liked mechanical things and after my time in the US Marines in the early ‘50s, I knew going into business and working with cars was for me,” said Tautenhahn.
At age 75, he is as involved with the day-to-day operations as he was when he opened his first Shell Station in San Francisco at 21. Tautenhahn’s two sons Dean and Guy work with him and they both share in Tautenhahn’s on-going enterprising business vision.
When this reporter arrived at the car wash facility this past July 28 to speak with Tautenhahn, he was busy with his crew making preparations for the new VIP services. Westlake Touchless Car Wash at the Daly City location, no longer offers gasoline with a car wash.
“That got to be too costly and customers were having a hard time getting in and out of the lot because the lines of traffic flow to the gas pumps got clogged with the lines to the car wash area,” said Tautenhahn. Yet Tautenhahn has a plan for that space that once was his gas station. “I am making this area my VIP service section,” he said.
Tautenhahn laughed as he explained, VIP stands for ‘Very Important Protection and yes every customer is a very important person to us, but I believe this new extra service will become sought after once customers experience it,” he said.
Tautenhahn noted that new wax treatments for car exterior surfaces could last for several months. They can protect the exterior from wind dust, grime and the unpleasant occasional bird droppings.
Auto detailing expert, Kevin Farrell, (no relation to this reporter) explained that most people don’t realize how much a good washing and quality waxing helps to preserve the exterior.
“These products are very progressive and well worth the added application time and extra money,” he said. He agreed with Tautenhahn that if people knew how important it was, they would make the effort to have their car washed and polished properly.
Tautenhahn pointed out that while people might not get their car washed as often as filling up the tank with gas, they still want a good service and something of value. A good car wash with the VIP service Tautenhahn has in mind to begin in about 30 days has potential to attract more customers.
“The car wash owner or any detail shop owner has to have confidence in the product he is applying, said Farrell, and should have tested it on his own vehicles before attempting to sell it,” he noted.
Tautenhahn has always backed up his service with a money-back guarantee. With this new VIP service he provides the same.
And, Tautenhahn believes it will increase customer satisfaction. Tautenhahn also wants to promote “green health” for motorists.
“Because, today with all the emphasis on health and environment, our new upcoming VIP offering of services will steam clean the interior of your car, upholstery, carpet and even your heating and air conditioning vents too.” Tautenhahn said that with the machines and techniques he will install, the VIP service would remove not only dirt from the car interior but also germs and common viruses.
“It would have taken me about a million years to think up an idea like that,” said his son Dean. Both he and Guy admire their dad. His ability to follow opportunities always amazes them.
Tautenhahn’s green vision also includes use of recycled water – which also would include the collection of rainwater from the roof. When he discontinued gas services, he was required to remove the empty gasoline storage tanks underneath his service station. To remove them would have been an astronomical expense for the family-operated business.
Yet, always thinking ahead, Tautenhahn realized the storage tanks could be used as water storage for his car wash business. He noted that some people thought his idea to convert the former gasoline storage tanks into water storage was crazy. Yet others he said thought it was genius.
Getting estimates on what it would cost to have the tanks cleaned, sterilized and prepared for water storage was more economically feasible. “These tanks are not for drinking water, strictly for use in the car wash,” he said.
The amount of money saved on using recycled water is worth the investment of conversion rather than removal. It is that kind of innovative thinking, upbeat attitude and a welcoming smile that has helped Tautenhahn succeed, even when times such as these have not been easy.
“The economic recession has hit our business by 20 percent but we are still profitable and keeping an eye on expenses,” said Tautenhahn. He believes that this recession will not last forever and that plans for the future must continue.
“I always wanted to be ahead of the curve and I don’t think it is wise to wait for things to happen whether or not business or the economy is up or down,” said Tautenhahn. He credits the discipline for being in business and his confidence to his training in the Marines.
Tautenhahn who also at one time owned a Jazz Club in San Francisco called “The Stereo Club,” a limousine service called “Mr. T’s” and the first “Rent-A-Wreck” franchise out of Los Angeles, is never afraid of a new venture. “I have been through tight times before, but nothing in my career has ever cut me down completely,” he said.
Tautenhahn and his staff are eager to introduce the VIP – Very Important Protection service at Westlake Touchless Car Wash some time in August 2011.