First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Harry Caruso: Car Wash Advisory as a Team has been fortunate in that all of our loved ones have not been directly and physically impacted by the virus. We are very lucky and thankful to be healthy during these trying times.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Car Wash Advisory.
Harry Caruso: I’ve spent my career traversing the worlds of investing, finance, machine learning, and now car washes. After graduating summa cum laude from Lehigh University with dual degrees in Industrial Engineering and Finance, I went the traditional path of Investment Banking. From here, the path quickly became less linear. After Investment Banking, I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to help build a small financial technology “startup” into a major corporation, to do direct cross-capital structure investing at a $500MM hedge fund, and to even bring a machine learning company through its most exciting stages of growth.
Car Wash Advisory was born out of a combination of personal interests and the accidental discovery of a true market need. I used to be a hands-on “car guy” and built car motors and raced cars myself back in high school. I always wanted to get back to something more mechanical and automotive-related at some point during my career. It wasn’t until doing a favor for a friend of a friend that needed assistance in obtaining financing for a car wash that I was turned onto this incredible industry. I dove in headfirst after getting an initial lay of the land. Fast forward a couple of months, and I was offered the opportunity to build a car wash platform for a private equity firm, which I turned down to create Car Wash Advisory instead. I couldn’t be happier with my decision, despite all my mentors, friends, and family members adamant protestations to my decision. After diving into the industry, it was clear that this, on the intermediary side, is where the largest vacuum and absolute need was present. This silo within the industry just so happened to also fit my entire background and brought together finance, investing, M&A Advisory, the automotive industry (albeit tangential), and even engineering in some ways.
How does Car Wash Advisory innovate?
Harry Caruso: Our company innovates based on the needs within the industry, we focus on providing professionalism, honesty and guidance to all of our clients; while also identifying missing elements and information that can better our clients, provide for more well-rounded service and better the industry as a whole.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Harry Caruso: Coronavirus has, in many ways, actually positively impacted our business. I feel guilty saying that, and I couldn’t feel more or worse for those who have been directly impacted by this awful time and virus (familially or career and income-wise.)
With investment opportunities being as lackluster as they are in light of this time of uncertainty, our business and the car wash industry has risen in interest and volume to a truly unprecedented level. COVID has serendipitously brought to the forefront one of, if not the largest, attractive elements of the entire industry; that being it’s resilient and defensive nature during uncertain macroeconomic times.
This is not to say that COVID’s impact on the industry, and Car Wash Advisory as a business and Company, hasn’t been without some negatives. But we have persevered and continued growth. In fact, we currently plan to and are on track to, double the team by calendar year-end 2020.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Harry Caruso: Difficult choices and decisions most certainly had to be made. The two largest and most difficult being whether to continue growth, hiring, and spending as was planned prior to the virus, and also how to truly vet and hire correctly in this unusual environment.
The largest lessons we have learned are to stay confident in yourself and your convictions and to hire people rather than hire resumes or profiles.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety, how do you project yourself and Car Wash Advisory in the future?
Harry Caruso: Car Wash Advisory and I handles stress in three ways; encouraging as many mistakes as possible, constantly overcommunicating with hyper-transparency, and laughing… a lot. My whole philosophy is that stress-inducing and high-pressure events are unavoidable. However, all these events can be largely defanged if you and your team know about them and address them as soon as possible.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Harry Caruso: We like to believe that we don’t have any direct competitors. In reality, our largest competitors are local real estate agents and business brokers.
Our primary differentiation from a competitor standpoint is actually quite simple, yet equally as impactful. We firmly believe and know that the value in representing and executing on the sales and advisory aspect of a very speciality industry and business type…. lies in being equally as specialized. Our “competitors” take a focus on geography while remaining generalists across business and real estate types. We, however, take the exact opposite approach. We are specialized in a single industry and are nationwide in the way of geographical focus. An express tunnel car wash in Arizona has far more in common with an express tunnel car wash in Michigan than it does with a multi-family apartment building in Arizona.
Your final thoughts?
Harry Caruso: My single best decision, even beyond the industry and service offering we provide, was in my first hire. I came into hiring without any prejudice on age or experience. I came in looking for the right “person” and right “mindset”, not necessarily focused on the right “resume” or “profile”. We couldn’t, and wouldn’t, be growing at the rate we are without her. So my final thought – is hiring amazing people is both feasible and truly attainable during this global crisis, and to take your time with hiring. Pick the right person. Not the right resume.
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