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Meet Kimberly Berg, owner of Citrus Heights Car Wash

Kimberly Berg, Citrus Heights Car Wash
Kimberly Berg owns the car wash at the corner of Antelope Road and Auburn Boulevard in Citrus Heights. // CH Sentinel

15 years ago, Kimberly Berg left a comfortable career in the corporate world to take on ownership of a self-serve car wash in Citrus Heights. Her 24-hour car wash now stands out not only due to its high-visibility location at the corner of Antelope Road and Auburn Boulevard, but also because of its well-lit and maintained grounds — an image she takes pride in.

Berg, 53, says she puts about 40-50 hours a week into running the business. Most days she can be found on-site, with a beaming smile and an upbeat attitude, taking care of what she calls “her beloved car wash.”

As a Citrus Heights resident, Berg says she enjoys being close to her workplace, which reduces commute time and helps her respond quickly on-site to customer needs. She’s also made an effort to add various improvements to her car wash over the years, most recently making the move to accept credit and debit cards.

Sporting a pair of “car wash” earrings and an enthusiastic spirit, Berg posed for a photo and spoke to The Sentinel about her business one recent rainy day. She followed up with an email interview, responding to questions about her business, background, and what it’s like to run a car wash.

Her answers are included below:

How did you get started in the car wash business?
KB: My husband was planning ahead for our retirement and researched many different kinds of businesses, including laundromats, self-storage facilities and car washes. He wanted a business that didn’t require all-day attention, which we could run with few or no employees, and where we owned the land. We looked at a few car washes in the Sacramento area, but liked the location of this one, on a busy corner in Citrus Heights. Although it was old and tired-looking, it just needed a woman’s touch!  We were also excited that the city had recently incorporated in 1997 and was planning to form their own, independent police department.

What do you like most about running a car wash?
KB: The unpredictability and variety of each day is very exciting to me. No two days are ever the same. I love to talk with my customers and be of service. As I go about my chores, I like to greet my customers with a big smile, welcome them to my car wash, ask them how their day is going, and answer any questions they may have. Every day is an opportunity to make a positive impact and let them know that I really care about them. One of my favorite quotes is from Maya Angelou: “People don’t always remember what you say or do, but they will always remember how you made them feel.”

You no longer accept quarters. Why did you convert to $1 tokens?
I successfully converted over to $1 tokens in January 2015, after doing thorough research. In 2014, we had some vandalism where thieves were breaking into my machines and stealing quarters. At the same time, my bank started to charge me a percentage for depositing quarters. Then, I kept re-injuring my rotator cuff muscle, carrying the heavy bags of quarters to the bank. I wanted to add a credit card reader to the front of my cash machine, but learned that due to banking regulations, you cannot dispense quarters. Tokens were the perfect solution!

Can a self-serve car wash actually be a profitable business?
Yes, once all the debt is paid off!  I would not recommend buying a car wash as a “get rich quick” plan. It took four loans to purchase this car wash and the land 15 years ago and it will be paid off within 10 years.  In 2003, we paid top dollar when the economy was booming.  Since then, I have survived a deep recession and a severe drought.   I am grateful that the car wash income has always been able to cover its own expenses.

What has been your experience with homeless at your business?
I feel very fortunate to have a positive relationship with the homeless. I always treat them with respect and thank them for recycling and cleaning up after themselves. I prefer to stay positive and reward good behavior. This is where it pays to have a good video camera system and live close by. I also have a very good relationship with the Citrus Heights Police Department. In 15 years, I recall three instances of panhandling at my business. I calmly and respectfully explained to the individuals why I didn’t like them asking my customers for money, and have not seen them return.

What keeps you going, even when things get tough?
In 2013, while my husband and I were processing our divorce, we discussed what to do with the car wash. Our options were to continue running it as business partners, selling it outright or giving it to me in exchange for his home and retirement investments. My knee jerk reaction was to sell it. I was afraid of the heavy debt, and the responsibility of running the car wash on my own. I felt unprepared and overwhelmed. It was my sisters who reminded me how much I loved my customers, working at the car wash, and being involved with the community. That was the turning point for me. I decided to face my fears and keep my beloved car wash. What keeps me going now is having fun and having something to look forward to. One of my favorite quotes is “If you’re having fun, you’re doing it right!”

What happens to business during the rainy months?
Since we have such mild winters in California, my business doesn’t slow down too much in the winter time. However, I have learned that any weather extremes do slow down business. People don’t want to wash their vehicles if it’s too wet, too windy, too foggy, or even too hot in the summer. Fortunately, my car wash is conveniently open 24 hours.

Can you share a memorable experience you’ve had running your car wash?
Last summer, a woman called me on a Tuesday just frantic that she had “lost” her credit card at my car wash and asked if someone had turned it in. I sympathized with her situation and told her that no one had turned in her card.  While I was still on the phone with her, I logged into my camera system and found the footage of her standing at the cash machine. I saw her swipe her credit card with her right hand, then move the card to her left hand, then put her credit card into a lower pocket on her cargo pants. She was very surprised, and told me they were new pants that lacked rear pockets. She then put me on hold while she checked her laundry basket. She came back on the phone laughing. She was so happy and relieved, and thanked me profusely for helping her out!

How much water do you use?
When my car wash was built in 1982, the technology for a water reclaim system was not available. During the drought, I inquired about a retrofit, and was told it would cost around $60,000. Water is very precious to me, so I partnered with the Regional Water Authority and joined their “Be Water Smart” car wash program. The water from the city comes in low-pressure, which I pressurize to 1200-psi using CAT310 pumps. Each bay gun has a stainless steel tip that reduces the water flow to 2.8 gallons per minute.  A customer uses even less water when they’re using pre-soak, soap, tire cleaner or wax. Because I use high-pressure cleaning power, my water bill is less than $100 a month. I looked into getting spot-free rinse, but learned that for every gallon that is filtered, you waste a gallon of water. Instead, I replaced my aging water softener with a new 90-gallon Culligan model that removes calcium and water spots.

What does the future look like for Citrus Heights Car Wash?
I’m happy to share that the future looks very bright for Citrus Heights Car Wash, and I have no plans to ever sell it! As the debt continues to be paid down, I will continue to make more improvements. Next month, I’m attending the International Car Wash Convention in Las Vegas, and will be looking at in-bay dryers. The dryer is mounted on each bay wall that the customer controls from the meter switch. The dryer comes with a boom and long hose that blows warm air that the customer uses to then dry their vehicle.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
The color scheme at my car wash is water blue and happy yellow. The combination is happy. I often tell my customers, “This is my happy place and I think my customers feel the same way too!”

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