Scott Caplan is EverWash’s President and Co-Founder. In this interview, he tells the story of how he got started with EverWash.
A native of the Philadelphia area and serial entrepreneur, Scott founded Sweat Fitness in 1999 and built a chain of fitness centers in and around the city of Philadelphia. Along with EverWash Co-Founder John Cassady, EverWash began with the idea that other industries could benefit from the gym membership model, and the power of a strong network.
Thank you for joining us in this series. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
I’ve been selling memberships my whole life, starting in the gym business.
I opened my first gym when I was 21, and I owned and operated several successful fitness clubs in the Philadelphia market, before exiting the day-to-day of that industry in 2012. I thought about what I was going to do next, looked at the car wash space, and thought that there was a great membership play there.
Since then, I’ve taken everything I learned from selling memberships at gyms and applied that to car washing. I’m not really trained to do much else. I don’t know much, but I do know membership.
Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?
When we entered the car wash industry, membership was not a big word. Nobody was talking about that five years ago. With our help, we’ve created a membership disruption in the space. Not to say that membership wasn’t happening at all at washes, but we certainly have helped accelerate that.
The other thing is that the car wash industry is so fragmented — with so many mom and pop shops and small ownership groups, there’s no real national player. That’s been a benefit to us, since we’ve been able to create this huge network that we can leverage.
When I started gyms in the 90s, we decided to switch up the membership model. We had membership, but it was all paid in full. We were rich in January, poor in July. And when I say poor, we were really poor in July. I would literally drive to peoples houses to get them to renew their membership to get $500 in my pocket. I’d have a lot more hair today if I never had to do that.
We looked at car washes the same way — why pay per service when there’s a smarter way to create loyalty on the customer side, and recurring, predictable revenue on the operator’s side. Similar to the gym business, we saw that there was a better way to sell car washes. Selling recurring memberships is like gold.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
When we started up EverWash, the first car wash operator I went to was a guy I knew my entire life. I grew up down the street from him, and was good friends with his sister. Figured he’d be an easy first stop as we tried to get a network up and running.
I went to him with this idea about the app and the network, and how exciting it all was. He just proceeded to beat the crap out of the idea and told me it will never work. I was a little taken aback, and asked him if he’d join if it did work. He didn’t commit to anything.
Well, here we are five years later: EverWash is among the fastest growing marketplaces in the world, and my friend still isn’t selling memberships at his washes. With all the success we’ve found, and car wash operators whose businesses and lives we’ve helped change, I always look back on that conversation and laugh.
The moral of the story: You can’t always rely on people you know to buy into an idea, but also don’t let them dissuade you from pursuing an idea you think is brilliant.
We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?
Growing up, my father was a furniture salesman. I used to travel with him all the time, joining him on sales calls. It never felt like he was working. Most of the time he was just talking to his clients, grabbing lunch together. I used to ask him, “How is this even work?”
What he taught me was that the relationships you build are the most important things in business. He built these great relationships, which proved to be more than business. He developed true relationships with the people he worked with. I took that with me when I went into business myself.
There’s always something that goes wrong when you’re in business, it’s not a matter of if but a matter of when. And when that shit hits the fan, if you have a real relationship with somebody it’s easier to get over those hurdles.
Business is a relationship, it’s all relationships. That’s one of the main reasons we’ve been so successful at EverWash and have built the world’s largest network of car washes. And it’s all based on what my father helped instill in me from a young age during those sales trips and lunch meetings.
In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?
It’s tough for anybody to change. That doesn’t mean you can’t be successful without accepting or adopting that change, but you can be a lot more successful if you are willing to hear some of those new ideas out and change the way you look at your business.
Look at the gym business. I was one of the first fitness club owners to switch to a modern membership model. Our competition down the street, who had been in business for more than 20 years, was unwavering in his decision to not abandon paid-in-full membership. He didn’t think his system was broken. But ultimately, we ended up being more successful than him because we had a better way to sell memberships and keep people around.
We all get stuck in our ways, it’s hard to change. Trying to convince someone else to change is even harder, so I get why there’s push back, or resistance, to disruption. But change is necessary for progress to happen. What we’re doing for car wash operators, if they’re willing to partner with us, is potentially life changing.
Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.
I live my life by three central things: Persistence, loyalty and enthusiasm.
Persistence: I used to tell people when I was in the gym business that “I’m a 17 year overnight success.” Starting any business is not for the weak. You’re dealing with an uphill battle from the jump. Anyone who’s an entrepreneur has to have that drive because these things don’t happen overnight.
You have to always be persistent, and not let the grind wear you down. You need to show up to work everyday and put out the same quality of work no matter how hard things get. Even when things are tough, you need to keep pounding, and building off that consistent momentum.
Loyalty: You need to be loyal to the people you work for, your partners, and the people you do business with — in our case the car wash operators. You also need to be loyal to people you work with, and in my case, the people who work for me. When you are loyal to the people who work for you, you can always trust them to take care of you and any tasks on their plate in return. We’ve all worked at shitty places and for shitter people. When there’s loyalty in place, there’s a new level of trust. This makes work easier and oftentimes more fun.
Enthusiasm: You have to be enthusiastic and passionate about what you do. You need to be excited about waking up in the morning, and not see things as if they are a daily grind. If you’re not enthusiastic about what you’re doing, it’ll show in your work and in the conversations you have with clients and colleagues alike. This is why we do a lot of fun things at EverWash, like team building events and get togethers. Each year we throw an awesome party at the Northeast Regional Carwash Convention in Atlantic City and invite all our clients and coworkers to put it all out there and show everyone that we like to have a good time. Having a good time together helps highlight the enthusiasm and passion we have for our jobs, and that’s contagious.
We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?
We’re going to be a monster consumer brand in this business. Now that membership is really mainstream in this industry, we’re going to create a huge consumer brand to drive millions of new members directly to our wash partners. We’re going to be the first consumer brand in this industry.
Do you have a book, podcast, or talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us? Can you explain why it was so resonant with you?
My typical answer for what books I read is that I’m waiting for the movie, but I really like the Business Wars podcast series. There are a ton of great lessons in those about how some of the biggest companies in the world started, scaled, innovated, and overcame challenges. Also, Land of Giants which chronicles the Netflix story. Every subscription company can take lessons from Netflix and how they came to dominate their space. We certainly have.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I don’t remember who said it, I think it was a boxer and it was something my dad used to say all the time, “Don’t cry the blues when you lose, but keep the same grin when you win.” It means that there’s always setbacks and adversity, but you can’t cry over spilled milk. You also need to be humble about your success.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Just like how I tried to inspire people to be more fit and healthy when I owned my gyms, I hope EverWash makes having a clean, beautiful car accessible and affordable to everyone. As we continue to build our network, we look forward to being withing driving distance of ever American, and providing them a service that will bring a smile to their face.