Getting to Know Your ICA Board: Paul Stagg, Splash Car Wash

Getting to Know Your ICA Board: Paul Stagg, Splash Car Wash

March 4, 2024

4 minute Read

Overgrown with weeds and rusty equipment, the old self-serves in the quaint town of North Little Rock were just eye-sores to most. That was before Paul Stagg and a friend spotted them and saw the opportunity they presented — rust spots and all.

It was 1987, and these old self-serves were the start of Stagg’s immersion into the car wash industry — and his progression to owner, operator, distributor, builder and, recently, his position as a board member at International Carwash Association. Now owner/CEO of Splash Car Wash, Stagg has some interesting stories about what the industry used to be like versus what it has evolved into — and what he’s learned along the way.

Paul Stagg, Owner and CEO, Splash Car Wash

Q: How did you get into the car wash industry? 

A: A friend and I had gotten involved in convenience stores in 1982 because it looked like c-stores were coming into their own. We saw an opportunity there because these stores no longer had air compressors for folks to put air in their tires. We were the first adopter in Arkansas of coin-operated air machines. 

It was at a trade show for air machines that we first got introduced to the car wash business.

Then, in 1987, we decided to buy a few old self-serve washes in North Little Rock. These washes were overgrown with weeds and rusted materials. They ended up doing well and, with our sales background, we started a distributorship and sold equipment and chemicals. We even built 50-60 car washes for other people in Arkansas.

We’ve evolved along with the industry and are just operators now.

Q: What does a typical day look like for you?

A: I’ll start the days off early at the office and meet with our young leaders in the organization. In the afternoon, I’ll go out and visit a couple of the car washes closest to me, just to get the feel for them. Maybe I’ll fold some towels or walk around and greet people. 

Q: What keeps you coming back every day?

A: I’ve got a really fine group of young leaders here. They’re eager for challenges. What I really love to see are the entry-level leaders in the field. We give them an opportunity and watch them achieve visions of things they never thought they would — that’s a life-changing thing to see these young people grow.

Q: What has been your biggest learning in the industry?

A: The ability to adjust and respond to the unknown. You can have a plan, but the success of that plan depends on other people — whether that’s a city planning commission, engineers, architects or financial markets. You have to be able to adapt and respond.

Q: What should people in the car wash industry be paying attention to?

A: You have to keep an eye on where you are currently – your profitability and achieving short-term goals. But you also have to make sure that you’re not making short-term decisions that are going to affect your ability to be at a competitive advantage in the future. 

If you don’t re-invest and do maintenance on your facilities, you can be out-positioned. You have to make sure you’re delivering what you’re saying you’re delivering. 

Q: Any trends you’ve been watching in the industry?

A: There is so much data and sophistication that has come into our industry. There are people who can now pull any kind of query or data from the software at your car wash. We have the ability to study consumer behavior and apply that data to really know and understand — and not just memberships, but for retail customers too. It’s more than just offering a deal nowadays. There’s an opportunity now to really study what consumers want.

When you used to go to The Car Wash Show, you were looking at bearings and pieces of hardware. Now all you’re seeing are pieces of software. It’s been interesting to see those who have seen both sides adapt to this.

Q: What’s something you do for fun, that refills your own fuel tank?

A: We’ve got a cabin where I grew up, in the middle of nowhere. Time goes slow there and you can hear the wind in the trees.

We also have a hog barn that we converted into a small conference center that has some open space. We take some of our emerging leaders there. There’s a fire pit and everything; it ends up being a great learning atmosphere for our team.

Q: What would people be surprised to find out about you?

A: I own a golf cart but do not own a set of golf clubs. I use it to drive grandkids around the neighborhood.

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