BRADENTON -- Tony and Terri Milen want your dirty cars.
Based on the volume of business they have done at their Clear Sunset Car Wash & Detail Center, they have already gotten a lot of them. The car wash, which is the Manatee Small Business of the Year for companies with annual gross sales between $600,000 and $3 million, has seen substantial growth in customer volume recently.
Purchased by the Milens in 2008, the car wash was cleaning about 70 cars a day when they took over. This year, it is projected to wash about four times that number. During the past three years, revenues are up about 50 percent.
"We've consistently exceeded our annual projections," Tony Milen said.
It's the sort of growth the family-owned business has capitalized on for the better part of the last six decades. Part of the Michigan-based Jax Kar Wash brand founded by the Milen family in the 1950s, Clear Sunset is the brand's first location in Florida. According to the Jax website, the chain has washed more than 50 million cars.
Employing 28 people full time, the car wash packs a high volume of business into a limited amount of space at its 6415 State Road 64 E. Bradenton location. Catering to both monthly car wash members and single-wash customers, the business recently opened a "fast pass" lane to increase vehicle throughput at its 5,400-square foot, automatic wash facility. The Milens made a second modification to the car wash in August designed to further decrease customer wait times.
Washing cars in Florida is hot, labor-intensive work. To keep employees fresh, the Milens provide frequent breaks and hydration stations, as well as lunch and snacks on many days.
The Milens acknowledge that they are in a competitive business in the Bradenton area, going head-to-head with more than a dozen full-service car washes. The business has grown its monthly membership business to more than 1,200 customers and has a goal of reaching more than 3,000 in the next three years.
To attract those members and other customers, the car wash offers many services that go beyond washing, waxing and vacuuming. Add-ons that go toward bringing a vehicle's looks and feel back to near new include restoring headlight lenses, hand cleaning wheels and leather seat conditioning.
Beyond that, said Tony Milen, staff members take extra time with customers. Customers are greeted by name when they pick up cars left for cleaning and detailing, then are escorted to their cars.
They are also provided mats to wipe their feet on before getting into their cars.
Customers waiting at Clear Sunset for their cars to be cleaned also get special treatment. The waiting area offers coffee, popcorn and a children's play area.
Matt M. Johnson, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7027 or on Twitter@MattAtBradenton.