Squeaky clean: Car wash business expands, but keeps it local

Aqua Cville Hand Car Wash owner Jeff Kamrath is a former UVA baseball player who see his business as way to be an active participant in the community. Photo: Amy and Jackson Smith Aqua Cville Hand Car Wash owner Jeff Kamrath is a former UVA baseball player who see his business as way to be an active participant in the community. Photo: Amy and Jackson Smith

Last April, Jeff Kamrath opened Aqua Cville Hand Car Wash on Emmet Street, and the weather promptly turned against him. In his first year in business, he says, “It rained 41 percent of the days we could have been open.”

That was far from ideal, but Aqua Cville made it to its first anniversary anyway. “We designed the business to be able to sustain an incident like that,” he says. Low startup costs and flexible employee scheduling helped the business weather the storm.

Kamrath, a former UVA baseball player who had previously worked remotely for a New York-based sports tech company, founded the car wash because he felt “the urge to be an active participant in the community. I wanted to provide a service, provide jobs, and ultimately tax revenue.” Car washes run in the family: Kamrath’s brother owns two in Texas. “It was a natural fit,” he says.

The nitty-gritty, day-to-day aspects are plenty demanding; Kamrath realized early on that his brother’s businesses would not necessarily serve as models. “The demographics, weather, and buying habits are different in Texas,” he says. “We had to learn for ourselves.”

Still, Kamrath sees his most important challenge as balancing profitability with idealistic goals. “We want to be custodians of the environment and the community,” he says. As he gears up to open a second business—this one an automated car wash, as yet unnamed, on 29 North—he’s working as much as possible within the local economy.

“Working with local businesses is a no-brainer,” he says. “Local civil engineers, architects, general contractors—those are all companies and businesses we want to support. They’re providing jobs to their employees and their taxes contribute to the economy.” He’s even been able to source much of the car wash’s specialized equipment from Charlottesville-based Washtech, which distributes regionally.

Kamrath has already publicly committed to go easy on the environment through the Better Business Challenge, run by the Charlottesville Climate Collaborative. Water use, of course, is a big issue in his industry. “Our hand wash system uses less water than washing a car at home,” he says. “We can reuse the same water for 40, 50, or 80 cars.” The automated tunnel wash system in his new location will reclaim up to 90 percent of the water it uses, and Kamrath says that’s a place where good business intersects with stewardship: “We’re always going to be looking to mitigate our impact and be smart fiscally,” he says. “People assume those things are in conflict, and they’re not.”

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