From the Jackson Sun
A casual conversation with a friend was all the motivation former Jackson residents Kevin and Shannon (Cox) Robertson needed to open Auto Clean Express at 1611 S. Highland Ave., across from South Side High School.
“Shannon and I had been looking for an investment opportunity, and we were told about the express wash industry by an electrician who had wired several of them in north Alabama,” Kevin Robertson said. “He and I had become friends through business dealings when I would use him as a contractor at both JMS Metal Services in Decatur (Ala.), and when he did work for me when I became general manager at JIT Cylinders.”
Both Kevin and Shannon graduated from North Side High School — he in 1990 and she in 1991 — and they also obtained college degrees from Union University — Kevin first, in 1994, and Shannon one year later.
“Kevin and I are high school sweethearts, who married in 1993,” Shannon said. “We threw huge newspaper routes for The Jackson Sun from one end of Russell Road to the other, and every area in between, to support ourselves while we were in college.”
Shannon earned her master’s degree from Union in 1998.
“We have been happily married for 22 years,” she said. “He is my best friend, and the hardest working man I know.”
Kevin began his career with Jackson Metal Services (JMS) on East Chester Street, but transferred with the company in 2003 to Decatur.
“I left JMS in 2013, and accepted a position as general manager at JIT,” Kevin said. “It’s a hydraulic cylinder manufacturer.”
He said he and Shannon presented four offers on four different properties suitable for Auto Clean Express in Decatur, but all it took was one look at a location the couple had passed on numerous occasions while visiting family in Jackson.
“On a Friday in March of 2014, Shannon and I were traveling to Jackson from Alabama to attend Shannon’s grandfather’s funeral,” Kevin said. “As we passed through south Jackson, I asked Shannon to call the number that was listed on some real estate on South Highland.”
Kevin said after a couple of telephone calls, a quick market analysis on the traffic count, population, and surrounding retail, he would return to Jackson the next day.
“That’s when we found 1611 South Highland,” Kevin said. “I contacted PG&G, who owned the property and had developed Taco Bell and Long John Silvers. Corey Gutgsell, one of the partners, and I quickly came to a verbal agreement and we went to work putting together a deal.”
Kevin said it took a few weeks of due diligence for additional market studies, environmental studies, civil engineering and to secure financing, but a closing date was set.
“After we closed, it took several more weeks of working with Bob Safin at TLM (Associates Inc.) and his staff, the City of Jackson for permitting and Jackson Energy Authority,” Kevin said. “It would take a while to list all of the parties involved with bringing this dream to reality, but everyone we dealt with was so helpful. We can’t say enough about Corey Gutgsell (PG&G), TLM, the City of Jackson and JEA.”
There was also a matter of equipment — some that Kevin said is the most technologically advanced in the industry to date — inside a 100-foot wash tunnel.
“We did not skimp on brushes,” Kevin said. “We have two sets of wraps, two top brushes, one set of rocker panel brushes and one set of side brushes. That’s six sets of brushes that are touching every car that travels through. Although in the industry they are still referred to as brushes, they are not brushes at all. They are actually made from closed cell foam strips.
“Due to the closed cell, this material does not absorb dirt, but rather sheds it with each revolution of the brush, making our wash perfectly safe for automobile finishes.”
Kevin said he and Shannon put a considerable amount of thought into the design of the building.
“We wanted an open concept with a lot of lighting,” Kevin said. “Some people are intimidated by driving one of their most expensive assets into a tunnel (so) we wanted our customers to be able to see what’s going on inside the tunnel. We wanted them to see exactly what is happening to a vehicle as it is pulled through on the conveyor. This, along with ample lighting at the pay stations and the vacuum canopy during the winter months. I asked myself, “What kind of environment would make me feel comfortable for my wife to stop in to wash her car and vacuum at night?”
Kevin said the couple wanted to create what they called a franchise look with the facility, the pay stations, the vacuum island, their logo — and services provided.
“We were, and are, blessed to be surrounded by so many knowledgeable people that gave us — and continue to give us — so many ideas on ways we can better serve our customers and produce super clean cars,” Kevin said. “Some of the services that set us apart is the dry ‘n shine. The closest express wash with this equipment is three hours away. It dries the car and polishes the clear coat.”
Kevin said the vacuum, mat cleaning, micro fiber rags, all-purpose cleaners for all surfaces including windows and air fresheners are free with the wash.
“This is a business model we borrowed from Car Wash Express in north Alabama,” Kevin said. “It is rare to find this level of service and amenities at most express washes.”
Kevin said the weather did not cooperate, but the build out began October 2014, and eight months later Auto Clean Express was open for business.
“It’s not a franchise, but we have a lot of people ask us that, and that includes the logo,” Kevin said. “We created this concept, picked the design of the building, the canopy and pay stations.
“Auto Clean Express is a family-owned and managed business. Shannon and I own it, and my parents, Charles and Pam Robertson are co-general managers.
“For whatever reason, God wanted Auto Clean Express in Jackson. My mom was a case nurse for 20-plus years, and my father was a postal carrier for 30-plus years. His route was in that area, and it helps with the recognition.”
Kevin said Dickey Grooms and Michael Rogers are assistant managers.
“We have been blessed to put together such a strong staff so quickly,” Kevin said. “Dickey Grooms is an old co-worker and close friend of (Kevin’s father), who had already taken early retirement, and he and my dad love working together. Michael is a member of the National Guard, and he and his family are super nice Christian people.”
Kevin said the wash attendants at Auto Clean Express try to fulfill the organization’s objective.
“Provide a high level of service, and the most pleasant express wash experience around,” Kevin said. “We all work very hard and have a good time, and I guess that is what’s important.”
Kevin and Shannon have two children, and one, their 13-year-old son, worked at Auto Clean Express each weekend through the summer, and Kevin’s brother Brandon works on the weekend.
Kevin’s grandparents, Bobby and Geri Adkins, have also made their services available, and Yorkshire pets serve as mascots.
“I am very blessed to have been born into a very loving and hard-working family,” Kevin said. “Our family likes to spend time together, and we like to work together, so this little business has been ideal for us. We work hard to make all of our staff feel like family, and my mom really spoils the staff by making sure they all have snacks and candy.”
Kevin said he believes once someone visits Auto Clean Express, not only do the majority return, they also tell others about the business.
“Which is our business philosophy,” Kevin said. “Wash each car like it’s our own, and treat people like family.”
Reach David Thomas at (731) 425-9637. Follow him on Twitter: @dgthomasbiz
About Auto Clean Express
• The business is located at 1611 S. Highland Ave.
•Bronze: $6, basic wash, soap and water.
•Silver: $10, Bug prep, which is sprayed on prior to entering the tunnel. Triple conditioner, additional soap, for a clear coat, wheel bright rim cleaner and spot free rinse.
•Gold: $13, Bug prep, triple conditioner, additional soap, wheel bright rim cleaner, Fire Bath (even more soap), spot free rinse, instant shine (wax), and Dry N Shine.
•Platinum: $16, Bug prep, triple conditioner, wheel bright rim cleaner, Fire Bath, spot free rinse, Carnauba Fire Wax, spot free rinse, and Dry N Shine.
• Auto Clean Express also offers an unlimited monthly program on its Silver and Platinum packages. It requires a debit or credit card and is automatically charged on the day of the month the customer signs up. The Platinum program is $40 per month per car and the Silver program is $30 per month per car. For one monthly fee, customers can wash their car as many times as they like.
• Hours are 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., Monday through Saturday; 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sundays.