Much more than a ‘wash’ Mountz retires after 28 years of success, giving back to the Ephrata community

By on January 9, 2013

By: CHELSEA SHANK Review Correspondent, Staff Writer

Rhoda and Mike Mountz in front of the Ephrata Cloister Car Wash facility recently. (Photo by Preston Whitcraft)

It’s a story he tells as often as he can.

Ephrata’s Mike Mountz failed second and third grade, and by ninth decided to drop out of school completely.

So he went to work at a manufacturing company without his high school diploma. Mountz said, however, he never forgot what it felt like to fail, and began dreaming about owning a business of his own so he could make it succeed.

Dyslexia was actually the reason Mountz struggled so much in school, but that was not something that got diagnosed when he was a student.

Mountz shares his story as often as possible with students who have dyslexia, encouraging them that nothing — not even dyslexia — can stop them from being successful and achieving their dreams. He founded an organization called D.A.D, which stands for Dyslexics Achieving Distinction. And achieve he did.

In 1984, Mountz, 60, bought Cloister Car Wash and his hard work and vision led his company to succeed far above any other car wash in Lancaster County. He expanded the business to include four locations in Ephrata, York, Lancaster and Reading. In 2010, Mountz was inducted into the International Carwash Association’s Hall of Fame and he is known around the world for his innovations in the car wash business.

For years, whenever Mountz had to borrow money for his company at the bank, he worried that someone would ask about his degrees — but they never did.

Cloister Car Wash has been his life for the past 28 years, but last month a big announcement hit the local newspapers –the business had been sold.

Cloister Wash and Lube, the Ephrata-based company known for its local philanthropy, was sold for an undisclosed price to Mister Car Wash, a Tucson-based chain. The sale was reportedly finalized Dec. 4, at which time Mountz officially retired. He said he now needs time to adjust.

"People warned me this would be hard, but it’s like warning someone about being pregnant. There is no way to know what it’s like until it happens," said Mountz. "I think it’s the toughest thing I have ever done."

"Some business owners are driven by the money end of it, but that was never what it was about for me," Mountz said.

Mountz and his wife Rhoda, who have three children and eight grandchildren, worked together at Cloister. Working together was good for their relationship, Rhoda said, because had she not been involved, she would not have fully understood the significance of each new step that the business was taking.

In the early years Rhoda kept the books and planted flowers at the sites in Ephrata and York by herself — a total of 40,000 plants each year.

"I planted the first two years at Lancaster and after that we hired a full-time flower person," said Rhoda.

From the beginning, Mountz set out to make going to Cloister Car Wash an experience, and breathtaking landscaping at every site has always been a part of that. He knew that a person could wash their car at home, and the service he was offering was not a necessity. So he took everything to the next level.

"I always wanted to have a theory that people would think, ‘Oh and by the way, they wash cars,’" Mountz said.

Customers who visit seem in awe of the interiors of the Cloister facilities. Mountz said that he receives a lot of comments from people who say that he must always be telling his employees to clean, but he hasn’t had to say anything in years.

"People take pride in working here," Mountz said. "My employees over the years are what has made me look so great."

Good people have always gravitated to Mountz, said Rhoda.

"He has a way about him that people desire to be really committed and do well," Rhoda said. "He really brings that out in people."

When Mountz bought the car wash there were four employees –now there are about 400.

The Ephrata location grew several times to include a lube and recon shop. Mountz had a vision to not just clean car exteriors, but to clean the interiors too.

"People thought I was nuts," Mountz said.

But it worked and when Mountz began offering the option of an interior cleaning to all of his customers in 1986, he had no idea that he was the first car wash in the country to do so.

The York location was built in 1994 as a full service car wash, and a car wash and lube shop opened in Lancaster on Manheim Pike in 2000, at the former Kerek Air Freight site.

The Reading location, built on eight acres in 2006 to include a car wash, pet wash, motorcycle wash and lube shop, is what Mountz refers to as "the Disneyland" of car washes.

"I always had a tendency to overspend," Mountz said. "And every time I built, it got tough."

But the risks that Mountz was willing to take are what kept taking Cloister to higher levels of success. The conveyer belt system used to move cars along at the Lancaster site was Mountz’ idea. He came up with what he called the "people mover system," using his experience from working in manufacturing and a desire to enhance efficiency.

The design got him the International Car Wash Association’s Innovation Award in 2005. He also won their Community Service Award in 2000 and the Hall of Fame Award in 2010, making Cloister the only company in history to have won all three awards.

As stated earlier, Cloister has been well-known for its community philanthropy. Over the years, Mountz has given nearly $5 million back to the community. One of his largest community initiatives is "Grace For Vets," an opportunity for veterans to receive a free car wash every year on Veteran’s Day. The event began 11 years ago and since then, more than 1,900 car wash locations in the United States have begun participating in "Grace For Vets." Last year the Australian Car Wash Association joined and there are sites in Canada and New Zealand that participate now too. About 5,000 veterans’ cars were washed for free at the four Cloister locations in 2012, said Mountz. His employees all say that its their favorite day of the year.

Mountz served in the United States Army for two-and-a-half years when he enlisted during the draft. He sustained injuries while serving stateside and was taken to an amputee facility outside of Valley Forge. He never forgot seeing thousands of men with missing limbs and created Grace For Vets because he wanted to do something to say thank you to those who have served and sacrificed so much for their country.

And he has said thanks to the community as well over years, in more ways than many realize. For that dream of his, the one he had way back when, really did come true. More MOUNTZ, page A6

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