For Veterans Day 2020, The Kleen-Scene travelled to New Jersey to visit a pair of car washes that participate in the Grace for Vets program. It was a cloudy day with a constant threat of rain, but we were lucky enough to dodge the precipitation long enough to speak with the owners and see some veterans enjoying their free wash. We first visited Mike Conte at Conte’s Car Wash, then headed to Manahawkin Magic Wash, owned and operated by Doug Rieck.
Conte and Rieck’s Relationship with the Grace for Vets Program
Rieck is the current president of the CWONJ (Car Wash Owners of New Jersey) and Conte was his predecessor, so both are very involved in the car wash industry. Both have also been supporters of the Grace for Vets program since its inception in 2004.
Conte said of his start with the program, “Mike Mountz (founder of Grace for Vets) was involved from the first year, so we jumped right on board. That was about fifteen years ago, and we’ve done it every year.”
Rieck first heard about the program “at the Northeast Regional Car Wash Convention, way back when,” and immediately thought it was “a new, great idea!”
For both, it was the first time they offered a free wash promotion to veterans, and they’ve proudly stuck with the tradition each November.
“I’m a real history buff. When you read about the living hell that some of these guys went through, it’s the least we can do,” said Conte when we asked him why the day is special to him.
Rieck has the same reverence for the day, and remarked, “I did not serve. My father served in the Army in WWII, but I was not in the service. I just think it’s special, and important, to honor the veterans.”
Advertising Grace for Vets
Conte and Rieck both adorn their properties with attractive patriotic signage loaded with red, white, and blue colors to advertise their wash giveaway on Veterans Day. As Rieck put it, “Road signs. They’re inexpensive, and they work.”
As for other marketing, Rieck noted, “Ten years ago we may have put an ad in the paper, but now it’s on the internet on our Facebook page.”
Conte has a contract for time on a digital billboard near his wash to advertise promotions. Around this time of year, he uses their regular “10-second blip” to advertise the Grace for Vets program. To reach vets more directly, Conte hands out flyers at local VFWs. Conte has thrown out the idea of starting a similar day for first responders, and may even spearhead the effort himself.
Grace for Vets Adding Value to Communities
Both Conte and Rieck agreed that aside from the first priority of showing sincere gratitude to veterans, Grace for Vets is also an excellent way to foster relationships with local people, gain new customers, and make existing customers into loyal customers.
Rieck, ever enthusiastic and willing to share his perspective, finished our discussion by emphasizing, “It’s also part of being a community. We’re a small town, a community.”
He pointed out that his wife was in the process of hanging lights for the upcoming holiday season on the trees in the surrounding local business area. Simple acts like that, and participating in Grace for Vets, are the types of things that Rieck, his family, and his employees can realistically do to set their car wash apart from large, powerful chains. Creating that connection by honoring veterans is the mission and heart of Grace for Vets.
Thank you to veterans of all branches for your service! Additional thanks to Conte and Rieck for participating in the Grace for Vets program and sharing some of their time with us.