Tell the tale of any rock star and common characteristics will surface, including perseverance, courage, talent and vision. While the life story of Zach Stroud, district manager for Ohio-based Buckeye Express Car Wash, will continue to be written over the coming decades, our Vehicle Care Rock Star in the carwash category is already putting on an impressive performance.
A proud Clevelander, calling it his “home” and being “very prideful of the city” — a metropolis that is also home to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame — Stroud started jamming in the carwash industry at just 16 years old.
“I started carwashing as a part-time carwash attendant in high school at North Ridgeville High School in Ohio. By 18 years old, I became a shift leader,” recalls Stroud, calling it a life-changing experience. “Eventually, at 19, I became the assistant site leader for a location in Northeast Ohio that had over 5,000 plan members.”
However, it was during these years that Stroud had a true rock star moment. While attending college at Cleveland State University, he was at a similar crossroads that many famous rock stars come upon during their youth. Stick to the norm and stay in school or drop out and cut against the grain to follow his passion.
“I did not grow up with much money and I was trying to make it by going through college and working full time for years,” says Stroud. “I was raised primarily by a single mom, so times were tough until I was around 19 years old. This was the source of a lot of motivation for me.”
Balancing a college and full-time work schedule filled his days, working from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. and then attending night classes until 9 p.m., Stroud recalls this three-year period of his life as “not easy.”
“Many people often asked me why I subjected myself to this schedule and the answer is shockingly simple: it was my passion to pursue a career that I felt strongly about. But, it wasn’t easy and I certainly fell flat on my face multiple times,” humbly admits Stroud, noting these early failures showed him the importance of integrity, work ethic, communication and, most importantly, leadership.
Like many rock stars, Stroud strayed from the norm to go “all in” on his passion and career.
By 20, Stroud had worked for two separate carwash companies honing his skills and knowledge of the market. However, it was at Buckeye Express Car Wash where Stroud started hitting the high notes.
Following this early success, he was offered the position of operations support manager at 22 years old.
“Once in this new role, I participated in 10 new store installations and startups, which nearly doubled the size of our organization in my first year as operations support manager, with similar results the following year,” boasts Stroud.
Buckeye Express Car Wash gave Stroud the stage to reach new heights in his career. During his time with the company, he has taken on major projects and transformation projects. Since joining Buckeye, he has been involved in revamping the company’s training processes, undertaking new site startups as the company continues to expand, as well as creating forms and procedures to transfer knowledge and experience to its site leadership.
Spending time with Stroud, you quickly understand his priorities and focus on what it takes to be successful in the carwash industry. He believes in teamwork and transferring knowledge to give others opportunities to succeed. Therefore, it was no surprise when we asked this front man, “What makes you a ‘rock star’ in your industry,” the importance of the collective band was cited as one of three pillars to elevating him to rock star status.
“It’s humility, passion and the ability to get a team of people to push toward the same goal,” shares Stroud. “We must consistently question the typical way of running a carwash to seek improvement. However, it’s also very important for me to create and nurture career paths for the next generation.”
According to Stroud, workplace culture is extremely important when building a growing brand, such as Buckeye Express Car Wash. Throughout his career in carwashing, Stroud admits to seeing negative cultures fail and positive cultures prosper. He describes the current culture at Buckeye as “run through a brick wall.”
From sales and wash quality to the growth and retention of talent, the Buckeye Express Car Wash team relentlessly attacks goals and initiatives with failure as not an option.
“We have an incredible team of people who are willing to do anything and everything necessary to be among the best in the industry,” he asserts. “A clear vision and direction are without a doubt one of the most important parts of our style of leadership.”
As a key leader on the team, Stroud not only leads by example, but also with vision. Self-described as an out-of-the-box thinker, he challenges himself weekly to come up with a “million-dollar idea.”
Training, which Stroud has helped elevate, is also a key piece of the company’s current success.
Shortly after becoming Buckeye’s district manager, Stroud started fine-tuning the company’s training practices and materials. Realizing team members were better served marching to a new beat, he began focusing on efficiencies in training and developing current and new talent.
He started building a strong bench and ultimately, helped develop clear succession planning. Today, as a result of Stroud and his team’s efforts, nearly every high-level position in the organization can be back-filled, if needed.
“Including my own,” inserts Stroud. “We often stress the importance of ‘training your successor’ to our leaders. This mentality of constant development has resulted in great success for us, and it is comforting for me to know that many people in our organization have a bright future ahead of them.”
As important as the band is to this rock star, he is fully aware of the key audience: customers. Regardless of how his day is going, he knows that putting on a smile and serving the customer — going above and beyond — is critical to the success of his team and the company.
Stroud’s story will still be written in this industry for many years to come. However, building on a strong foundation will surely lead to a long, prosperous future in this industry.
Like many renowned rock stars, Stroud was faced with a difficult decision early in life. Going all in on his passion, while many others may have taken an easier, more traditional path. He has since risen to the occasion, while understanding and learning from past mistakes.
“It was the biggest risk of my life. Leaving college during my senior year … if I was in over my head, I would have been left with no degree and no backup plan. I willingly thrust myself into unknown territory, with plenty of voices in my head telling me that I may have bitten off more than I could chew,” reflects Stroud.
Now calling it “without a doubt the best decision,” the carwash industry is better as a result with this rock star under its bright lights.
“It is now a little over a year since I made that choice and I don’t plan on slowing down,” concludes Stroud.
Rock on Zach.
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