During Oklahoma’s oil boom, it wasn’t uncommon for industry tycoons every week to run their luxury cars through the automatic Red Carpet Car Wash at 6405 N May Ave. or at 5100 N Pennsylvania Ave. In the mid-’70s, the May store alone washed up to 120 cars an hour, averaging 132,000 annually, owner Jim Blakewell said.
But with the collapse of Penn Square Bank in July 1982, sales screeched to about half of what they were, Blakewell said.
“We came close to having no money in the bank, but managed to squeak through until the economy came back,” he said.
This year, the family-owned business is celebrating its 40th anniversary, with four stores in the metropolitan area, $2 million in annual sales, and 120 full-time and part-time employees.
“The last two years, with the drought, have been strong for us,” Blakewell said.
To compete with others new to their market, Red Carpet eight years ago began offering customers exterior-only washes, as an option to its traditional full-service ones, now $6 and $11.50, respectively, he said. Depending on the location, he said, one-third to a half of customers opt for the cheaper, quicker alternative.
Few take advantage of the car wash discounts Red Carpet offers with gasoline purchases, especially after the advent of self-serve gas stations, he said.
Blakewell’s father, the late “H.C.” Blackwell, built the May store in 1972, where an old dairy farm once operated. The company converted an old gas station at Pennsylvania and Northwest Expressway to a second store in January 1977, built its Midwest City store at 208 S Air Depot in 1982, and in 2006, bought an existing car wash at 7224 W Hefner out of bankruptcy.
“On a good day, we do 30 full-serve washes an hour, and an additional 20 to 40 exterior washes,” Blakewell said.
The May and Pennsylvania stores each service about 80,000 cars annually, he said, while the Hefner store washes some 70,000 and Midwest City store 55,000.
With the migration in car paints from lacquer to enamel to clear coat, Red Carpet has moved from polypropylene brushes to cloth and now foam ones, Blakewell said. And at its May and Hefner stores, it offers “brushless washes,” utilizing soap and high-pressure water, he said.
The company spends about 70 percent of its overhead on crews, he said, with utilities and soap being secondly costly and equally expensive. To minimize the environmental effect of chemicals and other pollutants, it filters its water and uses the latest cleaning fluid technologies, Blakewell said.
Cathy Roberts has been with Red Carpet 30 years, starting as a part-time worker while attending Putnam City High School and moving to assistant manager and then to payroll and accounts payable manager, assistant general manager and finally general manager.
“I love the customers, who’ve become like family,” Roberts said. “When I’m on location, many will say they remember me from when I was knee-high or expecting my son in ’93,” she said.
Retiring spokeswoman Kris Grimes said she’s enjoyed representing the company.
“I’ve had a lot of fun at location spots with KOMA fan jams and other radio personalities,” said Grimes, an Oklahoma City University graduate and new media coordinator for the Oklahoma City Civic Center Music Hall.
Oklahoma City’s Red Carpet Car Wash is seeking a new spokeswoman for its nearly 5-year-old “Maid for your Car” media campaign. Deadline is Tuesday for applicants to submit a photo and two-minute video, using a script available at facebook.com/RedCarpetOKC. Four finalists will be chosen by retiring spokeswoman Kris Grimes, Oklahoma City University drama professor Jeannie Showler and Harvey Jenkins and Tashonda Dixon of Body Trends Electro Spa, and judged by Red Carpet customers during the company’s 40th anniversary celebration July 15-Aug. 11. The winner will receive a minimum one-year contract, which owner Jim Blakewell said will include an estimated $5,000 to $6,000 in annual compensation for multi-platform advertising and public appearances, free car washes and other prizes.