Tag Archives: Westport Wash & Wax

Randy Herbertson’s Very Local Visual Brand

Randy Herbertson is a Midwesterner. His wife grew up in California — where she had no idea that ancestors named Barlow and Hurlbutt had roots in this area dating back centuries.

In 1997 Herbertson — a talented, creative marketing executive — was transferred east by Conde Nast. He lived in Westport and commuted to New York, where for many years he owned a branding agency.

In 2013 he had a revelation. “Am I stupid?” he asked himself. “Why can’t I work in Westport too?” (His wife — the lead designer at Terrain — already did.)

Randy Herbertson

Randy Herbertson

He and his business partner, fellow Westporter Geoff Shafer, opened their multimidia design and promotion firm, The Visual Brand, downtown. In the 2 years since, Herbertson — who makes his living observing consumers’ behavior — has saved hours of commuting time each day.

He knew that would happen. What he did not expect was that he’d become part of a flourising, fun downtown community.

Operating out of reclaimed space on Church Lane — a building behind SoNo Baking Company — Herbertson and Shafer have found plenty of local clients. They hang out in cool places.

Herbertson has joined local business organizations. He’s hired Connecticut designers. “I’d never even heard of Western Connecticut State University,” he admits. “But they’ve got a great program, with really good people.”

Herbertson and Shafer found other businesses founded by former New Yorkers. Neat coffee and cocktails and Luxe Wine Bar are two. Westport Wash & Wax and Quality Towing are 2 more. Not everyone aspires to work in New York forever,” Herbertson says.

The Visual Brand office: inside and out.

The Visual Brand office: inside and out.

From his office — the mail sorting room of the very first Westport post office — Herbertson watches Bedford Square rise.

“It’s a bit of a pain,” he says of the construction. “But it’s exciting. It will be very good overall.”

His marketing eye has been caught by Anthropologie, which will do “some very cool stuff” with their repurposed space.

But, he says, “it’s important to keep the local element downtown — not just the big corporations.” He cites SoNo Baking as “very focused on what this community needs.”

His vision is stirred by the possibilities across the street. A choir member of Christ & Holy Trinity Episcopal Church, Herbertson would love to find an investor, buy the adjacent Seabury Center, and turn it into a performing arts center like the Ridgefield Playhouse.

“I’m really bullish on downtown,” he notes. “We have an opportunity to be really creative. My son lives in West Hartford. They’ve done some pretty cool stuff up there, in an area that used to be not so good. I hope we can do it better.”

This photo on the very intriguing home page of The Visual Brand's website was taken just a couple of miles from the firm's office.

This photo on the very intriguing home page of The Visual Brand’s website was taken just a couple of miles from the firm’s office.

After 2 years, Herbertson says, he’s found “no downsides” to working in Westport. (He still has clients in the city. They’re just a train ride away.)

“It’s completely possible to do everything we did in New York — at a fraction of the cost.”

Plus, there are all those wine bars, coffee shops — and maybe even a performing arts space — just steps away.

 

Citgo Closes; Great “Details” Lost

Similar businesses often congregate in the same area.

There are the diamond and garment districts in Manhattan. The food shops of Arthur Avenue.

And the car detailers on Westport’s Post Road, near Bertucci’s.

For years there were 2, separated only by 4 lanes of whizzing traffic. Everyone knows Westport Wash & Wax; it’s a big operation, with a large sign.

For the past 23 years though, Ken Paolini has built a loyal following in the Citgo station across the street. He’s been there ever since he asked then-owner Gloria DeMattia if he could use 1 bay.

Ken Paolini gets the DARE Hummer looking good, after a rough winter.

Ken Paolini helps the DARE Hummer sparkle, after a rough winter.

He and a couple of employees do it all: full detailing, vacuuming, door jambs, trunks, hand washing. (Occasionally, if there’s no time for the hand wash, they send business across the street.) Ken charges $25 $140 for cars, more for SUVs.

Over the years — relying only on word of mouth — he’s built a great base of customers. He’s loved them, and they return the favor.

But now the station has been sold. The service bays are becoming one more convenience self-serve fast-food store, and Ken will be gone. He’s looking for a new spot, and may end up in Fairfield. (A few customers are scouting locations for him.)

In the meantime, he’s got 4 to 6 months left.

The good news: With the Citgo station closed, he’s using all 3 bays.

“Taxi!”

Earlier this week, alert “06880” reader Terry Brannigan sang the praises of Westport Wash & Wax.

Today, a different — but equally alert — reader relates a very different story.

Yesterday, he took the 2:34 train home from New York. It did not stop at Green’s Farms — where he’d left his car that morning — so he got off at Westport.

He tried to hail 2 separate Saugatuck Taxi cabs. Neither offered him a ride. He wore a business suit, he says, but he might have been invisible.

One driver did ask where he was going. He replied, “what does it matter?” — and walked over to Westport Taxi.

That driver took him to Green’s Farms — for $17.85.

The princely sum did not buy him a royal ride.

“The cab was old and filthy,” our reader reported.

And because the drive refused to fasten his seat belt, alarm bells rang every few seconds.

When the rider called the driver’s attention to it, the response was swift.

“I never wear it!” he said.

And on he sped.

Waxing Enthusiastic

Alert “06880” reader Terry Brannigan has a modest collection of vintage cars. He loves turning wrenches. And though he doesn’t mind waxing — well, they don’t call it Westport Wash & Wax for nothing.

Yet the other day, when Terry went to pick up a car, an attendant pointed out some minor damage. “It was truly an accident,” Terry notes. “No one’s fault.”

But it’s an old car — not easy to repair — and when Terry walked inside to talk with the owner, he prepared himself for a tough time. After all, no businessman wants to admit an employee screwed up. Right?

Wrong.

A typical scene at Westport Wash & Wax.

“He could not have been more sincere or accommodating,” Terry said. “He was not only willing to make things right — he insisted I take it to some place I trusted. He said if I wanted, he’d handle any bills directly with the repair shop.”

Terry headed to Bridgeport’s Dragone Classic Motorcars. They matched the unique paint color perfectly.

Not only did Westport Wash & Wax reimburse Terry immediately — they added coupons for a couple of free washes.

We hear so much about poor customer service. And why not? It’s easy to find fault.

How refreshing — and inspiring — to find a local business that gets it right.

Let’s hope this story drives a few customers their way.

Green Wash

Westport Wash & WaxExactly 1 year ago, Westport Wash & Wax won a WeGreenWestport award.  The car wash was honored for using biodegradable chemicals, recycling 70% of its water, installing solar panels, even taking glass and plastic bottles from cars to the transfer station.

But last April times were flush.  Did the toilet-swirling economy cause the car wash to reconsider its environmental commitment?

Absolutely not, says co-owner Craig Tiefenthaler.  He and his brother Scott — who founded the business nearly 10 years ago — have not wavered at all.

“It does cost money,” Craig notes. “We pay for state-of-the-art equipment and the best chemicals.  The photovoltaic panels on the roof are not free.  Aquarion doesn’t give their water away.

“But it’s the right thing to do.”

Business is off this year, Craig admits. “No one is escaping what’s happening.  But we’re a viable business.  I’m not bragging, but we’re holding our own.”

In fact, the economy is less worrisome than the weather.  “A rainy weekend — that’s a real killer,” Craig says.

He adds proudly: “We haven’t laid off a single worker.  It’s important to keep good men.”  The average turnover in nearby car washes is 5 months.  He’s had the same employees for years.

One area where energy must be expended:  Every car gets freshly washed towels.  “You can’t wash nice cars with dirt,” Craig says.  As if on cue, a shiny BMW rolls by.

What’s ahead for Westport’s green car wash?

“We’ll keep upgrading, keep adding state-of-the-art, environmentally sound stuff,” Craig promises.

He suddenly remembers something else.  “We just redid our bathroom.  It’s probably the nicest public restroom in town.”

Scott Tiefenthaler will speak at tomorrow’s “Green (Brown) Bag Luncheon,” featuring First Selectman Gordon Joseloff.  The event will be held at noon in Town Hall (Rooms 307/309).