Summer tragedies spur Benny’s to raise money for fallen officers, flood recovery efforts

    Justin Alford probably has the most washed car in Baton Rouge. Every Saturday, he, his brother Justin and father Benny visit all seven Benny’s car wash locations. At every location, Justin gets a wash.

    “That’s how you see how things are working,” Justin Alford tells Business Report in the magazine’s latest Entrepreneur feature. “What comes through that tunnel is what we’re putting out.”

    Lately, Benny’s has been putting effort into helping the community rebuild. In August, Justin watched water come into Benny’s Greenwell Springs Road location while hundreds of his employees’ homes flooded. Earlier in July, the police shootings occurred at the Airline Highway location when the car wash was just about to open for the day.

    Slain sheriff’s deputy Brad Garafola was a part-time employee of Benny’s when he was off duty, as was injured deputy Bruce Simmons. Garafola’s father is an employee, too.

    The summer tragedies spurred Benny’s to set up emergency communications programs, spend time after work rebuilding homes and raise nearly $45,000 through its Fallen Officers Fund.

    “It’s a traumatic event. I graduated from LSU with a degree in business. We never talked about what to do when something like this happens,” Justin says.

    Benny’s is learning from it all.

    “I keep telling our folks and I keep telling myself there’s going be something good that comes out of this,” Justin says.

    The car wash is a family business that was started in 1951 by Benny’s father, who already had a car wash in Pensacola and opened one here, fittingly, on Florida Street. When the company decided to expand to Airline Highway in the early ’90s, the tradition of naming the car wash after its street hit a road bump.

    Benny suggested the nickname his mother and sister used.

    “Longstanding customers pretty much know me, but today there are people who don’t know there’s a Benny,” says the company’s namesake. “I’m flattered but kind of shy. I’m just like anybody else. I put my pants on one leg at a time.”

    Benny’s pioneered automated “modern day express car washing.”

    After visiting Germany in the ’90s, the Alfords brought home the idea of free self-service vacuums and wanted to use gas pumps as pay stations. They approached a company about making an unattended machine, which they discovered already existed, and added their own gate idea to keep cars in order for custom washes.

    “It’s worked and changed the whole industry nationwide,” Benny says.

    Read the full Entrepreneur feature. Send your comments to editors@businessreport.com.

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