As a college student, Greg Byler viewed his job at a car wash as a means to an end: a degree from Missouri State University.
It offered a flexible schedule and a steady paycheck.
In the end, though, it also offered a pathway to a career.
“I’ve tried a couple of times to get out of the business, but never successfully,” Greg Byler says with a laugh.
After college, Byler got away from the auto care industry for a while but eventually bought an oil-change business on East Sunshine Street. Byler had to sign a noncompete agreement when he sold that business in 1999, but that served as a gateway to another opportunity.
Byler opened a consulting business for car washes and oil-change shops that took him all over the United States and to Canada and Italy.
“What I didn’t realize when I was operating that first business, we were operating at a considerably higher net profit than the average,” he says. “So, if you can do that, there’s consulting and training money to be made.”
But eventually, Byler found his way to owning and operating car washes.
Byler and his wife, Robin, re-entered the Springfield car-wash market with the 2013 purchase of the Blue Iguana at 1640 E. Sunshine St.
“It was bankrupt when I bought it. It had a good location, but bad operations,” he says.
Byler also built chains of five locations in the St. Louis market and three in the Louisville, Kentucky, market before selling them in 2018 to focus on Springfield. The move allowed him to spend more time with Robin and their three children, now 18, 14 and 11 years old.
Since then, the Bylers have opened two other locations under Blue Iguana Car Wash LLC and plan to add three more in coming months.
The three washes in the works – 4304 S. Fremont Ave., 1137 W. Kearney St. and 2118 E. Kearney St. – are in good locations, the Bylers say, but they need a lot of work. However, they decline to disclose how much they’re investing in the projects.
Byler acknowledges there’s sometimes a stigma of self-auto car washes, and he understands why neighborhoods often push back against them.
“I fully get it,” he says. “If you look at some of the car washes that we’ve bought over the years, I get it. Sometimes they’re run down and some things are happening there that should not be happening there.”
He says the Blue Iguana model doesn’t allow that scenario. All of their properties are staffed, are not open 24 hours a day and access to the property is controlled with fencing or landscaping.
“We always build nice things,” Byler says. “If we buy something used – whether it’s bankrupt or used – we freshen it up and put people in uniforms. We have standards. If you live or operate by a standard, that’s entirely different than just being better than so and so.”
Each of the locations will be transformed to include the wash tunnel found at other Blue Iguanas and feature the same customer user interface.
But it’s going to take a little while.
“The amount of technology is staggering, actually. They take so long to get built. There’s so much underground that you never see, so much programming and data points that have to be put in,” he says.
Underground reservoirs collect wash water to be reused before it is emptied into a sanitary sewer line.
“Our intent is always to use less water than you would use in your driveway and put it in the right place,” Byler says.
The right people
They may operate self-serve car washes, but the Bylers say good employees are crucial to Blue Iguana’s complete operations.
Those employees, there’s 37 in all, have the smiling faces that greet customers and keep the complicated systems running.
“Our managers have interesting skill sets,” Byler says. “They have to have computer, customer and mechanical skills. We have an entire quality control team that takes care of the car washes, but the managers at some point have to get involved.”
Plus, they have to enjoy being outside.
Robin Byler says to attract good employees, Blue Iguana aims to pay well and offers benefits and tuition reimbursement incentives.
“We do our very best to practice servant leadership,” she says.
Melissa Ramsey, the company’s bookkeeper, is one of the people who have been with the Bylers since before Blue Iguana was in their portfolio.
Ramsey says their flexibility regarding her work schedule over the years has been a tremendous perk.
“When I first started working for Greg, I was very much part time. They let me set my own schedule. As my kids grew up, they were very free with me. I could spend time with my kids and still work,” Ramsey says.
Robin Byler says taking care of their employees is a big part of their mission in life.
“I can pay this person who is going to school and taking care of their family because you washed your car with us,” she says. “How great is that?”
While the Bylers have a history of building and selling car wash chains, they say they’re in the Springfield market for the long haul.
“We’re home,” he says.
Read the profiles of this year's honorees.