February 25th, 2020 12:11 PM
Neil Rembos, owner of Crystal Car Wash at 901 S. Harlem, believes in taking risks, working hard and giving back to the community. | Photo provided
By Tom Holmes
Do you remember what you were doing—or not doing—at 25 years old?
Neil Rembos is that age, and Crystal Car Wash at 901 S. Harlem is already the second business he has owned since graduating from high school.
Besides running a successful business here in town, he is a member of the Forest Park Chamber of Commerce board of directors and serves on the village's economic development committee.
Dorothy Gillian, the president of the chamber, lauded the fairly new arrival to the business community here.
"Neil's enthusiasm and wealth of new ideas has brought some great new changes to our chamber. He is a great team player and wants to help other businesses in Forest Park flourish," said Gillian.
At the age of 19, Rembos earned his business chops by starting his own technology wholesaling business in which he purchased technologies and sold them primarily online to different countries.
"I've been operating businesses for over six years," said Rembos, "so at this point it's almost second nature to me."
"That technology business gave me the experience and ability to build more businesses like this one, and I just have an interest in and love for fixing businesses and building them," he said.
That technology wholesale business gave Rembos not only experience but also the capital needed to start Crystal in November 2018.
Previous to Crystal, another car wash existed at 901 S. Harlem, but Rembos had a vision that would take the business to another level. He invested $5 million—all of it self-financed—first, on demolishing the existing structures and then on getting the best advice available.
"I hired the best of the best," he said. "I hired the top car wash architects in the country, the best equipment distributers and the best contractors. We spared no expense. That's why we are able to provide the quality that we do."
Presently Crystal is one of a kind and not just another link in a big national chain. Rembos talked about the "concept" which gave birth to the successful business.
"The uniqueness of what we brought to this village," he said, "was that we invested in the highest quality technology which enables our customers to go through the total car wash start to finish in less than three minutes without ever having to get out of their cars."
When customers drive in, they pull up to one of three pay stations, insert their credit card and select the kind of service they want—everything from a car wash for $5 to tire shining, rim cleaning and a hot wax shine, each at an additional cost. The gate goes up, and customers drive their cars onto a track, put the transmission into neutral and remain in the vehicle as it its pulled through the car wash tunnel.
Speed, convenience and quality, said Rembos, are keys to his success. But so is providing options, which include a quick exterior wash but also detailing stations with free vacuums so people can clean their vehicle interiors as well.
Rembos says his entrepreneurial business model includes thinking outside the box, establishing relationships, keeping up on what's new in the industry, listening to feedback and instinct, working hard (at least 18 hours a day to begin with) and embracing risk; although 30 percent of new businesses fail within the first two years, he says people with ideas and means should just do it.
And Rembos is also committed to giving back to the community. He has mentored many young people who want to start their own businesses. He actively serves on the chamber's board of directors. And, he is part of his family's charitable foundation.
Instinct is not only part of his business model for making everyday decisions, but it also helps explain why he picked Forest Park as a community where he invests a lot of time and money.
"I chose to locate in Forest Park," he said, "partly because I got a good feeling from the community. It's hard to walk through Forest Park and not get a good feeling."
"The village has a climate where a good concept can succeed. It has the perfect business climate along with its small-town charm and phenomenal character."
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