Almost half a century ago, Harold McKonly owned a car wash, laundry, gas station and parts business in Columbia, Pennsylvania. Back in the early days of the car care industry, there were not many suppliers for operators needs. There were only a few companies that made and sold car wash equipment. Those same companies also used to sell supplies, such as a few barrels of soap out of the back of a van. It was very difficult to buy anything, and buy it at a good price. Operators were held captive to their supplier. When Harold expanded his car wash, he found it very difficult to buy parts and accessories. He thought, “There has to be a better way.”
Often operators would ask each other if they had any extra parts or supplies. Harold thought, “I should start stocking this stuff.” Initially, he would buy extra parts for his wash, and other people would buy them off of him. It grew from there - out of need. For many years, he would build and service car washes, and fix pumps. Self-serve equipment was always Harold’s focus, whether it was supplies, vending, parts or equipment. In order to support his service business, he had to stock more parts. The parts portion of the business took more time than the actual repair of the car washes! It went full circle. Harold McKonly founded Kleen-Rite Corporation in 1959, which specialized in providing car wash supplies, parts and equipment at the lowest prices, with the largest inventory and selection.
From its inception, Kleen-Rite always operated its own car wash alongside its supplies business, which gave the company a better insight into the needs and problems of - and solutions for - the car wash operator. As a supplier, the company felt that it was essential to have the finger on the pulse of what customers needed. The car wash was Kleen-Rite’s test site, as well as its roots. When any new product came to market, it was put to the test in the car wash. The company understood very quickly why a product did not work, or the struggles and problems inherent in a piece of equipment - because it could deal with and understand them firsthand. This inside knowledge enabled Kleen-Rite to gain an understanding of an operator’s - and their customers’ - perspective.
When Kleen-Rite operated as a supplying business in 1959 it was more of a “mom-and-pop” shop. The company began with two employees - Harold and Judy McKonly. That was fine with Harold, whose philosophy was “slow growth is good management.” Harold was a phenomenal businessman. If he didn’t have the money, he didn’t buy it. He only added items as consumers demanded them, not according to a marketing plan growth plan. He always took advantage of anything he could do to reinvest in the company. He grew the company on what money the business made - resulting in nice, steady, slow, calculated growth that has enabled Kleen-Rite to become successful. It progressively grew every year, and never stopped growing.
By August of 1979, business was booming, and Harold wanted to hire someone he could trust to use a new computer that he bought for his business. His sister Sandy came to work for him, even though she had never even seen a computer. She had to learn virtually everything - hand-typed monthly statements; bookwork; sales, corporate, and payroll taxes; ledger; etc. However, she knew it was where she wanted to be, because there was so much going on, and it was exciting to learn everything.
From that point forward, Kleen-Rite became more of a player in the supplier market, expanding from a regional to a national level through advertising. Utilizing the “slow growth is good management” business model, the company also had nice, steady employment growth.
Despite its growth, however, Kleen-Rite was one of the few companies in which a customer could speak with management to ask a question or take an order! With many companies of Kleen-Rite’s size, one cannot get in touch with the management easily. Kleen-Rite has always been in touch with its customers, whether it was through the car wash, the counter at its headquarters or the phone. Taking care of the customers is first, because they are the company’s base. Without that foundation, Kleen-Rite might as well not even exist. The company was, and is, successful because of its commitment to customer service.
Over the years, Kleen-Rite has grown to employ a large, experienced and skilled team of car wash professionals, moving from its original location to a newer, larger location consisting of nine buildings in Columbia, Pennsylvania in 1996. In March of 2006, Kleen-Rite opened up a distribution center in Las Vegas to better serve their customers on the West Coast. The company has always focused on being a car wash operator’s one-stop shop in providing as many quality products as possible, at the best possible prices. It will continue to expand with new products and services to meet the needs of its customers. It lives by its creed of being “Your reliable supplier for the car wash industry” and providing “The best for less!”