By Andrew Edwards
A&J Carwash in downtown Prattville has made a name for itself in the community throughout the years.
The business, which supplies van and car rentals, auto cleaning services, Penske trucks, and, of course, car washes, has recently decided to expand beyond car cleaning and move into uncharted territory – dogs.
That’s right, man’s best friend.
A&J’s has recently opened a “backyard” self-service dog wash area designed to take the burden off of washing your dog at home. The station, which has rinse water, shampoo, conditioner, and a force blow dyer, only costs $10 dollars for 10 minutes – a deal that’s pretty difficult to pass on. Next to the station also sits a grooming table, for dogs that may want to add some extra style to their hair.
But why add a dog wash to a business that predominately focuses on cars? Well, the answer lies with the owners – Jeanne and Allen Smith.
The Smith’s, who met at Auburn University in their early 20s, moved from Auburn to Clanton fresh out of college to live near Allen’s cousin. Allen decided to open a detail shop in the Prattville area, which caught the attention of the previous owner of A&Js.
“My husband was causing Murray Reeves [the previous owner] some competition problems. So, he asked Allen to bring his detail shop to this location and to manage the car wash as well. Reeves essentially became a silent mentor for my husband,” Smith said.
The journey from college to business owners was a rewarding for the two, but not always easy.
“We walked into this with almost no money, but there were already some of Murray’s employees here, which helped. Murray just told them that Allen was the new manager, and we moved forward from there.” Smith said.
“I remember when our first customer came through. He handed us $5.95 for the wash, but the cost was $6.00. So, he said, “Do you guys have a nickel?” And we were so low on money that neither of us had one. We actually had to borrow one from one of the employees,” laughed Smith.
Smith said that she and her husband would have to work nonstop, day and night, for two years just to be able to get by.
“I would have to open up then come back in the evenings, and he would work the hours in between. We just rotated shifts with one another, and, at some point, we’d find the time to get a little bit of sleep,” Smith said.
“I also had to work as a hostess at a restaurant, and I remember coming home all excited one night because I had gotten some tips from a few tables, which allowed me to go to the grocery store and get chunky soup. Because other than that, we ate at Mom and Dad’s on Sunday’s and took the leftovers home. We just had no money for groceries,” Smith said.
Smith said that her journey was more or less like ‘grabbing the bull by the horns’ and then seeing what the future held.
And as the years went on, the car wash changed. New employees meant new faces. Technological advances called for new machinery. And through thick and thin, Jeanne and Allen found their relationship growing stronger every step of the way.
“Everything wasn’t always pretty here. Sometimes we would mess up with a customer, forget to pay a bill, etc. But every time something bad happened, it made us stronger. We always grew together, instead of a part. Some people move their separate ways when the world hits them, but Allen and I would always hang tight and work out our differences together,” Smith said.
And because of their tight bond, the Smiths were able to grow the car wash to heights they would have never believed possible. Adding car rentals, auto cleaning services, moving trucks, and much more.
Nearly 15 years ago, the two went to a car wash convention that had its own dog washing station. The Smith’s, who were always great lovers of dogs, thought that it was great idea.
“I knew that my husband wanted us to have one too, but we were still struggling money wise at the time. We just didn’t know how to make it work but I knew it was part of his dream to add one on,” Smith said.
By 2014, the car wash was flourishing better than ever, and the Smith’s had enough money to make that dream a reality.
However, tragically, in May of that year, Arthur ‘Allen’ Smith passed away.
“Allen was never able to see the dog wash area built, but I wanted to see it through and do it for him. After I took over the car wash when he passed, I ended up dedicating the area in his name,” Smith said.
And if a dedication was ever needed, it was for Allen Smith, who was a hard-working, loving husband and a father of two daughters.
“Allen was a wonderful husband who believed in being a man of integrity. He had a quick wit and was always able to say funny things that made everyone in the room laugh,” Smith said. “And our daughters, they loved Allen very much too. All he had to do was raise an eyebrow, and never raise his voice. He just had that demeanor about him with anybody – a demeanor that demanded respect,” Smith said.
And while the dog wash has done well, Smith says there’s always room for more of our favorite companions.
“The dogs that come here just can’t get enough of it. We have warm water so it’s not intimidating to them. It’s comfortable for the owner, convenient, and just an overall great experience,” Smith said.
The dogs love it. The owners love it. And there’s no doubt that Allen loves it, as he’s smiling down watching the dream become a reality.