Austin Business Journal Profile of Jurassic Car Wash

Journal Profile: Meet an Austin entrepreneur who cares more about tinkering than making money

 

About a week after selling Autocraft Bodywerks — the auto body repair shop he started and grew immediately after graduating high school — John Borek found himself pushed into starting his next venture. And it was all because the dinosaurs in the front yard of his South Austin home needed somewhere else to live.

Borek recalls that the oversized Halloween decorations that he let linger on his lawn started to draw the attention of a neighbor and eventually his homeowners’ association. He had taken note of a car wash that was for sale on South Congress Avenue and decided the floundering business could turn around with a bit of theme-park magic.

And thus, Jurassic Car Wash was born.

“We always did something fun for Halloween and one year I figured I’d get a couple animatronic dinosaurs,” Borek recalled. “Everybody liked it but then I got kind of busy and I didn’t take them down right after Halloween and before I know it I’m getting certified letters from the neighborhood.”

The initial pair of dinosaurs have been joined by others; some of them guarding the roof of the building, others doubling as benches for pedestrians and lending a sense of whimsy to a business sector that is usually bereft of imagination and creativity. Another inspired touch is the “Jurassic Pet Wash” booth that lets customers and nearby residents bring their furry friends in for a scrub.

Borek, who also owns Cool Carts of Texas and a number of storage properties in South Austin, said Jurassic Car Wash was another chance to test himself and see how much fun he could inject into a normally staid business.

“Everything I’ve ever done has never really been for the money,” he said. “It’s just to see, you know, if it can be done. People in the industry tell me that my car wash is probably doing much better than the average car wash, but I don’t know. If you don’t know what good is you keep reaching for the stars.”

Asked about expansion and possible franchising of the themed car washes, Borek doesn’t rule out the possibility but said he’s thinking more interstellar instead of prehistoric.

“I’m kind of obsessed with aliens so I think I’d do an alien one because I still have a flying saucer I used to use for Halloween,” he said. “I’ve got a couple of aliens laying around and I think I could put those guys to use.”

How did you earn your first dollar? Cutting grass for neighbors when I was 12 or 13. I had business cards and everything. I called it Lone Star Lawn and Garden. I had one neighbor kid helping me and at our peak we had probably 30 or 35 customers.

What business-world mistake have you learned from the most? At the auto body shop I had an employee that worked for me. We let him go. He later became the service manager at a dealership we wanted to do work for. It was years later, and he deserved to be fired, but I would’ve handled things differently, so the lesson is try to not burn bridges. Because you never know when you’re going to have to cross back over that bridge.

What piece of advice would you give to young entrepreneurs? Don’t give up. Keep swinging. Don’t let anybody tell you you can’t do it.

Your favorite leisure activities? I like to play competitive volleyball. That was partially doctor’s orders because I was gaining too much weight and he said I needed to get out and do something. So I play in a league twice a week now, and I like the feeling of being with a team.

What’s your morning routine? First hour is basically spent on my iPad. I’m looking at emails and text messages or anything else anyone’s sent, then seeing what’s going on in the world. Then I get to the office about 10 o’clock and see if we’ve got issues with the buildings, or anything else.

Any TV shows you binge watch? I’m drawn to that show “Scandal” with the lady who’s the consultant to the president. And I like “The X Files,” which I’m glad they’re bringing back in December for 12 episodes.

What’s your favorite restaurant? Bartlett’s at Burnet Road and Anderson Lane.

What Austin business person do you really respect? Patrick Terry [of P. Terry’s Burger Stand] because he’s taken one little hamburger place and turned it into a giant chain. And now he’s doing the same thing with Mexican food. Based on the fact that he just had one little burger stand on Barton Springs and then there was one more, then one more and one more. He’s got it down. I think he could probably do it all across the world if he wanted to.

Who would be your ideal next-door neighbor? Somebody that doesn’t complain about dinosaurs. The guy who complained initially about my dinosaurs still lives next to me.

What about life after the business world? I think you always have to be doing something. If I did leave the business world the only thing I could do would be to teach. I would have to do something. I might sell this wash but right away I might do something else. It really is a challenge. It’s not really about the money.

What was the biggest or most pivotal moment in your business career? Back in 1989 everything in Austin kind of crashed, real estate kind of went down and the bank repossessed the building that our shop was in and they asked me if I wanted to buy it. I didn’t have $225,000, so they rented it to me for three years. And then things started to come around and the lease was up and they didn’t want to renew. I ended up buying it, and at that time I bought it mostly because I didn’t want to move, because I had a paint booth and all this and equipment set up. It was the smartest thing I ever did because I just recently sold that property in 2016 for more than 10 times what I paid for it.

John Borek
Title: Owner and general manager, Jurassic Car Wash; owner, Cool Carts of Texas
Age: 53
Hometown: Austin
Education: Crockett High School
Email: John@jurassiccarwash.com

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