Bill Klump, who has owned and operated Brookfield Express Car Wash at 9545 Ogden Ave. since 1995, wasn’t really considering retirement. He’d been working, often multiple jobs at the same time, since graduating from high school. Work is what Klump was.
But, on Dec. 22, Klump and his wife, Maria, turned over the keys to the Brookfield business, along with two others in Lemont and Romeoville and sold property he owned in Lockport to True Blue, a division of Goldman Sachs, which had made him an offer he couldn’t refuse.
“We weren’t looking for this,” said Klump in a phone interview with the Landmark last week.
At the same time, Klump could read the tea leaves. Both he and Maria just turned 60, and large venture capital-backed companies like True Blue were aggressively expanding. Plus, neither of Klump’s two adult children was interested in taking over the business.
“All of that just swept us toward this,” Klump said. “It seemed like the time to do it.”
The car wash will continue to operate at the southeast corner of Ogden and Eberly avenues under the Rainstorm brand, said Klump. The brand already has locations in Chicago Ridge and Bolingbrook.
Klump, who grew up in Berwyn and now lives in the southwest suburbs, didn’t always fancy himself the owner of an independent car wash chain, although he saw that it might be a lucrative career, even as a young man. As a teen, he would take the first car he bought with his own money, a burnt orange 1975 Chevy Monte Carlo with a white landau top, to a self-serve car wash on 26th Street in Cicero.
“When I saw they emptied the money with a wheelbarrow, I was hooked,” he said.
For about two decades, even after buying his first two car washes, he worked full time as an operating engineer. He also had a side career buying and rehabbing properties.
But the boom/bust nature of the real estate sales business wasn’t the right formula for him, Klump said.
“I had two kids at home and I knew I needed a cash-flow business,” Klump said. “It needed to be more consistent.”
At first he leased what would become Brookfield Express Car Wash from its longtime owner, Pierce Maher, who would become a mentor and encouraged Klump – who also ran a laundromat — to buy properties instead of leasing.
“That’s the key to the whole thing,” Klump said. “If you own the land, you control your destiny.”
Klump bought the Brookfield property in late 1994 and Brookfield Express Car Wash opened in March 1995. A fresh-faced 34-year-old Klump and his wife, Maria, marked the occasion by posing for a photo under the car wash’s sign, which featured its elephant mascot “Brook.”
“Walt Disney had the mouse. We had Brook the elephant,” Klump said. “It worked out for both of us.”
In 1999, Klump decided to “retire” by taking leave of his career as an operating engineer to focus on what was then a growing car wash chain. In the years that followed, Klump would open seven car washes, with five the most operating at one time.
The Brookfield location, which got a makeover in 2010, remained a special place for Klump. The business donated money to local Boy Scout troops and he also had personal connections to the village through his sisters, Patti and Kathleen.
“Brookfield could never have worked out as well as it did without their community presence,” he said.
He pared down the number of locations to three and had planning permission to build a fourth in Lockport.
Then Goldman Sachs came calling.
Asked what he’s going to do with all of his newfound free time, Klump said he never really gave it much thought until recently.
“I’ve always worked,” he said. “Something will come. What form or fashion, I don’t know.”