For this entrepreneur, what’s good for community is good business, too.
Occupation: Co-founder and COO of Rising Tide Car Wash, Parkland
Family Status: Single
Lives in: Fort Lauderdale
As a South Florida business owner, Tom D’Eri is at the forefront of the social entrepreneurship movement. When D’Eri learned 80 to 90 percent of adults with autism are unemployed, he set out to change that statistic, one car wash at a time.
With his dad, John, as his investor, D’Eri researched options and determined a car wash would be the ideal business for creating jobs for people with autism, like his brother Andrew, who likes structure and performing repetitive tasks and follows safety guidelines to the letter.
After training workers on its 46-step car-cleaning process, D’Eri opened Rising Tide Car Wash in an existing Parkland site in April 2013. Eighteen months later, the results have been better than projected, supported by repeat customers. When he purchased the car wash, the business was cleaning about 30,000 cars a year: “This year we will wash more than 105,000 cars and next year we are projecting 130,000. That’s a good turn around. I think we have proved the business model works.”
Along with making money, D’Eri said he finds it gratifying to see people with autism get an opportunity to thrive and experience community support. His employees, including his brother, come to work happy.
His goal now is to build a consumer brand that not only makes money but also educates communities on the capabilities of people with autism: “Our workers are excited to be at work. It empowers them.”
Recently, D’Eri bought land in Margate with bank loans where he plans to open a second Rising Tide Car Wash. Next year, he will begin looking for land for a third location: “My goal is to employ 100 people with autism by end of 2016.”
D’Eri hopes to be a role model for others by proving that hiring people with autism can be a competitive advantage for certain businesses. His efforts earned him recognition as the 2014 Employer of the Year from the Autism Society of America.
From D’Eri: “We needed to be successful and prove our success is linked to our social mission. Customers evangelize our brand. They are passionate about seeing folks with autism become successful.”
About D’Eri: “Tom is a young man on a mission. Some talk about making the world a better place, Tom actually does. He has found a way to create a company that is self-sustainable monetarily while dramatically enhancing the lives of those with autism.” — Paul Fazio, president of SONNYs Enterprises of Tamarac, a manufacturer of car-washing equipment