A powerful brand is a key pillar of car wash success. A business synonymous with a clean, dry, shiny car is always top of mind with customers when their car needs a wash.
Brand building has become increasingly complicated in the age of acquisition, where private-equity-backed aggregators are quickly scaling their enterprises, buying numerous washes in quick succession. It is not uncommon for an aggregator to have a dozen or more wash brands under their control.
Magnolia Wash Holdings built its 100-plus car wash empire by acquiring numerous large and small chains, operating up to 15 brands simultaneously at one point.
Obviously, operating that many car wash banners brings with it numerous challenges, and unifying under a common name and brand allows for greater market awareness and strength.
“We have consolidated down from 15 different brands to three and hopefully by the end of this year we’ll be at one,” says Magnolia Wash Holdings COO Bob Benjamin. “We have been going through a very extensive rebranding effort over the past two to three months. We are now between 50 and 60 of our sites branded as Whistle Express, which will be our main brand going forward.”
The other powerhouse brands joining Whistle Express in the Magnolia portfolio are Camel Premium Express Car Wash and The Wave Car Wash. While both Camel and The Wave are strong brands, Magnolia has decided to focus its branding efforts on Whistle Express.
“When I was hired last year, we started to evaluate what we thought the best branding would be and Whistle rose to the top,” says chief marketing officer Summer Nunn. “If you look around the industry, there are a lot of very similar names. There are a lot of waves and even quite a few camels. Anything to do with water has kind of been overused.
“We conducted a lot of consumer research around how people think about the car wash category. What words they liked, and what resonated with them.
Overall, Whistle just stood out.”
While the Whistle Express Car Wash name was a winner with consumer research focus groups, it takes more than just a snappy name to win in the highly competitive car wash world. It requires a memorable and differentiated experience that connects with customers and has them returning time and again.
Whistle prides itself on having easily accessible locations with great customer-facing signage. When a customer pulls up to the point of sale, they are greeted by an associate trained to guide them through the process and help them determine the best wash package for their needs.
Overwhelming, thanks in no small part to the personal touch of associate greeters, customers opt for one of Whistle’s two top packages — branded Better and Best. The Better package features rain repellent, tire shine, and spot-free rinse. The Best package adds ceramic shield and premium soak to round out the offering.
After selecting their package, customers continue toward the tunnel entrance, where they are once again met by an associate who preps their vehicle, pre-treating for bugs and any excessively dirty areas. Following the prep, the vehicle runs through the well-appointed tunnel and exits clean, shiny, and dry. After the ride through the tunnel, customers can vacuum their vehicle for free and take advantage of the complimentary towels, cleaning supplies, and rug and mat cleaners.
“We have a great lot presence,” says Benjamin. “Our associates are out there making sure we answer any customer questions to guarantee they have a great experience. Our goal is to ensure that every customer leaves satisfied and happy with their car.”
The Whistle Express experience is centered around the customer — catering to their needs to turn casual washers into raving fans of the brand. To spread the word about Whistle Express, the marketing team employs a mix of old- and new-school tactics with a focus on data science.
“We take a very hyper-local approach,” says Nunn. “We use a combination of digital and traditional methods to understand where we are drawing customers from. We take that data and layer on different media tactics, both digital and traditional. We have recently stood up a CRM system to maintain our relationship with customers, especially our wash club members, and personalize our communication and promotions based on customer profiles.
“When we open a new wash or move into a new market, the team builds a full marketing plan depending on where that wash is located. We have developed playbooks and are testing and learning from them, which helps us as we scale and add more locations. We are not only testing our tactics but building and understanding the differences in our competition.”
The modern data-powered marketing approach allows Whistle Express to connect with current and prospective customers and drives them to the wash. Still, it is the onsite experience that keeps them coming back. Trained Whistle employees can turn what could be a run-of-the-mill car wash experience into a memorable, personalized affair. They are the lifeblood of the company.
“We want to be the employer of choice in the areas we operate in,” says Benjamin. “We want our associates and leaders to appreciate the company’s values and know how much we support and care about them. We have adopted a philosophy of servant leadership with leaders at the front helping set the standard and chart the company’s course.”
Whistle Express launched a new initiative this year where every person in the support center goes out and spends a day every year in a car wash doing an associate’s job. The goal is for every member of the executive team to know car washing intimately and to show their appreciation for the efforts made by the front-line staff.
“This is something that the executive leadership team has done in their past,” says Dunn. “It’s an important signal to our employees that we’re all in this together. And that we are all committed to understanding the business from top to bottom and improving it.”
As Magnolia quickly moves from multiple banners to one unified brand under the Whistle Express name, it is not only unifying the customer-facing experience but building a collective culture connecting its front-line staff and corporate leadership.
“Winning in this industry is a combination of customer touchpoints and creating a seamless experience, not only at the wash but outside it as well,” says Dunn. “That’s our differentiation.”