Mergers, acquisitions, and major expansions have monopolized the car wash news feed for the past few years. Every month it seems there is a new player gobbling up real estate and scaling operations at previously unheard-of speeds. These start-up mega chains typically have plenty of private equity backing but lack the name recognition befitting their meteoric growth.
That is not a problem for Mr. Clean Car Wash. As the Proctor and Gamble name brand adds gravitas to the Arnett family’s car wash empire.
Bruce Arnett got into the car wash industry in the late 1980s when he and his father opened their first wash in the Atlanta market, growing the family business to 16 franchise and corporate-owned stores by 2008.
“By then we had grown into not only being car wash operators, but also a distributor,” Arnett says. “We heard Proctor and Gamble was looking to get into the car wash market. And the next thing you know, we’re on a conference call with the Mr. Clean team.
“We talked every day for about nine months. They bought our franchise division from us at the end of December 2008, rebranding all our stores as Mr. Clean Car Washes.”
While the P&G relationship was certainly a major opportunity for the Arnetts, the partnership was far from a homerun for all parties. Launching a new car wash offering during the turbulent economic times of late 2008 and early 2009 proved to be difficult for Mr. Clean
P&G ended being in the car wash business for just five years, selling the business back to the Arnetts in 2013.
“It was a wonderful experience with Proctor & Gamble,” says Arnett. “We love the brand and the P&G team. We got the chance to buy the franchise division back. Now we have the license rights for Mr. Clean in the United States.”
Over the past nine years Bruce Arnett along with brothers Brett and Brandon ran the Mr. Clean Car Wash chain, building their user base and forming an unbreakable connection between the Mr. Clean household name and clean cars.
“The Mr. Clean name opens doors for us and helps us compete in markets that we haven’t been in,” says Arnett. “The real advantage we have is just the consumer trust in the brand. We take that very seriously and we do everything we can to make sure we represent Proctor & Gamble and Mr. Clean in the right light.”
Fueled by powerful brand recognition and more than three decades in the car wash business the Arnetts are set to aggressively scale their car wash operations over the next two years.
Currently there are 16 Mr. Clean sites in Georgia and Florida, but within 12 months that number will swell to 29, including the chain’s first foray into Tennessee.
In all there are around 30 new Mr. Clean sites in some stage of development. It is important to note that although Mr. Clean plans to expand significantly over the next couple of years, it is doing it the old-fashioned way — relying on ground-up builds rather than acquisitions to increase its site count. The Arnetts have years of development experience, building their own sites as well as helping others get into the car wash game with their Genesis Modular Carwash Building Systems and ACES distribution business.
While the Arnetts are taking an old-school approach to building their site count, they are embracing the new-school operational model. The Arnetts made their bones as full-service operators, providing exterior and interior cleaning, with available detailing services thrown in for good measure.
In today’s market however the full-service wash is receding into the background and the express exterior has taken its place at the top of the car wash food chain. Over the years the Arnetts have slowly moved toward the express model and are now doubling down on the low-labor, high throughput model with its future expansion plans.
“The express model has changed the landscape of our industry and it’s very exciting,” says Arnett. “It’s a low-labor reoccurring revenue model that has taken off with customers and investors. The model makes a lot of sense.
It’s easier to operate and run than full-service, it’s understandable why it’s become so popular.
“We’ve been in the car wash space a long time and maybe that’s been good and maybe that’s been bad to some degree. I think for a long time we stuck with our thing. Within the last three or four years, we’ve really embraced the fact we need to learn and listen more and see what’s out there and spread our wings. In the express space we are late to the game, but we’re very glad to be here.”
All of the brand’s new builds will be express exterior sites, and some of its current full- and flex-serve locations are transitioning to an all-express model. However, a number of its legacy sites will continue to operate as flex locations where appropriate. The Arnetts believe that despite the fact that the car wash consumer has embraced the express model there is still a place for flex and full service, and the ancillary services that come along with it.
“We’re making a real hard push on our legacy sites with detailing services,” says Arnett. “Back in the day everybody had the ability to wax your car or do some shampooing or something for you. Nowadays, very few people are offering those services yet they remain very popular.”
To spread the word about its offerings, both modern and traditional, Mr. Clean deploys a very new-school approach to its marketing efforts. The company has invested heavily in next-gen marketing professionals to modernize the brand’s methods with a focus on social media and geo targeting.
“We’re really spreading our wings and embracing everything that’s out there from a marketing perspective,” says Arnett. “We’ve got some wonderful new people on staff that are helping us with the social media platforms and other initiatives.”
Mr. Clean’s marketing strategy reflects the overall approach of the brand. The team has fully embraced the express exterior concept without losing sight of the traditional offerings that helped make the Arnetts a success in this business for years.
The team’s upcoming expansion will introduce Mr. Clean to a new group of car wash customers eager for quick and easy exterior-only services, while its conventional full- and flex-serve sites will continue to cater to those looking for the next level of Mr. Clean.
Name: Mr. Clean Car Wash
Owners: Bruce, Brett, & Brandon Arnett
Operating area: Georgia & Florida
Expansion plans: 13 new builds in 12 months
Ideal tunnel length: 120 feet
Ideal site size: 1-1.25 acres