When scouting a location to build a car wash business, potential owners must do plenty of homework. They must research the community, available locations, market needs, traffic flow — the list goes on and on. But above all else they must research the competition.
What does the local car washing landscape look like? How many sites are operating in the market? Can the local competition easily retool and adjust their operations to meet a new challenger?
All of this research and more must be done long before signing on the dotted line on an acquisition or sinking the first shovel on a ground-up development. But beyond the existing competition, prospective owners must also weigh the potential of a new player entering the market and taking a piece of their well-earned pie.
When Daniel Blanton and Robert Wilson began researching their first foray into the car wash industrythey scoured the Southeast for a population center that provided a natural barrier to entry. A city that offered limited competition, while simultaneously being difficult for a new contender to enter the fray. They found it in Savannah, GA.
Savannah has been around for so long and been developed so many times finding available properties is very difficult,” Blanton says. “The development piece down here is really complicated. The barriers to entry are high and it is going to be difficult for someone else to enter the market.”
The partners opened their first Mint Car Wash in Savannah a little more than two years ago. Blanton, a former investment banker, and Wilson, a private equity investor and entrepreneur, were business associates looking for a new venture and settled on express car wash, purchasing and rehabbing a site within the Savannah city limits.
They were drawn to the express concept for its limited labor requirements, relative simple business structure, and payment at the time of service.
“Before I was a banker, I managed a couple of restaurants,” says Blanton. “I know dealing with a staff of 20 or 30 is very complicated. The labor aspect really appealed to us. If you can get a couple of really good people working 40 to 50 hours a week at an express, they can carry a heavy load on the operational side.”
The first Mint location features a well-equipped 100-foot Sonny’s tunnel with complimentary vacuums and a handful of enhancements that help set the site apart from the crowd. Every customer that purchases a wash is not only entitled to use the complimentary vacuums, but also compressed air to blow water out of those hard to reach places, free wipe down towels, and a handful of select chemicals that help customers put the finishing touches on their vehicles.
Thanks to the wash’s unique take on the express concept, Mint enjoyed near immediate success once it opened its doors following the renovation. The limited express competition in the city coupled with the intriguing operational model drew in customers, prompting Blanton and Wilson to quickly scale their efforts.
They embarked on their first ground-up build shortly after getting their premier Mint Car Wash up and running. The second Mint location is located just outside of the Savannah city limits and features a 120-foot tunnel and all of the value-add items that proved popular at the first site.
Mint 2.0 opened its doors early this year, and despite some obvious operational struggles brought on by COVID-19 both locations have enjoyed a successful and profitable 2020. They have been steadily growing their unlimited membership base and have seen increased car counts throughout the year.
Mint features three menu options. The $10 “Clean” wash features tire shine, rain repellant, and triple foam. For $5 more the “Shine” package adds undercarriage cleaning, spot-free rinse, clear-coat protectant, wheel cleaner, and hot wax. The top-of-the-line $20 “Full Minty Special” adds hot wax and bug prep. Customers are encouraged to purchase unlimited monthly packages at each menu level which are redeemable at both Mint locations. Customers are drawn to the membership option thanks to the low multiplier rate. If customers wash their cars more than once per month it just makes sense to purchase a membership plan as they will begin seeing the savings with just their second wash.
“We try to keep it as simple as possible and not to overcomplicate things,” says Blanton. “We were fortunate to find a market that was underserved from an express perspective. We plan to stay ahead of the curve, and hope that the limited availability of property in Savannah plays to our advantage.”
While Mint’s two sites are humming along, Blanton and Wilson are hard at work developing their third location, the first ground-up build they are taking on in the city of Savannah proper. Because of the complexity of developing a site within the city limits the owners have partnered with The Dewitt Tilton Group to act as general contractors and guide them through the building process.
“As far as approvals and all that kind of stuff we felt like we really needed a local contractor,” says Blanton. “Dewitt Tilton is helping us navigate the hurdles that come with developing within the city of Savannah.”
The newest Mint location will feature a 4,500-square-foot building with 23 vacuum stalls. The location and size of the site made it the ideal place for a car wash, prompting Blanton and Wilson to snatch up the 1.2 acre lot in the heart of Savanna.
“Mint Car Wash is the perfect company to occupy this space,” says Chris Tilton, co-principal of The Dewitt Tilton Group. “Based on the layout of the existing lot, only certain types of buildings could utilize the space effectively. It has been really rewarding to work with Mint Car Wash on creating a structure that is pleasing to the eye that also makes the most of the square footage available.”
The owners have earmarked spring 2021 for the ribbon cutting on the third Mint location, hoping to capitalize on the profitable pollen season in eastern Georgia. When the partners embarked on their car wash partnership a little over two years ago, they had the three Mint Car Washes in mind. But now that their third location is on the horizon, further development is not out of the question.
“Our game plan from the beginning was always three,” says Blanton. “Right now we are laser-focused on getting through number three and spring of next year. Then we will do an evaluation. But we do think we have other opportunities.”
As long as the partners put as much time, effort, and research into future builds as they did with their first three, prolonged success is a foregone conclusion.
Name: Mint Car Wash
Location: Savannah, GA
Owners: Daniel Blanton and Robert Wilson
Concept: Express Exterior
Tunnel Length: 120 Feet
Value Adds: Complimentary Vacuums,
Compressed Air, Towels, Cleaning Supplies