Investors from all walks of life are flocking to the car wash industry hoping to make their mark in the highly lucrative, low-labor express wash concept. Rookie and experienced operators alike are placing big bets on huge facilities packed with state-of-the-art equipment designed to cater to need-it-now consumers who crave a seamless, low-touch, high-speed experience.
Many of these investors do not see car washing as a long-term play. Rather, they view it as a relatively short-term opportunity to inject some cash into a struggling location or build a site in an underdeveloped market with the goal of cashing in with a quick flip. However, on occasion, these short-term investors fall in love with the industry and become long-term operators.
When Boyan Radic purchased Brightworks Car Wash in 2017 he never imagined he would give up on his career as a multi-family real estate broker to become a full-time car wash operator. He and his partner had agreed to act as hard money lenders for another investor looking to get into the car wash space with the purchase of an out-of-operation car wash site. But when that investor got cold feet, they decided to go ahead with the deal themselves.
“The intent was to sort of put Humpty Dumpty back together and then flip it,” Radic says. “We were going to make a profit and move on down the road. But the longer we operated it, the more we fell in love with the industry.”
This was not a love-at-first sight romance, but rather a meaningful relationship born out of hard work and dedication. It took a couple of years of education, employee struggles, retooling, rebranding, and overcoming the negative perception the previous owners had built in the community before Radic was ready to pronounce himself an official car washer.
Six years since entering the car wash industry Radic and silent partner Eric Friedlander, are fully entrenched in the car wash industry operating their original Granbury, TX location and adding a ground-up build in Fort Worth to their holdings late last year.
The newly launched Fort Worth site is a three-acre, flex-serve mecca with a massive tunnel, 44 free vacuum stalls, a hand wash bay, full detail center, and indoor/outdoor customer waiting areas. As the saying goes everything is bigger in Texas and the latest Brightworks site holds true to the old maxim with a sprawling site capstoned with a 80 x 40 foot American flag hanging from a 130-foot flagpole. The flagpole is so massive it had to be buried 18 feet into the ground just to support itself!
The Fort Worth site took more than a year to complete, with construction commencing in the summer of 2021 and the final touches not concluded until October of 2022. But all the hard work and long construction timelines were worth it. Brightworks now has a one-stop car care facility that can cater to everyone from the $10 exterior only customer to the high-end detail client and everything in between.
Options a-plenty at the new site, with three exterior-only wash choices, express interior cleaning, and a full detailing menu designed to clean and protect everyday drivers as well as make classics and exotics standout at the next car show.
“We can handle anything from a motorcycle to a family RV,” says Radic. “We do high-end ceramic coatings, paint protection services, and intricate details that take four hours or more. We even have a hand wash bay for oversized vehicles or for customers that prefer the white glove treatment.”
The new site is a big hit with customers. In just the first six weeks of operation the wash signed up an impressive 1,000 members to its unlimited wash club. The Fort Worth location is around 30 minutes from Brightworks’ original Granbury location, and a handful of Granbury unlimited customers are enjoying the new location as part of their membership. Granbury is a bedroom community around 30 miles south of Fort Worth, and a significant number of Granbury residents commute to Forth Worth for work.
One way that Brightworks separates itself from the competition is its highly trained and friendly staff. “I traveled around the country, and I visited other car wash operators,” says Radic. “I spoke to the best operators in the nation and the biggest takeaway is that people are the biggest differentiator in this business. A wash lives and dies with its staff.
“One of the blessings from all this private equity entering the market is that these larger private equity groups don’t put a lot of stock in their people. They either let talented and experienced people go or cut their salaries and benefits. We were able to capture a good core group of people and more started coming to us knowing that we were hands-on operators.”
To get the word out about the site’s services including the unlimited wash program Brightworks depends on its highly trained service advisors. “We are really good about having qualified service advisors at the pay stations that educate our customers on what’s the cheapest, fastest way to wash their car,” says Radic. “They talk to them about the memberships and the detailing services and everything else we offer. They are educating our customers one at a time.”
In addition to the personal touch of highly trained service advisors, Brightworks also depends on their satisfied customers to get the word out about the wash and its offerings. “We treat each and every customer as if they are the only customer here,” Radic says about his teams’ approach to customer service. “The best marketing for us is our satisfied customers telling their friends and neighbors about us, and posting on social media about their service experience.”
Providing a clean, shiny car at the tunnel exit coupled with a highly engaged staff is the backbone of Brightworks’ public relations plan. Radic believes that all they need to do is get a customer to try their services once and they will become a loyal washer for years to come. In addition to word of mouth from satisfied customers, Brightworks is building a name for itself in the community thanks to its philanthropic pursuits.
At both locations Brightworks partners with charitable organizations to help raise funds for worthy causes. One of the wash’s longstanding relationships is with St. Jude’s. For years Brightworks has collected donations from their customers for the well-known organization and matched those donations with the help of long-time partner Motor City Wash Works.
Car washing has been and remains a people business, committed to giving back to the communities it serves. That community atmosphere continues to draw customers into the drive and pull investors from across the business landscape into the industry — some of those investors catch car wash fever and never leave.