Car wash has traditionally been a regional experience. Local mom and pops or small chains serving centralized locations with little growth beyond their home base. Over the past decade, however, large regional chains with operational areas of hundreds of miles have become the norm with a few aggressive operators attempting to solve the national brand challenge.
GO Car Wash was founded three years ago and already has 106 locations in operation across the country from California to New York, with more than 60 new sites in development. This impressive expansion in key markets positioned strategically throughout the country has been powered primarily through the acquisition of small chains with a few ground-up builds sprinkled in.
“We have been very selective in the markets we enter and the acquisitions we pursue.” says Chris Andersen, vice president of business development. “We have successfully completed 23 high quality acquisitions in our short history and are thankful to all the sellers who put their trust in GO Car Wash to care for their high performing sites, loyal customer bases, and engaged teammates. We are excited about our robust acquisition and new site pipeline which will fuel our growth for years to come.”
How has the express exterior chain been able to expand so quickly and build a satisfied and loyal customer base at scale? According to chief operations officer Brett Meinberg, it has everything to do with GO’s unique approach to developing and supporting its markets and the people charged with executing on the chain’s value proposition.
Private-equity-backed GO currently has a significant number of sites in Kansas, Missouri, Nevada, New York, Texas, Virginia, and California. It has positioned its locations as large pockets of centralized sites to ensure district managers, or market leaders as GO refers to them, can run their sites effectively.
“We are very precise in the markets we are in,” says Meinberg. “Whenever we have a market that we want to invest in we make sure we can build density in the area. We have seven distinct markets and are heavily invested in each one of those markets with super talented, committed market leaders.”
GO builds its valuable management team the same way it builds its holdings — through acquisition. Top performers at acquired chains are offered the opportunity to continue to oversee operations and are empowered to run their markets as almost a sub-business of GO.
The GO executive team is committed to outfitting leaders with the tools they need to run their markets successfully. The growing chain’s IT department has developed proprietary systems and internal apps to allow for seamless reporting and help manage opening procedures, maintenance requests, the customer experience, and much more. In addition, each market is provided with a dedicated HR, marketing, and IT resource, as well as a facilities team that handles all equipment issues.
“The executive team’s job is to train, empower, and give knowledge to these market leaders,” says Meinberg. “Whether it is a grand opening strategy, an acquisition relaunch, or maintenance issues, combining this knowledge into a central platform ensures the company is interconnected.”
It is not just the management team at acquired sites and chains that are provided with the tools to succeed and offered the opportunity for advancement. Valuable front-line employees can be promoted to manager, customer service reps to human resource representatives, managers to district manager, and so on. This prospect for career development motivates GO’s 1,700 employees to give their all and helps cultivate the all-for-one attitude critical for the geographically diverse team’s success. GO’s entire workforce is connected via Slack to allow for seamless information and idea exchange and further instill a sense of camaraderie among the staff.
“I would like to thank all of our GO teammates for their extraordinary effort every day to keep our customers delighted with our clean sites producing clean cars,” says CEO Bill Derwin. “It is their continuous effort that propels the growth and success of GO Car Wash.”
For GO, building a successful national chain is more than just acquiring top sites and ensuring operations, marketing, branding, and the customer experience are superior — it is about building something the industry can look up to. “We didn’t set out to be the biggest car wash,” says Meinberg.
“We want to be the most admired. We want people to look at us and think, ‘wow, they really do things great.’”
One thing GO is certainly great at is creating a connection with its customers. While GO is building its presence across the nation it is not adopting a one-size-fits-all approach to the markets it operates in. “While we have lots of car washes around the nation, our customers in Kansas City don’t care about what we are doing in Buffalo,” Meinberg says. “Our marketing approach is tailored to the individual communities we serve.”
While geographic differences help inform the chain’s brand-building efforts, you would be hard pressed to find a GO customer that was not in favor of the wash’s One Tree Planted initiative. GO has pledged to donate $1 for every new unlimited wash club member that signs up to One Tree Planted – enough to cover the cost for the organization to plant one tree.
“When we started Go Car Wash, we knew we wanted to partner with some sort of organization doing good,” says Meinberg. “It took us about a year to decide what we wanted to do. We agreed to partner with One Tree Planted to help offset the environmental impact of building these car washes. The clearing of land, shipping of equipment, packing materials, etc. all have an impact on the environment.”
By tying the wash’s donations to unlimited wash club membership, the chain is empowering its consumers to help the wash make a positive change while simultaneously driving signups. Since launching the program in February of this year Go Car Wash has financed the planting of more than 66,000 trees.
As GO Car Wash continues to scale its employee- and customer-centric approach across the nation it looks poised to put the belief that a national car wash chain can’t be successful to bed. Through streamlined operations, a powerful branding approach, and a commitment to getting cars clean the express chain is building its national presence one acquisition at a time.
Name: GO Car Wash
Sites: 106 in Operation, 60+ in Development
Concept: Express Exterior
Preferred Point of Sale: DRB
Preferred Tunnel Equipment: NCS
Preferred Vacuum Equipment: Vacutech
Ideal Tunnel Length: 130 Feet