Every air traveler knows the feeling. You have made it to the airport, been through security, boarded the plane, and are sitting in your seat. The aircraft inches its way toward the runway, you hear the engine rev, and you are filled with anticipation. And bam! It races down the tarmac and takes to the sky. You are on your way, you are flying!
In just five short years Flying Ace Express Car Wash has gone from industry newcomer, to thriving mini chain with three locations in the Dayton, OH market. But that is just the beginning.
The wash has three more locations in development that will open their hangar doors this year, doubling its holdings and taking the business soaring to new heights.
Eight years ago, Dayton native Dan Eisenhauer discovered Moo Moo Express Car Wash based in and around Columbus, OH, and he was intrigued. He had never experienced the express concept before and was struck by its efficiency and saw immediate potential for a similar business in Dayton.
“Before I came across Moo Moo I had never been to an express wash,” Eisenhauer says. “The quality, speed, value, and free vacuums really drew me to the business model. I thought it was just a great concept.”
In fact, Eisenhauer was so captivated that he reached out to one of Moo Moo’s partners and general contractor John Roush to ask him if he would be interested in building similarly equipped express washes in Dayton. He was. The two founded Flying Ace Express along with partner Jeff Gilger in February of 2014 and opened their first wash a year later.
Dayton is all about flight, and the partners played off its strong aviation heritage when designing their express wash. The city is the birthplace of the Wright Brothers and home to the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. The partners used that aviation obsession to build the look and feel of their express concept.
Each Flying Ace Express is built to look like an airport hangar and features numerous aviation inspired details throughout. “We looked at a lot of different airplane hangar features when we were designing the wash,” Eisenhauer says. “It took quite a bit of architectural editing to get to the final metal roof design.”
The unique look and feel of Flying Ace, coupled with the introduction of the express concept into the market helped the wash instantly connect with Dayton car washers, allowing it to scale from one to three washes very quickly.
A key component of Flying Ace’s steady ascent has been the popularity of it unlimited wash club. “Our model is based on the wash club,” says Eisenhauer. “At the three washes we have about 12,000 members. Our most popular option is our top wash, The Flying Ace. It costs $27.95 monthly and $15 if you buy just one. If you wash twice in a month it more than pays for itself. We went with a multiplier of less than two because we felt it was important for people to see the value right away.”
The popularity of the unlimited wash club has given the partners the confidence to double the number of Flying Ace washes in the Dayton market. But the rapid expansion would not have been possible without a realignment of the ownership structure.
In April of 2018, Flying Ace’s founders, backed by a strategic partnership with Wildcat Capital Management, bought out Roush’s partners in Moo Moo Express. The newly formed parent company, Express Wash Concepts, now owns both Flying Ace and Moo Moo, with Roush, Eisenhauer, and Gilger operating both chains.
While the two express chains are now under one roof, they retain their unique look and feel. “We construct our buildings specific to the brands and they really resonate well in their separate markets,” says Eisenhauer. “In Dayton with the aviation history customers really appreciate the airplane hangar theme. And Moo Moo has built a huge following with its barn-style architecture. We are not going to mess with a good thing.”
With the two chains now under a common ownership, the parent company can bring its full force to bear to continue to expand the two brands. Before the end of the year Flying Ace will have six washes operating in the Dayton market. Moo Moo will simultaneously expand its holdings from 15 to as many as 18 before 2020 lands.
A loyal customer base is vital for such rapid expansion to be successful. Flying Ace has built a strong community presence thanks to its commitment to fundraising and relationship building. A key cornerstone of its community involvement is its charity wash program.
“From the very start fundraising was always something we planned on participating in significantly,” says Eisenhauer. “We want to be a big presence in our communities. In Dayton we started out by joining the chambers of commerce and getting in touch with the local schools and charities.”
Flying Ace has partnered with local drive-time radio disc jockey Frye Guy to promote its charity events. Every other month the wash picks a local charity and does an onsite remote with Frye Guy live on the radio. All of the proceeds from the two-hour event are donated to the charity organization.
“The charities will typically send down a representative and they will be on the live remote,” Eisenhauer says. “We are there as well walking the lot, talking to customers, letting them know we have free food and what the fundraising is going toward.
“In 2018 alone, we are proud to have donated thousands of dollars to support local organizations including Dayton Children’s Hospital, FLOC, Moms 4 Miracles, SICSA, The Alzheimer’s Association, and Volunteers of America.”
In addition to its hosted charity events, each wash is given a $2,500 budget annually to support a local charity of its choice. The money can be used to sponsor a local sports team, put a banner up at the high school, anything the wash and its employees decide.
“The individual site manager makes the decision on where the money goes,” says Eisenhauer. “They run it by the home office, but it is their call. If it is a legitimate organization and a positive community outreach they can make that decision.”
The jet-powered airliner that is Flying Ace Express is accelerating down the runway poised for takeoff. Its engines are powered by a strong community presence and a commitment to providing a differentiated and consistent customer experience. Over the next few years it will continue to gain altitude as it adds more locations to its growing roster of washes.
“We would like to continue to spread across the greater Dayton Miami Valley area in all directions,” Eisenhauer says. “We believe the market can easily accommodate 10 to 15 washes, and over the next three to five years we plan to fill that need.”