Investing in the car wash industry requires more than a one-time outlay of cash. Car wash ownership means continuous investment in the facility to ensure equipment, operations, marketing, etc. are up-to-date and contributing to ongoing success.
Bill DeFries was faced with a critical decision. Should he upgrade his aging in-bay and self-serve site or cut his losses and sell Star City Car Wash for a significantly reduced rate.
“Our equipment was getting older,” says the car wash investor. “It was either sell the car wash for a fire sale price and just get out of it or make a significant investment. We decided to invest, and it has worked out very well for us.”
DeFries bought his Miamisburg, OH car wash in 2011 and built up a loyal following in the community by keeping his facility tidy and providing a quality product thanks to his twin touch-free, in-bay units.
“Those are great machines,” says DeFries. “But they use a lot of water and take around four to five minutes to wash a car.”
To keep pace with rising competition in his market DeFries decided in 2019 to remove his legacy in-bay units and convert one of the bays into an in-bay express outfitted with state-of-the-art equipment from D&S. The bay was completely gutted down to the studs and extended to allow for two cars to be serviced simultaneously, greatly increasing performance and throughput.
The renovations began in October of 2019 and the new in-bay express was ready for action in February 2020, right before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The response from the community was beyond my wildest expectations,” says DeFries. “Even with the COVID disruption and the increased debt burden we are more profitable than ever. People are really responding to the new concept.”
In addition to the new equipment, DeFries took the opportunity to re-brand his site and pay homage to U.S. military veterans. When he purchasedthe property, it was operating under the Super Clean AutoBath moniker, a name he was never overly fond of.
“I wasn’t very proud of the brand before,” he says. “We didn’t do any marketing. We didn’t have a Facebook page. When we did the renovation, I wanted to rebrand and honor our veteran community.” Miamisburg is known as the Star City, so the wash borrowed the town’s nickname and used a big military inspired star as its new logo complementing the wash’s red, white, and blue color scheme.
The new wash concept, equipment, and branding breathed new life into the wash, helping it compete with some of the biggest names in the industry that have moved into the market. Flying Ace Car Wash as well as Mike’s Car Wash both have a presence in the community, drawing in thousands of customers every week with their overwhelmingly popular unlimited wash programs.
“Both of those brands are forces to be reckoned with,” says DeFries. “They have their act together and have opened up quite a few sites in the market.”
While the presence of well-funded and successful operators is enough to make any operator stand up and take notice, DeFries saw opportunity in their arrival.
According to DeFries these mega chains are victims of their own success. With hundreds of unlimited wash members flooding their sites daily, wait times are often 10 minutes or more, frustrating customers looking for a quick wash. By converting to an in-bay express concept Star has been able to significantly increase throughput, helping to attract time conscious customers.
“In addition to the speed, our customers love how clean we are,” says DeFries. “All of the credit goes to my long-time manager Matt Warren. I couldn’t have done this without him.
He manages it pretty much by himself. We have been so busy that we had to hire a second person to help him for the first time ever.”
The completely reimagined in-bay experience, coupled with a self-serve facelift breathed new life into the wash, but DeFries is not going to stop there. Prior to the renovation the site featured two self-serve bays and two in-bay automatics. In its current form Star has the two self-serves and the in-bay express. The second in-bay was decommissioned, and the space is currently used for storage, but plans are in the works to utilize the space for car washing again.
There has been some pushback from customers on the elimination of an automatic, touch-free option. The wash operated as a touch free for so long it built up a following, and its elimination has left a void in the market.
“We are looking into a touchless unit from D&S,” DeFries says. “There is a group of customers that don’t want anything to touch their car. There is an opportunity to capture that market.”
Star City Car Wash has carved out a piece of the competitive Miamisburg market thanks to DeFries’ willingness to continue to invest in the wash. By keeping the site modern, DeFries attracts and retains customers looking for a quick, easy wash while simultaneously supporting a local, homegrown business.
Name: Star City Car Wash
Location: Miamisburg, OH
Owner: Bill DeFries
Concept: In-Bay Express and Self Serve
Lot Size: More Than an Acre
Equipment: D&S Car Wash Systems
Point of Sale: Hamilton