Mega car wash chains are popping up across the country at breakneck speeds. Numerous super operators have emerged, with many of them accelerating from just a handful of sites to over a hundred at unprecedented speeds.
To succeed with the pedal to the proverbial metal, these super operators must be experts at site selection, acquisition, equipment, and much more. In addition to the ability to develop and operate their ever-expanding holdings, mega-chains must be marketing experts to successfully get the word out about their washes and continue to draw new customers to their sites.
The rapidly expanding Club Carwash has added more than a hundred sites to its holdings in the past four years. It has invested heavily in not just its car wash portfolio but also the people who help drive awareness for the Midwest chain. While many chains outsource their marketing efforts or ask their teams to do more with less, Club has built an impressive in-house department of seven marketing pros responsible for everything from campaign development to execution.
“When we get into new markets, we’re really focused on our branding aspect,” says director of marketing Kendell Palmquist. “First and foremost is our brand identity and differentiation. We want people to know what and who Club is. It is important that they know that first.”
Club, originally called Tiger Express Wash, was founded by Rollie Bartels in 2006. Over the next few years, Bartels grew Tiger Express through greenfield builds and acquisitions, eventually changing the name to Club Carwash to aid in his expansion efforts across the region.
“Rollie and the team wanted to expand outside of Missouri and rebranded to Club in 2019,” says Palmquist. “After the rebrand, they really hit the ground running, expanding to additional states.”
From 2006 to 2019, Club grew from one location to 30, utilizing a traditional slow-and-steady expansion methodology. But that approach was thrown into high gear with a partnership with Wildcat Capital Management. The wash is still family-owned and operated, but the influx of outside capital allowed Club to scale its brand at a pace that would have been impossible without a deep-pocketed investor.
Over the past four-plus years, Club has added around 100 sites to its car wash empire and currently operates 139 express washes in 10 states with plenty of other washes and markets on the horizon. By the end of 2023, Club plans to have around 150 locations under its banner with additional growth planned for 2024.
As Club continues to scale, it relies evermore on its marketing team to help attract and retain customers and build a recognizable brand throughout the Midwest and beyond. “Brand awareness is really important, especially in the bigger markets,” Palmquist says. “A lot of the big markets we play in are saturated with corporate washes. We put a lot of our effort into building brand identity and differentiation.”
In some of Club’s smaller markets, it relies on traditional marketing tools like radio and direct mail. However, in the bigger cities and towns Club adds TV, digital ads, and multimedia marketing solutions to spread the word, connect with the community, and draw customers in.
Whenever Club opens a new location, it offers its top MVP wash for $1 for 10 days to introduce the community to its unique take on the popular express concept. The $1 collected from each wash is donated to a local charity to further cement Club as part of the community. In addition to the $1 washes, when Club launches a new site, it offers its popular unlimited wash club for the introductory price of just $10 a month for its top package for three months.
“The goal is to get people in and let them try our MVP wash,” Palmquist says. “We want to get them used to what it’s like to be a part of the club. It’s quick, it’s convenient, and you can make it a part of your everyday life. Customers can choose whatever wash package they want at the end of the three-month intro. But most people do end up choosing the MVP wash.”
One of the critical ways Club stays in contact with its current and prospective customers is through the power of social media. “The influence of social media is undeniable, and it deserves the attention that car washes are just now starting to give it,” says Palmquist. “When I started in this industry three years ago, digital marketing was almost non-existent compared to today, where it has really developed into something special.”
Being a social media success requires more than just some good photography and witty captions. Car washes must communicate an authentic message that connects with customers on a deeper level and makes them want to not only get their car washed but also be affiliated with the brand.
Club, for example, is committed to raising funds for charitable organizations and positively impacting the communities it operates in. It is a corporate sponsor of Children’s Miracle Network Hospital and has raised significant funds for the organization.
On Tuesdays, all Club locations participate in $10 Tuesdays, where the $25 MVP wash is offered for less than half off. While the deal is reason enough to draw a crowd, $1 from every $10 MVP wash is donated to the Children’s Miracle Network. The wash is on pace to raise more than $1 million for the organization this year!
While the charitable program keeps the wash full on Tuesdays, the well-trained and helpful staff keeps the tunnel cranking throughout the week. Unlike many express washes that keep labor to a minimum, Club is fully staffed, ensuring a seamless and enjoyable customer experience. On average, Club employs around 15 people at each of its locations, and always has a full team on site to assist customers.
“I think that really sets us apart,” Palmquist says of Club’s labor approach. “We are people-based, and we like to have familiar faces working the booth, loading customers into the tunnel, and walking the parking lot. That is something that we really care about and ultimately makes us successful in the space.”
As Club continues to scale — plans are in place to enter the Colorado and Minnesota markets in the near future — its commitment to its community and employees is front and center. By investing in its people, both at the site and corporate level, Club sets itself apart from the competition. It has built a team that is committed to providing the best possible experience for its customers and created a powerful brand that facilitates long-term loyalty.