The car wash industry can be aptly described in one word — growth. Mega chains are sprouting up across the country, gobbling up established operators and developing new sites as they race to build the car wash enterprise of the future.

            This new wave of industry investors has deep pockets and is equipped with the operational might to scale quickly. However, the savviest know that they can’t do it alone. Instead, they must build meaningful partnerships with vendors, industry experts, and fellow operators and lean on their local expertise as they expand.

Ultimate Shine will double its store count in 2023.

            Over the past four years, Spotless Brands has grown from an industry upstart to a car wash juggernaut with nearly 150 sites in operation and another 50 on the docket for the calendar year. Much of this growth has been through acquisition, but Spotless doesn’t just write a check; it establishes ongoing relationships with the former owners and leverages those connections as it continues to increase its holdings.

            The chain’s Ultimate Shine express exterior banner is a perfect example of its relationship-building approach. Spotless Brands acquired Ultimate Shine last year and is quickly expanding the operation from its eastern Tennessee roots with the help of former owners David and Lance Wild. The Wilds are inexhaustible site builders and an essential piece of Ultimate Shine’s super-aggressive expansion roadmap. Spotless plans to double Ultimate Shine’s current store count from 18 to 36 over the next year. 

A quality finished product starts with a thorough pre-treatment.

            “They are truly great partners,” Christian Seem, COO of Spotless Brands, says about the Wild family. “They are builders as well as operators. They are prolific developers and have assembled an impressive pipeline.”

            Since its acquisition in the middle of 2022, Ultimate Shine has opened one new location, with 18 more on the docket over the next year. This accelerated development timeline is only possible thanks to the ongoing partnership of the Wild family, who acts as the developers and general contractors on these projects.

The well-equipped express tunnel.

            “Lance has built over a hundred car washes,” says Seem. “He has a unique process from tree to key. From the time the land is cleared to site completion is just over 16 weeks on average, which is insane.

            “With us, it is not just about the deal; it’s about the connection and the cohesion with the founder. It is about maximizing that partnership and exceeding expectations. We plan on building 18 additional Ultimate Shine sites, but if other opportunities come along, we are open to them. With Lance, we can build four sites a month.”

Employees are on hand to guide customers throughout the process.

            The success of the Ultimate Shine partnership is awe-inspiring, but it is hardly surprising given Spotless Brands’ track record. The chain has built a formidable car wash empire in just four years by following three fundamental tenets.

            One, only partner with premium operators in premium markets. “We look at specific markets where we’ve got a gateway with operators that have done a nice job,” says Seem. “If we can move into a particular market and increase from 10 locations to 40, that’s meaningful. We like to be able to expand and establish market leadership rapidly.”

An exciting light show is part of the experience.

            Two, create operational excellence in everything that you buy and everything that you build. “We take a hard line and focus relentlessly on what top performance looks like,” Seem says. “We look for sustainable same-store sales and then improve our membership revenue as we ramp up the profile of our locations.”

            Three, scale the platform to be as efficient as possible and maximize momentum. “We have made tremendous investments in technology and talent development,” says Seems. “People are at the core of everything that we do. We subscribe to a simple theory. You can only climb the ladder of success so far until it’s incumbent upon somebody else to reach down and help pull you up the rest of the way up.”

            Spotless Brands built its 148-site car wash kingdom through acquisition. Around 70 percent of its holdings were purchased, with the remainder being greenfield builds. This year, however, that ratio is being flipped, with 70 percent of the 50 new sites the chain has planned for 2023 being new ground-up investments.

The Ultimate Shine logo.

            The ability to seamlessly switch gears from acquisition to development is a testament to the operators Spotless Brands chooses to partner with. Spotless doesn’t make acquisition decisions based solely on a car wash’s potential but rather on the quality of its operators. By building meaningful relationships with its acquisitions’ founders, Spotless has set itself up for the next stage of its evolution as a bountiful greenfield developer.