The typical Zips location sits on one-acre and features
a 100-plus foot conveyor.

Thirty-one is a massive number when you are talking car wash locations. The sheer financial and logistical prowess required to own and operate a chain of that size is beyond impressive. But the ability to acquire and seamlessly integrate 30-plus locations into an existing car wash empire is mind numbing.

In late August it was announced that Zips Car Wash was set to complete the largest single company deal in car wash history, adding Boomerang Car Wash’s 31 locations to its 23 thriving sites to create the third-largest tunnel car wash company in the United States.

The similarities between the two southern car wash chains is uncanny, and their combination makes a lot of sense on paper, but that doesn’t make their union any less incredible.

Zips has three unlimited wash club options.

The well-branded tunnel entrance.

“Everything kind of lined up,” Zips founder and chairman Brett Overman says of his decision to purchase Boomerang. “They had been through three ownership structures and the current owner and board realized they had taken what I would call an under-performing asset and really created a lot of value. There is a lot of synergy with where we are located and our express-only model. I thought we could take it and do something with it and I finally convinced them to sell it to us.”

The two chains share a common history. Both were formed a little more than a decade ago and found early success, quickly adding to their wash holdings primarily through acquisition. With a dedication to building strong and lasting relationships in the communities they operate in the former rivals had similar principles and corporate missions making the value of their combination easy for Overman and his investment partners to see.

Plenty of tunnel equipment ensures a clean, dry car.

While operating 54 washes, with three more under construction, is a big jump compared to the 20-plus sites Zips held just two months ago, the groundwork and infrastructure has long been in place to handle this size operation, and more. “We have been working very hard on our infrastructure and what I call the Zips playbook,” Overman says. “We have been working to create better car wash managers through systems, procedures, and training. Boomerang also had a very strong management team that we felt good about so we are keeping them on board.”

The top brass from Boomerang have all been retained including CEO James Burks, who will hold the same office at Zips. Keeping Boomerang’s management team intact not only allows for a smooth transition into the new ownership structure, it provides Overman and the Zips’ team with a wealth of information on the local markets, and a staff of car wash veterans that are used to operating on a large scale.

Overman is committed to providing all of his employees with rewarding and beneficial employment opportunities. Over 75 percent of the 360-person strong staff has health insurance. In addition, the company offers paid time off, 401K, dental and vision coverage, and a generous incentive plan based on individual site performance.

The current five-tiered wash menu.

“I don’t think many people grow up dreaming of running a car wash,” Overman says. “We are trying to educate our team and show them that they can make a successful career here. It goes back to what we call our playbook. We are empowering the store and district managers to think more like entrepreneurs. We get them involved in creating the culture of what we are trying to do big picture wise. We spent a lot of money on these sites and we need to be equally committed to investing in our people because I think they are our single greatest asset.”

The first order of business for the staff of the newly formed mega-chain is to build a unified branding front across the nine states and 53 individual sites it operates. New signage, menu boards, and marketing material will begin rolling out in late October and the entire chain is expected to be sporting Zips red and yellow before year’s end.

“We will rebrand across the board,” Overman says. “Each site will have a little bit different stuff, but our typical signage, look, point of sale, messaging, and wash experience will be the same chain wide.”

An exciting show is part of the Zips appeal.

Ninety percent of Zips’ locations were acquisitions, meaning that architecture and equipment choices are a little varied by market, but one thing remains consistent across the chain: Zips is in the express exterior business, period. The wash’s operational model is simple: a clean, dry, shiny car in around three minutes, with free vacuums, and minimal labor. In fact, Zips is so laser-focused on the express exterior concept that it doesn’t let potential auxiliary revenue streams cloud its vision — you won’t find any express detailing, dog washes, or vending machines on a Zips site, just a well-equipped tunnel designed to get the job done fast.

Following the initial rebranding of the sites Zips next big order of business is to unite its offerings. Currently Zips has five wash options, but will pare down to four in the near future to bring consistency to the brand and help unify its unlimited wash club.

“There has been some tweaking done to the menu over the past few years and we will continue to work on it,” Overman says. “We look at it from a good, better, best mentality. We want to make sure the small, medium, and large pricing is consistent across the board. We have to be a little delicate when taking over new markets. People are used to their car wash and rather than going in and rocking the boat real hard, we will keep everything the same with the goal of simplifying in the future.”

Zips ideal pricing array is $6, $10, $13, and $15, but in around half of its markets the entry-level wash is still set at $5 and will stay at that level for the short term. In the chain’s four-level menu 30 percent of customer opt for the bottom package, 25 percent for the top package, and the remaining 45 percent choose one of the middle offerings.

The typical Zips location has three employees onsite.

While the ink has just dried on the Boomerang deal, Overman is already working on a couple other major acquisitions that could propel Zips from third largest tunnel chain, to second largest likely by the end of the year. Currently Southeast based Autobell is the nation’s second largest tunnel washer with a site count of 74, a number Overman plans to quickly surpass.

“We have a very strong pipeline of things we are looking to close that are either under contract or we have done due diligence on,” he says of the chain’s expansion plans. “There should be one or two major acquisitions announced sometime in the next six months.”

In addition to its vast wash holding in the South, Overman is eyeing expansion into new markets and perhaps earning the title of the first national car wash chain. “Once you hit 10 to 12 states that you are operating in you are well on your way to building a national presence. We are definitely going to extend our footprint out of the South. It will just take the right opportunity in the right market.”

There are always plenty of vacuum stations available at Zips.

Will Zips reach its goal of national status? That remains to be seen, but with each acquisition Zips’ brand image and power increases. As Zips adds locations and increases its reach the wash will continue to rely upon its experienced management team and committed workforce to ensure that each and every location lives up to Zips’ rigorous standards.