Car Washes Becoming As Common As Rain In the Summer
The old building that housed a clock and music box store on Beach Boulevard is being torn right down to make room for a car wash. So is the previous bank at the corner of Old Kings and Baymeadows roads.
Those two spots are among the 20 in and around Jacksonville where Gate Petroleum plans to build new car washes. But that’s just a part of the changes and money being spent within the business.
Zips Car Wash has bought six in the world in the past eight months and plans to have 12 to 15 here, buying some and building others, in three years.
Prime Car Wash is about to open a brand new $5 million facility in Mandarin and plans at least four more in the realm over the following few years.
Camel Car Wash plans to construct one in Arlington and another in Mandarin. GooGoo Express Wash has two planned, including one on the Town Center.
“We knew Jacksonville was a well-kept secret,” said Andrew Jaffa, whose father, Jimmy, got into the car wash business in Jacksonville in the 1980s. “Atlanta has experienced tremendous growth. Houston and Orlando have exploded. Ultimately Jacksonville was going to get on the radar.
“It’s just too attractive a market growing too fast.”
The Jaffas sold their four express car washes under the CarbuX brand to Zips, but are planning to construct a brand new one on 103rd Street. And it will likely be an express wash.
Initially, there are three basic forms of car washes (four in the event you count self-serve where you stand and spray your personal car.)
With full service, you get out of your car, turn it over to the workers and get it cleaned in and out, vacuumed, dried and polished right right down to the wheels.
With express, you pull as much as a kiosk, use your bank card and choose the wash you want and stay in the car as it’s pulled through the tunnel. If you want your car vacuumed, you do it yourself afterward.
Flex is a combination — an automatic tunnel wash but with options for interior or exterior detailing.
Flex was once the commonest, but express — which costs around $5 and often takes lower than four minutes — is taking over and has been driving much of this expansion. Of every 10 new car washes being built within the United States prior to now few years, eight have been express, said Eric Wulf, CEO of the International Car Wash Association.
Gate is building express car washes. That’s what Zips does, too.
“We don’t do inside,” said Zips chairman Brett Overman. “I don’t clean your dashboard, I don’t vaccum.”
The Jaffas had full-service car washes but, for an owner, Jaffa said the express wash is a no-brainer.
“You can run three or four times as many cars through as you possibly can with full service,” he said. “There’s no bottleneck with people not having the ability to dry the cars fast enough.”
And then there are employees.
“Full service can’t afford to remain open on a rainy day,” he said, “because you can’t afford to pay $150 to $200 an hour for the staff when you have no volume. So what do you do, send them home after which the sun comes out
“And then there’s stick shifts. I can’t inform you what number of accidents we had with those.”
Part of the explanation for the sudden interest in Jacksonville appears to be coincidence. Gate first revealed its plans for 20 car washes late last year but it, in any case, is predicated in Jacksonville.
That was about the time that Prime Car Wash turned its attention to Jacksonville. It’s based in Indianapolis, Ind. where it had three locations and just broke ground on a fourth.
But it surely was seeking to grow in new markets and entered right into a partnership with a Central Florida company. They started in search of a Florida place to start out growing and picked Jacksonville.
“Jacksonville was underserved and it arrange well for us,” said Bobby Hatfield, CEO of Prime. “It was pretty interesting that Gate happened the same time we made our decision.”
But Prime is more of a flex service with some interior cleaning, not the express that Gate is building.
“That’s just our business model,” Hatfield said. “It’s what we’re good at.”
Zips relies in Arkansas, but bought its first Florida location in Boynton Beach 2011. It now has six in the area and 82 locations in nine states, including 14 in Florida.
Overman, the company’s founder and chairman, said the business was just a passive investment when he bought it 10 years ago.
“But I realized about two years ago that we were really onto something,” he said. “We had a robust management team, the brand was getting better. And in the event you give it some thought, we’ve never really had a nationally branded car wash company.
“It’s always been fragmented business.”
So he’s gotten agressive, natural gas prices to compare with plans to buy 45 this year alone.
It was actually a private equity firm, Store Master Funding, that bought the four car washes from the Jaffa family for $13.6 million. Zips is leasing them. Overman said a few of his acquisitions are through equity firms, others are strictly in-house.
But private equity has become an enormous player in the business, both Hatfield and Jaffa said.
“Every aspect of the business is being gobbled up,” Jaffa said. “The natural gas prices to compare equipment makers, the suppliers, installers, maintenance. It’s crazy.”
And it isn’t an affordable business to get into. Prime’s partner paid a little bit more than $1 million for almost 4 acres on San Jose Boulevard in Mandarin. The total investment is true about $5 million, Hatfield said.
Opening is planned for September.
The plan is to construct a total of five in the world, he said, and then reassess the situation to see if there’s room for more.
“Car washing normally,” he said, “I don’t see it going away. Even when more brick-and-mortar stores closed, Americans are still going to be driving their cars somewhere.”
Jaffa said the introduction of memberships will help keep the business going.
“Right now, you might have people who aren’t washing their cars,” he said. “But if you have option of spending $30 a month and getting your car washed as often as you want …
“I think it’s going to be like coffee shops. More coffee shops encourage people to drink more coffee.