Mergers and acquisitions have been the talk of the news in recent years. However, they don’t just happen between the larger chains headquartered in the country’s biggest metropolises. Smaller carwash businesses too are combining to form a stronger market offering. And for the majority of carwashes that make up the less-dense areas of the U.S., they don’t need 50 or 60 carwashes to stand out in their service areas and make a strong business proposition. Even just a few locations can secure a wash’s position as the dominate one in a local market.
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For instance, take Valley Car Wash in Winchester, Virginia, which lies in Shenandoah Valley. Given the recent focus on growth in the industry, Ned Browning, founder of Valley Car Wash and now a partner in Foundation Partners I, LLC, wanted to find a way to grow while focusing on providing more value to Valley Car Wash’s core market in the tri-state area that comprises Virginia and the panhandles of West Virginia and Maryland.
His solution? Join forces with another longtime carwash owner in the area.
Browning, who has been in the industry for over 20 years, always aims to find new and creative ways to create the best carwash experience for his customers.
When he opened Valley Car Wash in 2003, it started out as a single self-serve site that boasted three self-serve bays and a touch-free in-bay automatic (IBA). Browning grew his self-serve and in-bay footprint to six locations by 2008. However, in 2018, he decided to remodel his original site and add on an 85-foot express wash tunnel. In this way, he was able to offer options for any type of customer: do-it-yourself versus do-it-for-me and soft-cloth fans versus touchless ones.
But having put in a tunnel … what was the next step to further enhancing the wash experience? Hopping onboard the growth bandwagon, Browning decided it was time to expand Valley Car Wash’s network to offer even more opportunities to the people of Winchester. As such, he decided to unite forces with another longstanding carwash in the area: Petersons Soft Cloth Car Wash.
Roger Peterson, also a partner in Valley Car Wash and the founder of Petersons Car Wash, comes from an entrepreneurial family. Since 1958, for instance, the Petersons have been owner-operators of Dairy Queen franchise locations in the tri-state area; today, Peterson is one of the largest Dairy Queen operators.
He is also a second-generation carwash owner. His father built the first Modern Cloth Car Wash in Martinsburg, West Virginia, in 1976; eight years later, Peterson opened a second location in Winchester at just 25 years old. He went on to open several carwash locations in the area.
When Browning and Peterson joined forces, they brought together Valley Car Wash’s two remaining locations with Petersons Soft Cloth’s Winchester location. They also immediately purchased a five-bay self-serve carwash. Together, the two now operate four locations and have two additional locations planned for construction in 2022 in West Virginia.
With the recent acquisition, it was time for a remodel. To match the offerings of the original Valley Car Wash site, two locations are getting renovated in August to put in 115-foot and 75-foot tunnels while removing the self-serve bays and adding touch-free in-bays. One of those locations will also host an oil lube. The fourth location is currently undergoing remodeling for its five self-serve bays, and it will remain a strictly self-serve carwash for the time being.
Thus, in combination with the two planned washes for next year, Valley Car Wash is focusing on further serving its core market by providing what will be five express tunnel locations that its network of wash club members can utilize.
“When our newly remodeled express exteriors open … in 2021, we will be the only carwash chain in the area to offer a wash club membership that is redeemable at multiple locations,” Browning notes.
Valley Car Wash is also the only wash to offer fleet services for either its tunnel or touch-free wash, he adds.
Another way Valley Car Wash stands out in the Winchester area is through its green initiatives. With Browning’s degree in alternative energy systems, it’s no surprise that he takes clean energy seriously. At his original flagship site, he installed what he says is the largest commercial roof-mounted solar panel system in Frederick County. However, all the carwash locations use variable frequency drives (VFDs) wherever possible, water recycling for reverse osmosis systems, LED lighting and eco-friendly carwash chemicals.
Staying number one
Valley Car Wash’s mission is to provide the best carwash experience to every customer through top-of-the-line equipment, a multitude of amenities and the area’s best customer service.
While Peterson handles operations, Browning focuses on the marketing, equipment and experience at the carwashes. Browning is constantly upgrading equipment and chemical solutions to stay ahead of the competition and enhance the carwash experience. In fact, Browning partnered with a marketing firm a couple years ago and transformed Valley Car Wash’s advertising by utilizing digital menu signs, touchscreen kiosks with video sales experiences, social media marketing and text message marketing. Yet, in addition to those modern initiatives, there’s still a place in the company’s plan for traditional advertising, so Valley Car Wash also works with radio and print media to engage and grow its customer base.
And, the marketing efforts have paid off. Valley Car Wash prides itself on being rated the number-one carwash in the area, but Browning notes that part of said marketing initiative centers on the company’s stellar team members.
“We train and retrain our employees to be positive in all aspects of the business,” Browning explains. “We cannot be the number-one rated carwash in the area without our excellent team members and, frankly, our wonderful customers that support us every day. Valley Car Wash would not be where we are today without our employees and their dedication to providing the best carwash experience in the area. Our entire team prides itself on our social media rankings that show Valley Car Wash as the number-one rated carwash in the area. I believe what they cherish most is when a customer personally compliments them on what a great experience they have had at our facility.”
As a business run by two families with deep roots in the tri-state area, Valley Car Wash understands the importance of the bond held by family. “We treat our employees as family and strive to offer a culture that embraces personal growth and employee advancement,” Browning explains.
As Valley Car Wash joins the surge of growth that the carwash industry as a whole is experiencing, it serves as a testament that success in this industry comes in all shapes and sizes, regardless of location. It only takes skilled operators to see what opportunities are available and go after them.
Interested in learning more about Valley Car Wash’s largest commercial roof-mounted solar panel system in Frederick County? Be sure to check out our video podcast interview with Ned Browning below.