Episode 8: With Andrew Goldberger, Founder of Trademark Car Wash

About the Episode:

“It began as a mistake.” This is the quote on Andrew Goldberger’s iPhone background screen taken from the opening line of a Bukowski novel. In this episode, Lanese and Andrew talk about his journey into the car wash industry where he reveals that, like many entrepreneurs, what started as a well-laid business plan on paper turned out to be incongruent in practice. And, how that’s okay. Recognizing the need to adjust the original plan, pivoting, staying humble, and developing key relationships can turn an endeavor that began with a rocky start into a success story.

The episode also highlights the continued opportunities for car wash owners contemplating selling or scaling their business in today’s market. And how for Andrew, partnering with a private equity group made sense for him to transition his business into the next chapter.

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More about Andrew Goldberger:

Andrew Goldberger is the founder and director of mergers and acquisitions for Trademark Car Wash, an expanding car wash platform recently receiving a growth stage investment from Princeton Equity Group whose affiliated businesses also include Strickland Brothers 10-Minute Oil Change. Prior to joining the car wash industry in 2018, Andrew spent 20 years in the software and tech space developing transformative payment technologies for churches and childcare centers. He is also the proud co-parent of two adorable Pomeranians.

Check out the full transcript below:

Lanese

Welcome to Episode Eight of Car Wash M&A, The Podcast. Today we have on our show Andrew Goldberger. He is the founder of Trademark Car Wash. And Andrew has a really interesting background where he entered the car wash space in the last couple of years and has had a very, really quick ride so far from looking to get into the space and take hold and then to really growing this to a much larger platform and a scalable brand. Andrew, would you mind sharing a little bit about what your career path has been up to this point when you got involved with Trademark Car Wash?

Andrew

Thanks, Lanese. And I’m really happy that I get to talk to you today. Always happy to talk to you.

Lanese

Aww, thank you.

Andrew

I come into the car wash business through just about the most random way. I started my career with the focus on technology, and specifically building technologies for organizations that weren’t able to take advantage of kind of large scale enterprise software. So we built software for very small organizations. The first one was actually churches. We saw a need for churches and religious organizations to collect money in the same way that large scale nonprofits were collecting electronically. And so my partner and I built the very first electronic giving program called Parish Pay. We started that in the year 2000, way back when. You know, most giving was done electronically, but churches were 100% cash and check. And it’s really hard to motivate church leaders to move from something that they’ve used since biblical times. You know, before cash, people were bringing lamb and fruit and literally first fruits to the church. And we were convincing them that, you know, this is the paradigm shift that’s happening right now, through our little tiny Long Island City New York company. We managed to get enough press, you know, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Time Magazine, and Fortune Small Business, and we got enough TV coverage that we gained some credibility and we slowly convinced church leaders to move to this program. I think now it’s collecting something like $40 million a month in donations for every type of denomination you can imagine, but it’s since been sold twice. So that was our first platform. The second one was focused on school tuition and helping people pay their tuition for K through 12 private and faith-based schools using electronic means, but also phoning into payment, a web payment, mobile app payment… Professionalizing the billing experience for both business offices at private and faith-based schools and also the parents and kind of what they expected. We built that company from 2003 and sold it in 2015. A company was started out of my apartment, and we got to 4,000 schools by 2015.

Andrew

Wow, that’s incredible.

Andrew

Yeah, it was a great ride. Definitely quite an adventure. And also, it’s really nice to bring a bunch of excellent people along with you for the ride. We started with just a handful of people again in my apartment, which was definitely a lot of privacy invasion early on, during my early bachelor days. Eight o’clock in the morning, the phone would start ringing with parents calling making payments. And it was full on even on the weekends. So that was a that was difficult, but challenging and rewarding at the end. And I was able to kind of change the trajectory and lives of many people, some of whom now work for Google. It was a great launchpad for many careers, and I was really super happy to have experienced that. And then right after that, we started a company called Smart Care. Smart Care was really focused on the childcare industry, which has its own set of challenges. And yeah, there was a billing challenge, just like we helped with the churches and schools, but also there was signing in and signing out of children, there was managing teachers, there was payroll, there was pretty much everything.

Lanese

But you brought up a great point when we were chatting earlier that, while similar to the car wash industry — which we’ll get into in a minute, how you got into that space — but here we have monthly recurring billing, we have clocking in and out, but instead of just the employees, we’re also talking about the children that are involved here. So there’s a whole other layer of significance and importance to getting this right and making sure that it works. And it’s accurate. And it’s easy to use. Because these are absolutely their most important valued things in their lives, their kids.

Andrew

If the car wash owners out there think that people really care when you scratch up the car. They really care when you lose their children.

Lanese

I can imagine!

Andrew

We all love our cars. But children rank slightly higher, depending on the car, depending on the child.

Lanese

Yeah, at least for most, right?

Andrew

Right. Right. You know, the opportunity was to build this childcare platform. One consistent theme across my career was finding a market that I thought had a challenge, and trying to solve that challenge, and then quickly realizing that it was a mistake. And then adapting, adjusting the plan that I had in my head that was so crystal clear. I visualized that, here we go. And it was always a wrong turn. And I think pivoting in each one of those businesses and figuring out the right path has covered for my own challenges, you know, you kind of bet on someone who can make the proper adjustments. And I think I made that those adjustments in the software world. And I made those adjustments in the car wash world, too.

Lanese

Oh my gosh. So I have to just stop you for a second because what you just said about being able to be a visionary and an entrepreneur, those are wonderful qualities and having the research and the analytics to map it out, and to have this plan, and then to go to execute the plan… But so many times, we’ve all experienced this, where we get to the execution part. And we’re like, “Well, Dang, this doesn’t work!” You’re like, “This just doesn’t work.” Like no matter how much it makes sense on paper, it doesn’t work. But the real quality and strength of a good leader is someone who can identify that an adjustment needs to be made and just kind of set your pride aside. That it is like, “Okay, good plan. It didn’t work. We need to make some adjustments.” And and being able to then go full force on wherever that turn is.

Andrew

Absolutely! I couldn’t have said it better. Pride and entrepreneurship or pride and business ownership are… You might get into it for that, but certainly they’re not correlated at all. There’s pretty much nothing more humbling than starting a business and recognizing all of your warts. You definitely need to pivot and to adjust the plan. Every time you make your first business model, or you kind of show yeah, this is where we’re going, then you hit a rainy month or the cars just reroute a different way or you get a new competitor moving three quarters of a mile down the road or COVID hits.

Lanese

Right! Yeah, left turn for everyone!

Andrew

Left turn for everyone.

Lanese

But let’s go back just a little bit. So you did the software companies? How did these churches and payment plans for schools and nonprofits and like that… how did that get you to car washing?

Andrew

Yeah, through a roundabout way. The background screen of my phone is that Charles Bukowski quote, he started a book with the line, “It began as a mistake.” And I’ve always found comfort in that because each of my businesses and each of the turns that I’ve made, started as an Oops! I made a wrong turn here. And now I have to adjust the plan to go this way. After selling smart tuition, my second company and the largest one, I had a pretty good exit. And I was working on smart care but also just a little bit distracted. So I took five years off. I took five years to explore the world. I visited 61 countries. I had a yearning to figure out what links people from around the world, but also what kind of separates them? So what are these little cultural nuances, but what fundamentally are the things that link someone in the Middle East to Europe to America to South America to Asia? And and I spent five years going everywhere.

Lanese

What’s the answer? This is the million dollar question!

Andrew

It’s for a different podcast. But I think that that was a great experience to get out of the rat race. You know, sometimes in America, we get too bogged down with just financial outcomes. And just, you know, I’ve got to turn $1 into $2 and a $2 into $8 and $8 to $30.

Lanese

Don’t take your vacation days because you got to do the grind… You go in early; you stay late.

Andrew

I have this unpopular opinion that 1031 exchanges are the leading cause of heart attacks. Because people just need to keep flipping and flipping and flipping. And okay, now I’ve got to buy 80 apartments. And now I’ve got to build three hotels, and now… And it just keeps mounting the pressure. I don’t want to live like that. So it was a great pause. When I looked at how I was going to have my money, make some more money to fund this travel, you know, bohemian lifestyle that I was going for, I looked at a couple different businesses that were outside of the typical public equities in the stock market. My first year investing there was Brexit. And then there were just, you know, a couple of bumps in the road where I said, I need to find something else. So in 2018, my partner Franz and I started looking at where we were going to invest our money. One area was liquor stores; we looked at liquor stores. One was pharmacies, one was storage; we looked at about seven or eight different industries. And we came across car washes. This was through a business broker in the New York area. I thought New York was the absolute ideal market for car washes, of course, ignoring the fact that 80% of New Yorkers don’t have cars, and ignoring the fact that from a regulation perspective, it’s, you know, worse than California. And ignoring the fact that…

Lanese

There’s not a lot of available land,

Andrew

Not a lot of available land.

Lanese

It’s pretty expensive.

Andrew

Nobody owns their own property. I didn’t know how to finance these things. And there’s more people looking to rip you off in New York with how they present their car washes, so I had to adjust from that initial mistake, kind of a myopic focus on New York and a bias that I had, a confirmation bias that “look at all this traffic,” that doesn’t really translate to cars getting washed. We bought a car wash in Brooklyn, that was so rundown that it looked like it was kind of falling apart. And it was a real challenge. But it happened to have a lot of opportunity. It was only about a quarter mile from the Barclays Center, which is where the Brooklyn Nets play. And the area seemed to have a lot of growth potential. So we bought it for, you know, a little over a million dollars, very humble early beginnings. We were in the wrong market. We were in the wrong state. We had the wrong type of wash; we were heavy, full service. There were no wraps, there was no top brush, there was almost nothing in this tunnel. We had to gut it and put in new equipment. But it started showing me the opportunity that express washes might be later one day. We increased the volume; we increased the quality our reviews. They went from a 1.9 to a 4.3.

Lanese

Wow!

Andrew

We really pulled together this community and said, “We’re not going to let this thing fall apart. We’re actually going to lift it up.” And within six months, we turned it around so much that we said “Let’s buy a second one.” And we said, “Let’s buy one with a gas station and an oil change.

Lanese

It can’t be that hard, right?

Andrew

Exactly. So we learned those businesses. We said, let’s try this again. And we bought a third a couple of months later, and that one was right next to JFK Airport. It’s one of the busiest car washes in New York City. We risked a lot to buy that car wash. Eight days later, the governor shut down all non-essential businesses of which car washes were considered to be non-essential. Four months of inactivity happened in 2020. And we had to deal with a monumental task of rebuilding a business in some of the toughest scenarios with droves of people leaving New York. It was very, very challenging to rebuild the business, to take care of our employees. It was strange. We had loyalty to these employees, but we were only eight days in. We hadn’t even gone through a payroll cycle with them. And we had this connection of staying in touch with these people who we had to get to know literally over the phone, not connecting. So it was a terrible time to be a New York business owner. So once again, it began as a mistake with those three washes.

Lanese

So you grew to three washes in New York. And then how did you set your sights on North Texas after that?

Andrew

During COVID, it was pretty obvious to me and just about everyone with a pulse who was running a business, that New York is not the be all end all.

Lanese

Some of the shine wears off when there’s a closures and all the things that were going on.

Andrew

Yeah, it was a terrible time to be a proud New Yorker. It really was. I focused on where we can go to get out of the New York market. I looked at opportunities in New Jersey…

Lanese

I’ll leave New York; I’ll go to New Jersey, I’ll show you!

Andrew

Yeah, I’ll cross one bridge, that’ll take me about 45 minutes in traffic. And I’ll prove different. But New Jersey was mostly similar. Ex-New Yorkers who had moved down there. That wasn’t going to work. We looked at how we could expand the business and we came across a private equity firm named Upper 90, and Upper 90 helped us. The founder of Upper 90 is a guy named Jason Finger. He is the founder of Seamless, which bought GrubHub, so a big food delivery company. He started it in his college dorm room when he was studying in law school at NYU.

Lanese

You’re like, “I get you. You work out of your apartment.

Lanese

Exactly.

Lanese

We’re going to be friends!

Andrew

We are friends to this day. He really liked our approach. But he only invested in technology like Blue Apron. And I think he invested in ZocDoc. And he was a really early investor in multibillion dollar amazing startups that I knew about through our industry connections. And so I met him… Now this is 2020. You have to understand that I met him in his backyard with you know, 20 feet separating us. We couldn’t shake hands. Because he’s in LA, I’m in New York. And we just wanted to get to know each other. But it was a little bit of a challenging meeting.

Lanese

Sure, an awkward first date!

Andrew

Both New Yorkers and Los Angelesans have… In 2020, we’re taking every warning very seriously. Let’s say it that way. So we hit it off. And he knew that car washes are not technology companies. But he said, I like what you’re doing. And I like your mentality, I think we should expand this out of New York to go to a different market. So when I looked through the National listings as to where car washes were for sale, and I just said, Hey, there’s a ton of activity in Dallas. And these express washes. So I flew down to Dallas, and I flew Franz over and I said, “Let’s check these out.” And of course, in late 2020, they’re washing tons of cars.

Lanese

And it’s a very different economic climate from where he were coming from. And, of course, because as our listeners may know, I live in the Dallas area, they’re the best people. So clearly, you are attracted to want to associate with us!

Andrew

Lanese is smiling, which is something that New Yorkers don’t see very often at all, unless they get outside of New York. So I looked at Dallas, and I said this was it. It only took one push pin on the map to say, this is where we have to be. We looked for kind of monster washes that had great volume. And we used some of Jason and Upper 90’s money to expand our operation and double the size of the company within two months. And we did. We were now flying back and forth between New York and Dallas. It was much more serious undertaking because it wasn’t just a project with my money and Franz’s money, but it was now…

Lanese

Somebody else’s money, too. I mean, you’ve got the accountability to somebody else as well. So yeah, you’re right. It’s not just a pet project. You’re now committed.

Andrew

I was committed before, but now I was on a regimented schedule. Sometimes pre-private equity, you might say, “Oh, it’s Thursday. It’s a nice day. Let’s go to the beach.” I want to take a trip next week. And you don’t have to tell anyone. Once you now have a partner, even a minority partner, it’s still someone that you have to report to and prove results to. So a lot of other things that we had to do to kind of professionalize the organization which we had done just to get them up to my standards and Franz’s standards. But now we had another level to get to with Upper 90. And upper 90 put their first funds in… I think we signed with them in February of 2021. And we put that money to work in the summer of ’21 buying a few washes in Dallas, and then looking to then grow again. And at that point, Upper 90 said, “Hey, Jason really loves you and loves the company. But this car wash thing is very different than our traditional business.”

Lanese

What’s the outlier here? We have all these businesses, and then here’s yours.

Andrew

And they were doing so well with their other companies. It wasn’t like we were we were failing. We were growing and beating our numbers, but they couldn’t put the right resources on it. So together, we brought in a lender that would help us put a little money in, and that was Brightwood. We had them in for just a few months. But even before we signed with them, we were approached through Jeff at Amplify and Commercial Plus. Jeff Pavone brought an opportunity to us to look at possibly selling the whole business. And at that point, we were at eight washes, and very early on in what we thought we wanted to become. But again, maybe it’s the right time for a pivot. We looked at a lot of different opportunities that we wanted to. But with the pressure and everything that happened in 2020, and the opportunity to grow Trademark in a way that we could never dream of with our two partners, we thought that this was the perfect time to exit. We were also at 51% equity ownership. And if we raised any more equity, we’d be the minority partners ourselves. So we thought that this was the right time. And the group was Princeton Private Equity, which has a incredible focus on just retail businesses. And the partners there grew companies like Massage Envy from just a handful of stores and European Wax Center and Med Spas all over the country. And so they speak the language. It was very different than when we were talking to our Upper 90 friends, and our friends at Brightwood.

Lanese

It’s not brick and mortar. It’s not it’s not the same.

Andrew

Exactly. We needed this type of partner. And they they put us together with a group called Strickland Brothers Oil Change, which is the fastest growing oil change company in the United States. It was a perfect marriage; we both are kind of separate organizations within an umbrella. But they have an amazing expertise in building new sites.

Lanese

Right. And there’s a lot of synergy there. Because you’re looking at a lot of the same types of land. You’ve got a similar customer base, you’re in the same automotive care industry, there does seem to be more synergy than a food delivery service. Not that that’s not a wonderful service, which we all need food. And it’s even better when someone just brings it to you. But there does seem to be a lot of mutual growth opportunities, too, where you can now take this other group and learn from each other because you have very similar pathways that you’re going down. And Strickland Brothers has been in the news for their rapid growth, going from a couple of stores in… What state did they start in? Georgia or…?

Andrew

North Carolina.

Lanese

North Carolina. And so they’re on the rise, and it seems like just from my reading about them that they have some of the similar goals on a service level that you speak about of wanting to elevate the experience for the employee as well as the customer, that it doesn’t have to be kind of this bottom tier service that it seemed the car wash industry and oil changes kind of used to fall into: “Ugh, I’ve got to go get my oil change. I got to get my car washed. They’re gonna try to upsell me.” It can be better.

Andrew

Culture is absolutely key at Strickland, and it’s absolutely key at Trademark. We welcome people who are all stars, we welcome people who can elevate the experience for our customers and the staff at our stores. We share a lot of the same values. Justin Strickland, the founder of Strickland Brothers, and I, we talk on a daily basis. And he’s built a great team on the car wash side; people who came to us from some of the larger platforms in the US. We really have built an all star team and it keeps growing because thanks to some of our relationships such as Amplify, we’ve been increasing our business and growing the number of locations. We’re probably going to grow from about 22 locations now to close to 40 by year end, and we should be hopefully at 60 to 80 by you know a year later, trying to grow at that pace. And I couldn’t have done that without the right financial partner, without the right teammate provided. Justin Strickland is outstanding. He’s an Entrepreneur of the Year winner from Ernst and Young which is like an impossible to win award.

Lanese

No small feat!

Andrew

Yep! I tried, and I was just a finalist. He made it to the final. He won! An Inc 500 fast rising company. It’s really easy to see how that culture has spread into our culture and how it’s helped us really focus on this kind of rocket ship growth that the industry is facing right now. But also, there are some tumultuous times with a very turbulent financial environment, but the market is still red hot, so we have to find the right opportunities and where we want to kind of go deep and go strong.

Lanese

Right. It’s neat, so just kind of thinking back… A year ago, you and I met in Atlantic City at the NRCC Car Wash Trade Show. And at that time, I believe you had the washes in New York, and you had just moved to Plano, which is a suburb of Dallas. It was just really interesting, and it has been really interesting to watch everything that has happened in that time, even from the sidelines from my point of view, but also the odd and coincidental weave-ins that have come just even specifically from you and I, from that meeting to you purchasing Trademark Car Wash, which, you know, I have an intimate relationship with the brand as it was prior, having been affiliated with that for almost 10 years. And so, I definitely see that you have good taste because that is a great location. But also you referenced that conversation that you had with Jeff about this introduction to Princeton like, okay, great. I’ve got this group, maybe you guys should meet. I was in the car with Jeff when you guys had that conversation. And this was a very short conversation that was just so cool to watch how the matchmaking and how the relationships are really the most important thing because it’s connecting people to who they may not otherwise be naturally connected to or connected as quickly. And just seeing how you can move forward the path of a business or a relationship or plan if you just sometimes have some of those things click in the right place from the people that you know along the way.

Andrew

I would add to what you said, and I agree with everything. In fact, I’d emphasize one thing. The location that you helped build, Trademark, was so impossibly perfect for me that I changed the whole company’s name from Magic Car Wash to Trademark Car Wash, specifically because of that brand and how important it was. So forget Jeff and others introducing me to money and introducing me to all this stuff and selling me 14 washes. But you, Lanese, built the brand that created our brand. So thank you for that! The logo on my shirt.

Lanese

I like it. Yes, I like the 2.0!

Andrew

I want to add one thing about Amplify / Commercial Plus. I think back to there’s this famous line about doctors or surgeons, right, that they get paid $10,000 just to make one cut. But they don’t get paid $10,000 to make one cut; they get paid $10,000 to know where to cut. And that takes a decade at school and it takes a lot of experience. And so when you’re paying for value in this industry, yeah, there’s definitely some high fees that you guys have collected, everyone has collected, but it’s really knowing where to cut. The fact that Jeff in that phone call spent maybe 30 minutes or less… As you said, it was a quick phone call, just matchmaking like this,. That analogy kind of comes to mind because it was the easiest check to write because it was such a valuable connection. We’ve been so happy with the Princeton and Strickland relationship that whatever we paid wasn’t that important. Another way that I would look at it is almost like Tetris. So when I think about Tetris, I think about like your team and seeing the industry, and they see where things fit. The best of the brokers are the ones who really know, we don’t need to make this a huge process with 50 companies, we think this is perfect for Trademark. They’re really big in the southeast, or they’re really big in Dallas. So let’s kind of make sure that we’re matchmaking between these two because there’s a perfect fit culturally. Sometimes car wash owners want to turn their equity into more equity. And that doesn’t really work for our company, but it works for others. So you guys will recommend those sellers go. But it’s just knowing all of that. So it’s kind of a combination of that doctor knowing where to cut metaphor and the Tetris metaphor that makes this experience so, so easy when you’re working with competent professionals such as yourself and the team that you’re in the trenches with every day.

Lanese

First, thank you for that. And it’s really important for us that we can have a relationship with our clients that goes beyond a transaction. It is not about one deal that we do with somebody, and then it’s over. We want to grow, you know, be a part of that growth with you or be there if it’s the right fit, whether that’s on capital advisory, raising funds, or if it’s on acquisitions, however that looks, but we don’t ever want our clients to outgrow us. And that’s one of the really beautiful things about kind of the two arms of a related company with the brokerage side with Commercial Plus. And then on the Amplify Car Wash Advisors side, we have the capital advisories in the mergers and acquisitions, experience and expertise with investment banking. On the specific relation to car wash owners in the industry, as you know, we’re very passionate specifically about the car wash industry. And so all of us have a personal stake in this as well that we… If you succeed, it’s a good reflection on us as well. And we care and we want to continue raising the industry. But because we do work with so many car wash owners around the country, we’re able to have that larger macro view of what’s going on outside of just one pocket and have that better Tetris plan or that better surgical one cut plan, ideally, so that we can guide people efficiently and get them in the right spot as quickly as possible so that it’s helpful on both ends. But it’s a really exciting time to be in the car wash industry. And I think that most people have one or two journeys here. It’s either they have a family business that they’re a part of, and maybe they grew up in it, or some weird thing happened and they kind of got into it and they never left. I hope that you’re one of those that got into it and and stays with us for a long time. And we can continue having these conversations as Trademark continues to grow and see what all these next chapters are. But you have such a great entrepreneurial mindset to see that there’s a lot of different ways that companies can scale and that they can continue growing. And then you can pivot and do something else. But you can make these great businesses along the way for employees that can be really fruitful and helpful to them and their livelihoods.

Andrew

Absolutely, you nailed it. There is absolutely so much upward mobility. In the car wash business you and I have a mutual friend who over the course of 15 years has risen from minimum wage to hundreds of 1000s of dollars in annual salary and equity. And there’s so many people like that. But there’s also so many car wash owners who just had a dollar and a dream. They just had an SBA loan, and someone gave them a chance, and I think that’s… As we move into the more maybe the fifth or sixth inning of the private equity versus small business owner battle, which has been… They have a flawless track record in every industry; private equity wins these games. But as we go through this game, we’re seeing so many individual car wash owners or small founder-run mini chains of five or six locations. There’s something so great about this American Dream that is getting to kind of… Again, we’re not in the ninth inning, but we’re certainly not in the first inning. It’s really interesting to see some of these people, some of whom they’ve only had this as their job, and now they’re reaching this incredible height. People I worked with and technology never reached that level. They’re in Silicon Valley busting their ass for 20 years and they’ve never had a pay day like a car wash owner who found the right street corner for three years. That’s amazing. Like it really is incredible. I love getting to know car wash owners because now my role is director of mergers and acquisitions for Trademark. I no longer have any operational requirements in my job, but I am really focused on meeting car wash owners. So every week, between LinkedIn, between brokers, between… I probably visit 40 car washes a week, but I meet lots of car wash owners, most of whom we don’t do deals with, but I’ve met so many great ones. I think it’d be great to lay out to a potential seller, or someone who’s contemplating maybe taking a peek at what a valuation might look like, what is important and what isn’t important. You know, I don’t want to give away any secret sauce, but I wanted to actually talk about how we score those opportunities and how we look at them and different things that are important to different people. You know, let’s talk about if someone has a single car wash or they have 10 car washes, the multiple that we pay on EBITA, on profitability of the car wash, is different, right? So a single car wash is interesting to us. We’re definitely excited to meet someone who has built a great car wash, but there’s obviously a different amount of enthusiasm for the opportunity to grow by the giant leap of buying a real platform.

Lanese

Right, and making a meaningful entrance especially into a new market. Because buying one car wash and then maybe if you’re looking at acquiring a couple of different ones, it’s going to take time, if they’re not all connected in the same package. Or if they’re looking at maybe adding in some greenfield development, that takes time, too. So really, we find the same. The chains that sell on the most value are those that have a presence in a community, obviously, operationally they need to be well run. But when there’s a pathway to continued growth especially, that’s a big factor.

Andrew

Absolutely. I also look at how many cars they’re washing and their washed count, so sometimes, someone is trying to sell us a package of five or six washes, but many of them are doing like only 50,000 or 60,000 cars. And that’s perfect for someone who is trying to look for that, but a lot of car wash buyers are looking for kind of like the 100,000 and up or 120,000 and up express washes.

Lanese

Just a bit higher performing or higher volume in general.

Andrew

Higher volume, right? Because if you already have to manage a site manager, and you already have to bring on a new site, it’s important to think about is this worth the time and the money to oversee this? It’s also about like sometimes car wash sellers are just looking to recoup the money that they put in. Their expectation is I put this in, I deserve this. And I think it’s important to kind of level set with them and make sure they understand that unfortunately, your wash is producing $300,000 of EBITDA. It’s going to be hard to sell this for anything more than a few million dollars. It gets very disappointing for some of those people, but it’s important that everyone kind of understands that it’s not a reflection of how much money you’ve put in, but actually how it’s producing. And so sometimes those two are disconnected. I find that brokers have a hard time telling people, it’s not worth that.

Lanese

I think it’s the expectation setting so that you can start out with having some realistic goals. And I know for us, we get asked all the time. So what are the what are the multiples right now? What’s what’s it going for, and we’re very, very wary to give any type of numbers because it depends on a lot of things. So there are changed that have sold for very, very attractive multiples, but they had all the right ticks in all the right places; they checked all the boxes. And it’s very rare that you have somebody that’s checking all these boxes on the scale that they have. So most of the time, we want to just look at their their operations, see where they’re performing well, or maybe there’s things that they can easily do to kind of enhance what they already have. But it’s about your team. It’s about your curb appeal; it’s about your cleanliness; it’s about your staff, and your training, and your quality of output; your customer base. It’s an amalgam of all of those things, as well as how many sites do you have in a region that could play a factor? Or are there other sites that are in the development pipeline? That’s another one! Because that jumpstarts your job. You know, that’s a value to you.

Andrew

And how many members do you have? I’ve heard this two different ways. And neither way is wrong. But you have to know who you’re talking to as a buyer, because some people say, “Oh, this is amazing. They only have 10% membership penetration on their washers. There’s so much upside. Once we come in, we can get that up to 60 or 70%.” And then we’ve heard “Wow, this is incredible. This platform already has 60 or 70% coming from members. Our work here is done. It’s going to be really easy to manage.” It depends on what people are looking for. How close are competitors? Are there any new permits coming out for a new car wash? And all of that adds up. It really does. Sometimes businesses like ours want to add a team and say we’d love to acquire this whole team and have you guys come and work for us. And sometimes it’s like, you know what? We’ve got enough team members. You guys can go on and do whatever you’d like. And that’s where the Tetris comes in, right? That’s where they’re looking to exit and not think about car wash is again or they’re focused on building other things or they want to develop other car washes in a different area that might be a perfect fit for one type. It might not be a perfect fit for what we’re looking for or someone else is.

Lanese

Absolutely!

Andrew

I think there’s like a whole matrix of what the buyers are looking for and what the sellers are looking for. And that’s where it comes together really well when you have top quality people who can who can figure out what we need. My very first meeting at Amplify’s offices, I came there and I met with Alex Pavone and I met with Jeff. Alex introduced me to what the REITs are doing and how we could do some sale lease backs, and I had never heard the term sale leaseback before because of course I came from technology.

Lanese

Yeah, nothing to sell.

Andrew

Yeah, I thought curb appeal was something that was just focused on how you know… selling your home. And it was incredible. It was this flight I took from New York to Arizona that pretty much changed everything about how we were doing it. It kind of sparked the rocket ship that led to selling most of the equity in our business eight months later.

Lanese

Right. By doing that you opened up this whole other avenue to continue growing this platform on a much larger scale through those series of events, which I think is really cool.

Andrew

Absolutely. It certainly, like the phone background says it, it began as a mistake. It really wrapped up very well to what it is now. And that’s kind of unfolding into being something really special. The Strickland Trademark Princeton combination has led to amazing opportunities on the acquisition side. And so that’s… You know, my role is literally just talking to car wash owners every day. The call I have next and the call I had before this is just talking to car wash owners. And I’ve learned what each one of them sometimes the misconceptions they have and sometimes the needs that they have, and trying to like homogenize all of them into this one bucket, you know, to help them on their path, too.

Lanese

Right. And because we’ve been friends through this process, as well as had these other professional relationships and deals and things going on… Entering the car wash business is not an easy one, when you are the guy or the lady that’s getting the calls about things are broken, or somebody didn’t show up. And I feel like what amazing street cred that you have gained over the time, even though this is a relatively short period. But working… you now can identify with these car wash owners that you’re speaking to on a much different level, because you have experience with some of the same pain points that they have. And some of the same struggles on an operator level that it’s so broad when you actually get into it of what goes into running a successful car wash business. And so it’s nice to be able to identify that with them. Because you’re like, “I hear you, I see you. I know that this is not, you just run the car through and everything happens on its own.” And there’s so much behind the scenes, even magic, you know with it sometimes, but it takes a lot of work to orchestrate all of that magic. That makes such a big difference with such a communal industry that if you have someone that’s on your same team, and it’s an insider, it’s easier to be speaking the same language. And that’s… from our side, you know, with my Amplify hat as well, we understand because we’ve been there. And that makes a big difference.

Andrew

It absolutely does. I would say that I don’t recommend the path that I took to anyone else. But I certainly did a lot of faking it before I made it.

Lanese

Sometimes you gotta!

Andrew

And I remember the first time someone mentioned that there was a DRB report. And I said who is Dr. B? And why does he have a report for me? There’s so many things I learned in three years to just get caught up to where some of these owners had. But one of the best ways — and I recommend this to everyone; I recommend this to brokers and car wash owners, people who are interested in selling and people who are not interested in selling — go through the experience of visiting 10 or 15 car washes in a day. No one’s going to care that your car is clean. I do this with rental cars, pretty much eight washes a day, 10 washes a day. You’ll always learning something. Why does this group prep my car with two people? And this one preps it with one person? And this one doesn’t prep it at all? Why is price unrelated to those three aspects? What are they doing better in their tunnel versus this tunnel? What equipment are they using? How does my car look? Curiosity is the core of any growing car wash platform. It’s where should we build? Or why should we make this choice versus this choice? And anyone who I’ve met who has all the answers, who isn’t curious because they’ve been doing this for so long that they don’t care what this experience down the street is, they’re missing some valuable information. They’re not gathering the right background to help their business grow. I think it’s really critical to just constantly be going through car washes. Plus it pumps up the industry’s numbers.

Lanese

Right, yes! And you touched on kind of one of the other personal things that are very important to me. So one, on the relationship side, just building these meaningful relationships so that you have both… Again, you have your professional hat on, but then also it’s such an added bonus and such a gift when you have the personal relationships as well, like you and I do. I would call us friends, which we are friends! I’m not just calling us friends, but also the second thing, and they’ll kind of just wrap up our time a little bit, but practicing curiosity in every aspect of everything that you do. It’s kind of like the relationship subject. It doesn’t end anywhere. It’s everything. And that’s the same way feel about curiosity because for a perfectionist like myself I can be a little, just a tad judgmental, of myself, very critical, but when I reframe it from practicing curiosity, even just shifting that language to looking at it and phrasing it that way, it opens up my ability to be able to say, I can look at somebody else doing something in a certain way that may be even better than the way that I have been doing it. But by calling it curiosity and just giving a little space to look at it, then you can kind of use that information, process it, file it, maybe take actions on it in a different way than just I’m doing it wrong, or they’re doing it wrong or better. You can just give yourself a little bit room. My ears perked up when you said that because I very much identify with just that mantra of just practicing curiosity in whatever you’re doing.

Andrew

Absolutely. It’s really important, and I hope more people are curious about looking at selling their car wash. I hope more people are interested in helping fuel the industry’s growth for the next few innings, however long that takes. And I hope that we can get more people interested in Trademark Car Wash because you personally added so much value to this company that I wear on my shirt every day. Except when I’m traveling through competitor tunnels.

Lanese

Yes, yes. Yeah, you’re like, Hi!

Andrew

Scoping out sellers. Don’t worry, I’m not wearing this…

Lanese

I know it’s 100 degrees. But I’m wearing this vest because I’m cold!

Andrew

Right, exactly. But I do think I owe a lot to you for a lot of the introductions that you’ve made for me. And also, I owe a lot to Amplify and Alex Pavone specifically. He might be almost 20 years younger than me. But he shepherded me through a fast forward process of buying, financing and selling that I couldn’t have imagined eight months doing that many, that much volume of deals, and I definitely owe a lot to you guys for that. So thank you personally, and thank you to the business.

Lanese

Well, definitely appreciate that. But Andrew, it’s such a pleasure to have you on the show today. And I really appreciate that you have brought us along on this journey. The relationship that we have with you from both the Amplify and Commercial Plus ideas is so interesting, because it’s the most complex transactions that have gone on in such a short period of time. But it’s just really neat to see how fast things can move and how finding the right people at the right time can make a big difference if you have that relationship and that trust with each other, so thank you for trusting us. I am very excited to see where Trademark continues to grow. And of course I will continue to watch and follow the brand because I’m interested, and I want to see how it can keep growing. And I also wanted to ask you just kind of as we wrap up, if you would tell me the names of your two most precious little white dogs.

Andrew

There are two little dogs that I co-parent, and it’s LeDanian Pomlinson.

Andrew

I definitely would never have remembered that.

Andrew

If you know football, there was a great running back named LeDanian Tomlinson, but we changed the boy to LeDanian Pomelinson, and the girl is Lily Pomelin.

Lanese

I will ask you for a picture to have them because I did see these dogs, and they are the cutest things I have ever seen. They look like they are my four and a half year olds favorite little stuffed animals. I could just look at these dogs all day long. So you are lucky to have these beautiful creatures, these little cute white Pomeranian dogs that live with you, and I’m jealous.

Andrew

Amazing. I want to thank you so much for everything again.

Lanese

Thank you everyone for listening to Episode Eight of Car Wash M&A, The Podcast. Today I had on the show Andrew Goldberger, who is the founder of Trademark Car Wash and also the director of mergers and acquisitions for Trademark. You can find the episodes on Google or Apple, and we would love if you would leave a review for us if you so choose, and tune in the last Thursday of every month for new episodes. Until then, thanks!

Jet Brite Car Wash

With decades of hands-on experience as operators, when it came time to sell our car wash business who we sold to was important to Sam and me. Chris [Jenks] and the team at Amplify listened to us throughout the entire process. They found the right buyer in ZIPS who would be a good steward of the brand and helped find the best path forward for us where we can continue pursuing our passion for manufacturing high-quality car wash equipment.  

Jet Brite Car Wash  
Dave Delesandro  | Founder

Quick N’ Clean

My relationship with Commercial Plus over the past 20 years has been a very professional and trustworthy relationship. The feel of trust is very important in this business, and Jeff Pavone and his staff have exhibited a level of trust that makes me continue to feel that they have my best interest front of mind. I deal with many brokers across the nation, and my best experiences and results have been achieved with Commercial Plus representation.

Quick N’ Clean
Richard Karle | Owner

Zips

It’s been a great experience working with Amplify Car Wash Advisors to bring these sites into the ZIPS portfolio. We look forward to serving Dallas area customers with an enhanced car wash experience unique to ZIPS, with the added benefit of our extensive network of stores. This year we have continued our aggressive growth track with the goal to truly shine in our efforts to be the best express car wash provider in the industry and it’s acquisitions like this that help us reach our goals.

Zips
Gene Dinkens | CEO

ModWash

It was truly a pleasure to work with the Amplify team on our most recent acquisition of three additional operating locations in our home state of Tennessee. Their team provided great support and ensured a timely and seamless closing process, and we are excited for the additional growth opportunities this relationship will produce in our near future. We know this is the first of many transactions we will successfully complete with the Amplify team as we grow from our current operating store count of 23 to well over 200 locations across 14 states in the next two years.

ModWash
Brian Thornton | COO

Busy Bee Car Wash

For years I’ve talked to a lot of brokers with the same goal; sell your car wash chain as quickly as possible. But I chose to work with Amplify because they were interested and invested in the emotional side of selling my business and truly value long-term relationships. They weren’t forcing me to take a deal just to take a deal. They listened to my concerns and goals then educated me on all my options. And that’s how I decided on the right partner for my chain specifically. I went to bed at night after I signed the papers knowing I got the best deal possible versus just having any deal put in front of me that is only about money.

Busy Bee Car Wash
Jim Mulholland | Owner

Q Car Wash

We really appreciate Jeff and his entire team at Amplify. Their expertise and deep industry knowledge helped us navigate our options and best showcase our strengths to maximize our value. Caliber is a good fit for Q Car Wash as they look to expand in North Texas.

Q Car Wash
Viran Nana | COO

Cobblestone Auto Spa

I have known both Jeff and Bill for over thirty years combined, and respect them both as experts in our professional car washing industry. Their unique and individual strengths bring very strong talent and advice to operators, sellers, and buyers with sharp knowledge, client’s best interest in mind, and an actual personal touch. They hold the expertise and performance track record to hold a very high level of respect within this rapidly-changing car wash industry.

Cobblestone Auto Spa
Tuck Bettin | CEO

Oasis Car Wash

Turning over a business you started from one shovel of dirt 25 years ago and grew to several locations is a difficult and even uncomfortable process. So, when it came time for Larry and me to sell, we chose Amplify Car Wash Advisors to guide us through the process because of their strong reputation and thought leadership in the industry. Their team was professional and did a great job walking us through each step.

Oasis Car Wash
Dallas Hawkins | Partner

Busy Bee Car Wash

Selling our business after 52 years is big deal and certainly not a decision I took lightly, turning over our family legacy was an emotional process and I appreciated that the team at Amplify respected that. They helped me understand my options and found the best deal for me.

Busy Bee Car Wash
Jim Mulholland | Owner

Ducky’s Express

I have been a multi-site developer and operator in the car wash industry for over 30 years. Four years ago, a partner’s health concern forced me to sell a portion of my portfolio, and during that process, I was introduced to Jeff Pavone of Commercial Plus. I was immediately impressed with Jeff’s knowledge of my industry and his volume of successful deal closings. In a very short period of time, Jeff found the right buyer at a very fair price, and the transaction closed shortly thereafter. I was looking for a team with honesty, integrity, and a proven track record of success, and I found all of that in Jeff.

Ducky’s Express
Richard Miller

Trademark Car Wash

These are some of the most exciting times for car wash owners. As we grew 350% in revenue in just one year, we recognized the time to partner up with a top-tier team that has mastered growth in retail and specifically the automotive industry. Amplify Car Wash Advisors had helped us acquire, raise capital, and was the perfect partner to help us reach this next chapter of the Trademark story.

Trademark Car Wash
Andrew Goldberger