Grime fighters: New car washes are bubbling up all over metro area
New car washes are bubbling up all over metro Omaha. Nineteen new stand-alone car washes have opened in Omaha since 2016 — eight of those in 2022 — and that’s not counting the ones opening in the suburbs. Even more are on the way, too. The car wash trend has been raging nationally — there’s even a Florida YouTuber whose reviews of new car washes have hooked 15,200 subscribers. Here in Nebraska, a number of factors are apparently fueling the trend, among them the speed and convenience of the new washes, a membership-pay model and weather patterns that are a car owner’s nightmare and a car wash owner’s dream. Doublebreak
“It’s the secret sauce,” said Jeremy Eickman, co-owner of the Tommy’s Express Car Wash that opened last fall at 84th Street and Highway 370 in Papillion. “What’s so great about it is we’ll have 12 degrees and snow one day, and three days later it will be 50 degrees and melting,” he said. From a car wash perspective, he said, that makes for one really slow day and then an extremely busy week as car and truck owners rush in to get rid of the road salt and grime. And in the summer, what brings in customers?
Bugs. In the last few years, new stand-alone car washes have also gone up or been approved in surrounding communities of Council Bluffs, Bellevue, Papillion and Gretna. An industry expert said this week that membership pricing is among the reasons for the popularity. “Probably the number one thing that changed the car wash business is memberships,” said Jeff Pavone, a founding partner of Amplify Car Wash Advisors, a mergers-and-acquisitions firm that provides guidance and advocacy for car wash owners.
Pavone said his firm handled $2 billion in car wash transactions last year. Over the last decade, he said, the industry has moved away from the full-service car washes — where you hand your keys to someone and wait as employees clean your car — to express car washes that offer convenience as well as monthly memberships. People pay about $30 a month, stay in their car, drive through a membership lane to get their car washed, and they can return unlimited times, he said.
With memberships, he said, the car wash owner has a recurring-revenue model. “If he gets four or five thousand members at a location, whether it rains, snows, drizzles in between, he’s got sort of this cash flow coming in,” Pavone said. “So it’s proved to be a really good business today.”
Nationwide, he said, the industry is building about 800 new “tunnels” a year. Tunnel washes are the typical kind you see, where people drive their cars into one end of the tunnel and a conveyor grabs the car and moves it through the wash. There’s about 11,000 express car washes around the country today, he said. “I will tell you that over the next decade you will probably see it go to 20,000,” Pavone said.
The business has gone from mom-and-pop operations to bigger players involved with multiple car washes, partly because of the cost to open one, which runs in the millions of dollars, he said. “It’s definitely a different type of investor getting into this space,” he said. It’s not just the big cities seeing new car washes, he said.
“Today, you’ll see some of these smaller towns, they’re going to plop in a car wash now. Why? Because even for that small community now, if you make it convenient, you’ll find that people will get their car washed every week,” he said. “And when you’ve got memberships like this, it doesn’t take much to make this a good business.” Mason Duffy, who lives in Papillion, visited Tommy’s recently to remove the accumulated winter muck from his vehicle.
The car wash is on the way home from work, and he wanted to get the salt off from the latest snowstorm. After a storm, he waits till the weather outlook is favorable — with no snow in the forecast for a couple of weeks — before heading for the car wash. Read Article