Whistle Express to add more Chattanooga car washes

Automated car wash chains grow membership and business

Two years after entering the Chattanooga market by acquiring the former Surf’s Up Car Wash sites in October of 2021, Magnolia Wash Holdings has washed away the Surf’s Up name and consolidated all of its growing number of conveyor car washes under its Whistle Express banner. Among more than 100 current locations the Charlotte, North Carolina-based company operates, there are currently eight Whistle Express locations in Southeast Tennessee, and company CEO Jose Costa is eager to add two to four more locations in the Chattanooga market within the next couple of years.

 

“I joined the company about 20 months ago, and we had 16 different brands (acquired through purchases and developments across the Midwest and Southeast),” Costa said in a Zoom interview Monday. “Like any good growing retail business, we wanted to be unified under one banner and after spending some time analyzing all of our brands we could use, we picked Whistle Express as our name.” On Monday, Magnolia Wash Holdings announced all 107 of its existing stores — and about a dozen preparing to open later this month — are now displaying the Whistle Express name.

 

Costa said the whistle name has a fun connection with local sports, which Magnolia is helping promote through Little Leagues, churches and other sporting leagues. Costa is hoping to sound that whistle more often in the Chattanooga region by either buying and converting existing car washes to the Whistle Express brand or building new units to capitalize on the growing interest in conveyor car cashes. The company is looking to add at least 50 more locations across its 10-state region in the next year, moving into the top 10 national car wash brands, Costa said.

 

Staff Photo by Dave Flessner / The Whistle Express car wash, like most of the growing chain of conveyor machine car washes, encourages customers to subscribe to regular car washes as members; Whistle Express has locations in Chattanooga at 417 Signal Mountain Road, shown here, as well as 7302 Lee Highway. The growing chain also has two storefronts in Cleveland and another in Dayton, Tenn.

 

“We’re looking to grow where we already have a presence,” Costa said. “Chattanooga is one of higher density markets, but we continue to look for more opportunities, both to acquire independent operators and to build new stores.” More than half of the company’s business now comes from its membership of more than 210,000 vehicle owners across its footprint. “Those members are our most loyal customers and visit us most frequently,” Costa said.

 

With multiple locations, Whistle Express members can access car washes while they travel around town or to different cities, according to Garrison Miller, a regional director for Whistle Express. “The feeling of driving around in a clean car is a little win that can brighten any day, and Whistle Express makes those little wins quick, easy, and affordable,” Miller said in an announcement of the company rebrand Monday. “We are thrilled to offer this experience to Chattanooga-area drivers.”

 

The typical new conveyor car wash can clean the exterior of a vehicle in only 3 minutes and Whistle Express gives car owners free towels and cleaning supplies to clean the interior of their vehicles. Costa said the automated car cashing storefronts typically cost about $5 million to site and build, but he said they are quicker, cleaner and better for the environment than washing a vehicle at home. “We recycle about 85% to 90% of the water we use, which is far better than when people wash their car at home,” Costa said. “We expect the industry to continue to grow and, as it does, we also expect there is likely to be more consolidation in the industry.”

 

Nationwide, Grand View Research, a San Francisco-based market analytics firm, estimates U.S. car washes generated nearly $14.7 billion in revenues in 2021, and the industry will grow at an annual rate of 5.5% through the decade.

 

Biggest conveyor car wash chains The Commercial Plus Group ranked the biggest car wash chains this year in its annual “Top 100 Conveyor Car Washes.” The largest U.S. conveyor car wash chains by number of locations are:

1. Mister Car Wash: 465.

2. Driven Brands: 418.

3. Zips Car Wash: 280.

4. Club Car Wash: 233.

5. Tidal Wave Auto Spa: 210.

6. Quick Quack Car Wash: 210.

7. Tommy’s Express: 176.

8. Spotless Car Wash: 157.

9. GO Car Wash: 145.

10. Mammoth Holding: 122.

11. Whistle Express: 107.

12. WhiteWater Express: 102.

13. ModWash: 93.

Source: CPTop100

 

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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

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

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