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.
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