The Anderson family has managed car washes through three generations of America — and things have changed a little since the 1960s.
Most recently, they’ve made a name for themselves with their NASCAR car washes, occupying a middle ground in the market between a full-service and self-service car wash. It’s this process, where customers stay in their car while it gets cleaned in the tunnel and then vacuum out the interior themselves, that has garnered the business so much success. And rather than come in for one-off washes, customers are encouraged to buy a monthly membership, which starts at $19.95 and allows for unlimited washes each month.
That innovative efficiency without removing customer service has paid off for the Andersons. While they started in Largo, they’ve since opened NASCAR car wash locations in Seminole and, as of this past February, on a major street in St. Petersburg. (The family has a sublicense agreement with the master NASCAR license holder based out of Chicago, which provides exclusive rights for the Andersons to use the NASCAR brand in the area in exchange for a royalty.)
Although CEO Steve Anderson is mum on specifics, he says he’s overall pleased with the new location’s performance. While their first two locations have seen “modest membership growth” in the last year, St. Petersburg’s growth has been “significant,” he says. The Andersons estimate they had roughly 4,000 members in February 2021 — Anderson says that number is since “up significantly.”
“We’ve been very happy with the site,” he says. “I would say it’s what we expected, but we knew that there wasn’t a lot of competition, at least not yet. So we figured it would be a good location.”
While the last year has been par for the course business-wise, what has changed is the level of competition within the car wash industry, says Anderson. More and more signs have gone up announcing a coming car wash and more companies have entered the Tampa Bay area with plans to expand in the last year, he says. He guessed that there are about 50 car washes currently under construction in Florida alone.
More competition news? Tucson, Arizona-based car wash brand Mister Car Wash recently entered the Cape Coral and Fort Myers markets, part of a $390 million acquisition of Orlando-based Clean Streak Ventures. While Clean Streak, under the Top Dog Express and Clean Machine Car Wash brands, doesn’t have locations in the Tampa region, it’s an example of what Anderson sees up close. A Miami-based private equity firm had owned Clean Streak.
“It’s become a very big industry,” he says. “There are only so many pieces of a pie, and competition definitely affects you.”
The Andersons still have plans to build on the success of their current NASCAR car washes, although they won’t say specifically where they hope to build next within the Tampa Bay area. One challenge, says Anderson, is their family-owned chain cannot move as fast as more corporate conglomerates.
‘It’s become a very big industry. There are only so many pieces of a pie, and competition definitely affects you.’ Steve Anderson, NASCAR car wash
“We probably plotted versus moving fast and have not expanded as quickly as we wanted to, but that’s the nature of where we are,” he says. “There’s a lot of big money and private equity companies chasing this business that have lots of cash and can move quicker than a little company like us.”
Opening a new location in the middle of a pandemic was also a calculated risk. After all, people tend to come for returned car washes when they’re going somewhere or using their car every day — if they’re not shuttling their car to and from work or picking their children up from school, then perhaps they’re less likely to need it cleaned. Did that have any impact?
“We think that our growth pattern might be higher if things were exactly like they were,” Anderson says, “but it doesn’t appear like they ever will be.”
One positive? The Andersons’ model actually uniquely positioned them to be somewhat pandemic- friendly: there is little contact required — a customer doesn’t even have to roll down their window or interact with an employee to get their car washed.
While Anderson declines to share specific revenue numbers or goals, one thing is clear: the next step is expanding to another location — or more than one — within the Tampa Bay area. It’s an eternal search.
“We are always looking for sites,” he said. “I think we didn’t realize how fast in general the industry was going to grow, but we’re looking at a few sites in 2022.”
In 2021, many companies discovered new ways to adjust to the pandemic. These nimble entrepreneurs believe that know-how — and guts — will be a key factor for continued success in 2022. Click the links below to read more about the Business Observer's 2021 newsmakers.