The world of Arkansas business is most famous for bringing Walmart to shoppers around the globe. Now, another success story is making a splash nationwide, as Zips Car Wash is cleaning up against its competition to become the second-largest express-tunnel car wash brand in the U.S.
Launched in Jonesboro in 2004, Zips grew slowly to encompass a dozen locations in its first decade of existence. But starting in 2014, the company has embarked on a fast and furious expansion spree, growing to a current total of 220 locations in 19 states from New Mexico to North Carolina, through a series of acquisitions. Its main headquarters in Dallas is supplanted by several other corporate branch offices, including Little Rock.
According to Zips VP of Technology, Zak Hemphill, the company’s wave of popularity with drivers stems from its multi-layered wash options and its Unlimited Wash Club, which affords members the chance to suds up their vehicles as often as they wish.
Hemphill joined the company amid its buying spree, when Zips bought the 30-location, Little Rock-based Boomerang Car Wash chain in 2016. With over 16 years of experience in the industry, he plays a vital role in the growth and development of Zips.
A double-automatic car wash is the more traditional kind, with vehicles receiving a wash and dry while sitting in place for a seven-minute process. The Zips express-tunnel form of car wash is the kind where vehicles roll their driver-side tire onto a conveyor belt and are rolled through a tunnel as various levels of cleaning are performed.
“We have three base car wash options, with the first being ‘Wash and Dry’ in which we wash, prep and clean your car and just rinse it off,” explains Hemphill. “But then the next level is ‘Wheels and Wax,’ where we include full tire washing and a triple conditioner and puts a nice shine on your car. Finally, there’s the ‘Works and Wow,’ which has three tiers of cleaning and has a better wax product, but we also offer a fourth package, our ‘Get It All Wash,’ then we top it off with ceramics, that we treat with these products found in our Works and Wow but top it off with ceramics,” he adds. “Ceramics are the hottest thing in the carwash space of the past two years or so, and in that we’re filling in the cracks in your paint to produce a noticeable change to the exterior of your vehicle and an incredible smoothness.”
While Zips continues to have ambitious growth plans – with 18 locations added in recent months, even as Founder/CEO Brett Overman handed the reins to new CEO Gene Durkens on Oct. 18 – Hemphill reveals that there are many calculations that go into the decision of where (and where not) to seek new territory.
“California may be the car capital of the world, but we haven’t made a move there yet because of the high cost of its real estate and high level of regulations,” notes Hemphill. “Different kinds of weather extremes can make a market appealing. Car wash companies love snow, so we’ve moved into a lot of northern locations like Wisconsin, while the sand in coastal cities on the east coast also makes viable territories.”
Another factor in Zips’ acquisition process is determining the additional capital investment needed in upgrading the car washes they buy into the top-tier service that meets their standard. The goal with each purchase is to have new locations up to speed within 60 to 90 days.
But the biggest revenue drivers are the Unlimited memberships, which start at $20 a month for Wash and Dry Unlimited Membership.
“Everyone else in the car wash market didn’t want to try the unlimited membership approach, but that was the key to expanding our customer base as people came flooding in to try it,” says Hemphill. “It’s our largest driver, our biggest focus and is the best deal for our customers and really establishes us from a footprint standpoint. You can use it at any location in the country and that makes us unique.”