On Dec. 17, 1903, four miles south of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, Orville and Wilbur Wright made history when they made the first controlled flight of a heavier-than-air aircraft. While Kitty Hawk forever went down in history as the location of this test flight, it took years of work on the Wright brothers’ part to conceive and construct the flyer in their home of Dayton, Ohio. In this way, Ohio earned the nickname “The Birthplace of Aviation,” and Dayton continues to embrace the heritage of two of its most famous citizens with such homages as the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force and more.
So, it comes as no surprise that the businesses of Dayton also want to keep the legacy of flight alive. One such business is Flying Ace Express Car Wash, co-founded by Dan Eisenhauer, who is also the partner and vice president of operations for Express Wash Concepts, the carwash’s parent company. Flying Ace manages to combine the technical marvels of automobiles and airplanes into a unique experience for customers.
Getting in the cockpit
Although Eisenhauer is still relatively new to the carwash industry, he’s always been a car enthusiast. In fact, Eisenhauer especially enjoyed washing cars with his dad as he grew up. However, he ended up pursuing careers in the financial, real estate and service industries, although with such a background, it was only a matter of time before he came across the professional carwashing industry for his next venture.
“When I began researching express exterior tunnel opportunities, I knew it was a great business model and a perfect way to combine my passion for cars with my strong business and operations background,” Eisenhauer explains.
During his research for express tunnel models for the Greater Dayton area, Eisenhauer came across Moo Moo Express Car Wash in the Central Ohio market. After analyzing the success of the company, he concluded the two of them could have a great partnership, and so he reached out to Moo Moo’s founder, John Roush. Together with a third partner, Jeff Gilger, the three sat down to create the Flying Ace Express brand.
In 2015, Flying Ace Express was founded, but it wasn’t until April 2018 that it and Moo Moo Express came together in a strategic investment partnership with Wildcat Capital Management to form Express Wash Concepts.
Today, Express Wash Concepts boasts 20 locations in operation. While Flying Ace started in this partnership with three locations in 2018, it recently added a fourth to its belt. The company also has two sites under construction that are due to open by the end of summer 2019. Another two are expected to open by the end of the year.
“The investment has enabled us to continue to build on our success and further accelerate growth and expansion into existing — and potentially new — Ohio-based markets,” Eisenhauer remarks.
Reaching for the stars
With so many new locations coming into play, it’s safe to say that Flying Ace’s growth has skyrocketed in the last year, and the company has no plans to let up in the foreseeable future.
“Our goals are focused around continuing to provide the best overall wash experience possible and responsible regional growth,” Eisenhauer proclaims. “We want to continue to be on the forefront of being an environmentally responsible business and continue to embrace technology to increase operational efficiency.”
Part of Flying Ace’s plans for growth includes the typical carwash plans, such as wanting to build on the success of the company’s unlimited wash club and creating more opportunities for career advancement; but, in addition to growing the business, Flying Ace also wants to expand its community outreach initiatives.
Over the past 16 months, for example, Express Wash Concepts has donated over $100,000 and more than 25,000 carwashes to local non-profit and youth organizations in the markets where the company serves, and Flying Ace is proud of the part it has played in those efforts.
“We’re very proud of our local involvement and believe we are truly making a difference in the communities in which we serve. Being involved in and serving our communities was a core value my father instilled in me, and placing an emphasis on community service will always be encouraged in our organization,” Eisenhauer states.
Creating a brand
Successful businesses understand the importance of branding and how to wield it. Branding is a tool used not only to differentiate a business from its competition but also one that helps inspire customer loyalty. While there are many facets to branding, the one that will strike customers first is simply the look of the brand. After all, your look is your first impression, and those are of the utmost importance in a service business, especially one that relies in part on impulse buys from the street.
“Effective branding is one of the most important things in this business, and being unique and different from a branding perspective is definitely an asset,” asserts Eisenhauer. “Customers relate to brands, and a great brand is not only easily recognizable but creates emotions, and if it resonates, will help build customer loyalty. Effective branding helps create an overall experience that is fun for the customer.”
The sky is the limit when it comes to creative branding, and Flying Ace is one carwash business that has soared past this limit by embracing the aviation aesthetic as a tribute to Dayton’s history.
“We believe we offer the most uniquely-themed carwash experience in Dayton — our attention to detail, wash quality and value are second to none. Let’s face it — anyone can wash a car. But we believe our branding provides an overall experience from start to finish: It makes people feel good and makes their day nicer,” Eisenhauer explains.
Flying Ace put great attention into the details to bring the aviation experience to life. The company’s wash tunnels are patterned after airplane hangars, and a windsock even hangs from the top of each tunnel like it would at an airport. The on-site lane markings are reminiscent of those one would find on a runway, and each location also features a vintage airplane mural incorporating the company’s mascot, Ace the duck, in the cockpit.
Of course, Ace also makes his appearances on social media and at company events and promotions, photos of which can be found on Flying Ace’s social media pages.
“Our fun, lighthearted branding voice is consistently incorporated in our advertising and social media marketing efforts,” Eisenhauer adds. “Our inflatable ‘Ace’ the duck mascot, for example, is a fun character that our customers — both young and old — enjoy tremendously.”
But, having a fun image doesn’t do much good if the service and processes are shoddy. For that reason, Flying Ace continually invests millions of dollars in securing the best available equipment and keeping up with best practices.
For instance, Flying Ace invests in technology to help track, monitor and maintain operations. “We have a custom-built back office that is critical to overall business efficiency,” Eisenhauer explains. “Tracking, monitoring and completing service maintenance requests is one such example. As we continue to grow, investing in technology is absolutely critical.”
Another aspect to Flying Ace’s brand is the importance it places on being eco-friendly — something that resonates with customers in this day and age. Flying Ace strives to make the smallest environmental footprint possible by using energy-efficient equipment, variable frequency drives (VFDs), LED lighting, lens sensors that shut off components when not in use and a water reclamation system.
“Our mission statement is to provide a fast, high-quality and eco-friendly wash experience while making a difference in our communities. Our guiding principles focus around ‘CARE’ — caring about our team members, customers and providing an overall great wash experience,” Eisenhauer states.
A high-flying experience
Branding doesn’t just come from your physical image, however — it comes from customers’ perception and experience. For Flying Ace, the foundation of customer experience is built on exceptional employee recruitment. As such, Flying Ace invests in and offers extensive onboarding and training as well as continuing education opportunities.
“Creating a positive customer experience starts with the recruitment and hiring of high-quality, customer-focused team members that value character and integrity and take pride in their work,” Eisenhauer says. “I believe that personal interaction creates a family environment that’s enjoyable for everyone. We spend a lot of time and invest in resources to acquire and retain high-quality people.”
Caring about the customer’s experience is one of Flying Ace’s core values, and so Flying Ace team members strive to immediately rectify any potential wash issues that are brought to their attention. The company also works to anticipate and identify ideas where it can add value or go above and beyond what is expected. For instance, Flying Ace has helped customers who have locked their keys in their cars, jumped dead batteries and also retrieved items that were accidentally vacuumed up, such as wedding rings.
“Creating a positive customer experience also means putting yourself in the shoes of a customer and ‘sweating the details’ of the service we provide — from start to finish,” Eisenhauer notes.
These details also extend, at a minimum, to keeping a clean site and maintaining curb appeal, but Flying Ace goes the extra mile to heighten the experience. For example, employees offer lollipops to children and dog treats to canine companions.
In addition, the company has a towel exchange program, in which every location offers microfiber towels in the retail office for customers to use for quick wipe-downs in the free vacuum area of the lot. According to Eisenhauer, the towel exchange program receives continuous positive feedback, and customers love that it can even engage children in the wash process, since they will come with adults to pick out a towel and help dry off the car.
“Anyone can wash a car, but it’s truly the little details that make a difference,” Eisenhauer concludes. “We strive to keep things fun — and not always too serious — for our employees and customers. We want to make it enjoyable to be in this business, and we want our customers to be proud that they choose to wash with us.”