Move over, Marvin — there’s a new Martian that’s come to Earth, and his name is Merle.
Who’s Merle, you ask? Well, Merle is a pink-eyed, little green Martian who did not quite fit in on his home planet. Whereas most Martians love dust and dirt, Merle was a visionary who sought tidiness and organization. Instead of chasing the Rover with other Martians his age, Merle sat at home, researching a place called Earth that had water and things called cars — and he designed a carwash.
One day, little Merle zoomed away to Earth with his plans, and after a slight delay in Roswell, New Mexico, he ended up landing in St. Louis, Missouri, and began constructing his dream carwash in March 2016.
This is only a snippet of Merle’s life story — you can read the rest of it here. But, for those of you who don’t harbor a belief in the extraterrestrial, an earthling’s account of the creation of Martian Car Wash might be easier to comprehend.
A carwash space odyssey
Jeff Adams is the owner of Martian Car Wash as well as Auto Spa Speedy Wash and Midwest Car Wash Supply. With three different companies under the same umbrella, Adams’ love for the carwashing industry is obvious. But, where did it start?
In 1996, while Adams was attending technical school to become an electrician, he was also working for a large chemical manufacturer that sold to carwashes. This job exposed him to the many types of equipment and systems used to clean a car, and he greatly enjoyed learning about them.
“After graduation, the electrical field did not seem as exciting as the carwash industry, and I began working for a local carwash equipment distributor,” Adams confesses.
At this company, he learned to both install and support equipment, traveling all over the Midwest for his job. After working there for several years, Cleaning Systems Inc. (CSI) – Lustra approached Adams with an offer to work as a territory manager to help in chemical sales and applications with its distributors.
“I knew the equipment very well; however, this really gave me a chance to learn and understand the chemical side of our business. I met a lot of great people from all over the country,” Adams explains.
This knowledge, combined with his love of carwashing, led Adams to a major decision in 2003: He wanted to open his own carwash. After looking at several that were for sale and determining that they didn’t make sense financially, Adams decided to build one from the ground up. However, although he had some experience remodeling houses, he had never built anything on his own.
“With some great guidance from a lot of good people that I met in the industry, I general-contracted the entire build myself,” Adams declares.
While he admits that several mistakes were made along the way, the four-and-one self-serve/automatic carwash ended up being built under budget and opened in February 2004 as the first Auto Spa Speedy Wash. After that successful venture, Adams started building a new wash around every one to two years.
In 2008, Adams was able to sell that first carwash and buy two existing sites that needed extensive repair. It was then that Adams realized that he needed to make this his full-time job. As a result, he quit working for CSI – Lustra and started Midwest Car Wash Supply in addition to operating his carwashes.
Midwest Car Wash Supply distributes several brands of carwash equipment and provides service support with a fleet of technicians. Not only does the company provide service, maintenance and repairs, but it also offers replacement parts and accessories, equipment sales and installation, chemical sales and evaluations/analysis as well as carwash consultation for new investors/operators and existing owners looking to remodel.
“[Starting this company] allowed me to hire some of the best carwash technicians I know of, and that has been fundamental in the total growth of our company,” Adams proclaims.
In 2009, the company bought its first tunnel carwash. After doing an extensive remodel on this location, Adams went on to purchase another tunnel location the next year and repeated the remodeling process. He continued this twice more, and then in 2017 the company bought its first flex-serve location.
Until early 2016, Adams’ carwashes all operated as Auto Spa Speedy Wash, but then the company divided the tunnel segment off from the self-serve segment and renamed it Martian Car Wash.
Today, Martian Car Wash boasts a total of five exterior tunnel locations (with a sixth currently under construction), which also feature a fleet program and an unlimited wash club, while Auto Spa Speedy Wash has 10 self-serve/IBA locations.
The carwasher’s guide to the galaxy
Themed carwashes make what would be an otherwise routine chore and trip into a fun and exciting experience for customers, which is exactly what Adams was looking to give them.
“We started out as Auto Spa Speedy Wash, and when we grew, we realized that the name that was really new and exciting 10-plus years ago had become used by so many and lacked any real identity,” Adams admits.
So, the company explored several ideas. Adams wanted something unique that the company could grow and protect as the only one in the industry. He also wanted to give the community something with a fun connection. As such, the team spent a great deal of time going over brands for all sorts of items and services that seemed to leave an impression on customers. Eventually, through a great collective effort, Merle the Martian and his backstory were born, as was Martian Car Wash.
Merle, as the company’s mascot, is a frequent visitor around the five wash locations, meeting customers and giving out weekly prizes.
In fact, Merle can always be found at Martian Car Wash on M.A.R.S. — standing for Merle’s Awesome Reward Stickers — Giveaway days. These stickers are something any customer can ask an attendant for and have affixed to the bumper. Then, once every week or two, Merle gives away prizes on certain days at a certain location, and every car with a Merle sticker wins. Prizes range from cleaning wipes to tumblers to hats.
“We always look for [new] ways to give [our carwashes’] customers more — from free air fresheners to mat cleaners to weekly prizes. The more we take care of them, [the more] we will always
have loyal customers,” Adams states.
Customers can also tune into a special frequency on their car radio to hear Merle relate his life story as they go through the carwash.
In fact, the carwash is so invested in creating a galactic experience that its website is peppered with spacey puns and phrases that make you believe Merle wrote the copy for the website himself from his Martian point-of-view.
The carwash even calls its attendants Mars-kateers. It’s this sort of attention to detail in creating a unique, immersive experience that turns an ordinary, successful carwash into a thriving one.
Close encounters of the clean kind
If you think that this extraterrestrial help from Merle is the only way that Martian Car Wash has heightened its customer experience, you would be wrong. The earthlings manning the carwash are the true stars behind the whole experience.
For example, Adams explains, “My wife, Page, and I eat and breathe carwash, and we strive to create a truly consistent product offering to our customers. With all of these locations, we still take customer calls to our personal phones, so we are always hearing directly from the people that matter the most.”
In addition, Martian Car Wash utilizes social media to the utmost. Not only does the company post fun graphics and GIFs of Merle explaining carwash terms or advertising services and events, but Martian Car Wash is also very attentive to its social media channels, thanking customers for their reviews and addressing any negative posts with decorum, an apology as well as an offer for a way to make it right.
“I believe carwashing is fun, and our team radiates that enthusiasm,” Adams concludes. “We [are] only able to be as good as we are because of our stellar team. We have next to no turnover in our key positions, as we are as committed to them as they have been to us.”