Since the beginning of the express carwashing model, operators across the country have offered very similar services: a quick service experience with automated pay stations and a fast tunnel wash. The company goals? To get lots of cars clean, dry and shiny in a short period of time. Most operators implemented self-serve vacuums, but they did very little beyond that.

Some things never change — for some. But, for a handful of operators across the country, the importance and value of offering a little more than just clean, dry and shiny cars is at the forefront of their minds. From reward apps and social media channels full of engaging content to friendly mascots and lollipops for the youngest customers, the industry has started to shift its focus from just carwashing to an engaging experience that’s taking place well beyond the tunnel. 

For instance, in 2010, Quick Quack Car Wash began offering a mobile app for rewards and constant connectivity to its customers. In 2011, Zips Car Wash started collecting customers’ email addresses and phone numbers for a Text Club with a free carwash code just for signing up. The Text Club grew to over 40,000 customers in just a few short months. Over the last 10 years, the industry’s leaders have emerged from their constant eye on the weather and their bottom lines to notice that there could be so much more to this industry. 

Several large chain operators across the country are creating cultures within their organizations that exemplify that life is, indeed, more than just washing cars. A culture where character is built and challenged all the way from the headquarters to the frontline team of customer service associates. A culture where community involvement and betterment are just as important as properly working equipment. A culture where daily growth of team members is just as important as car count. 

The Zips Way

In 2016, our chain, Zips Car Wash, implemented the Zips Way. The Zips Way is a new culture in carwashing that builds a team of extraordinary people, working together in a unique, high-performing environment. The company has developed 30 fundamentals that describe daily practices that define the culture of Zips Car Wash. 

There’s one fundamental for each day of the month. Time is taken daily by every team member at over 156 carwashes across the country to learn and implement the company’s core goals. The most important ones comprise the company’s mission statement to be #SRFF: to provide services that are “Safe, Right, Fast and Friendly.” The rest of the month’s fundamentals include character-building on integrity, honoring your commitments and being willing to simply sweep the floors — the lowest task on the totem pole. 

What makes this approach unique? The company’s goal is to filter down from the head of its organization an attitude of service, a commitment to do the right thing and a community where the leadership team is no more important than the new team member who is just learning to guide cars. Case in point, the company’s chief operating officer, Harrison Hemphill, is also known as “Head Janitor.” 

Hemphill believes operating a successful business involves every team member tackling the most mundane tasks while also acting as if he or she is the owner of that carwash. Team members are encouraged to operate in a mindset asking themselves, “What would I do if this was my company? What would I do if this was my own money?” Taking these thoughts into consideration shapes their thinking and, ultimately, the service they provide and leadership roles they play. 

“We aren’t just hiring men and women to open the doors each morning; our goal is to provide a work environment that challenges our team members to be better citizens and to find their true calling in life,” says Hemphill. “The concept behind creating the Zips Way began as an effort to train our teams to be better members of the community and to see our industry grow in a positive light for the communities we serve. Taking the time and effort to teach our team members to be generous, friendly and helpful individuals goes beyond just washing cars for us. It shapes our company for the future, and it shapes the lives of our team members.” 

Creating a common culture among 156 stores has proven difficult at times. The company has locations in 15 states with its headquarters located near the center of operations in Little Rock, Arkansas. One thing that has pulled the team together is its “Red Shoes, Can’t Lose” motto. By simply encouraging team members to wear red tennis shoes — while making clear that it’s not a company policy — individuals feel a part of something greater and want to get on board with the “can’t lose” positive thinking that comes with the company’s culture. 

Cultures of community outreach

Other industry leaders are working with the same efforts in mind. Mike’s Carwash, which has been in operation for over 70 years, was one of the first to shift the perception of the industry through its unique uniform style. This company’s dress code still sets it apart as a business that strives for perfection and order in its operations. A friendly smile seems to accompany the dress code policy and sets the tone for the customer’s experience. 

In addition, Quick Quack Car Wash has held a long-standing reputation for its “Fast. Clean. Loved … Everywhere” company culture. A company that started with five friends working on a business model for a college project has now grown into a thriving business with over 70 stores. Travis Kimball, one of the company’s owners, claims that it’s their team that makes them unique. They pride themselves on being able to create a fun environment for customers and team members. 

Quick Quack also sees the importance of community investment as a growing chain. They hold preview fundraisers with every grand opening of a new store. During the event, they select members of the community for whom to hold a fundraiser while also giving free preview carwashes to their supporters, according to a recent article in The Foothills Focus.

Zips Car Wash created several community-minded programs in 2017 and 2018 in an attempt to educate customers beyond your typical carwash knowledge and to support local organizations. The ZipsCares program is a new concept for fundraising. No more sign holding on street corners. Zips’ totally free fundraising program allows students and organizations to sell a one-month premium level unlimited carwashes pass, and 100 percent of the proceeds go to that organization. In addition, the community supporter gets a chance to try Zips’ unlimited services for a full month before joining the Unlimited Wash Club. 

Zips Car Wash’s Drive Clean® program began in 2018 with a simple challenge to young drivers to always drive sober. The initiative began in the company’s backyard at Little Rock, Arkansas, high schools. Students who pledged to Drive Clean® were entered to win prizes and received a student discount on carwash plans at the surrounding Zips locations. During its initial launch, hundreds of students signed the pledge. The company hopes to bring this important topic to the forefront of students’ minds. 

“As a growing company, our investment in our team members and local communities is more critical than ever,” states Brett Overman, founder and owner of Zips Car Wash. “I never dreamed carwashing would bring us to where we are today, but through the Zips Way, we’ve seen significant change in the lives of our team members and customers through something as simple as a carwash. Shaping the character of our team helps us grow leaders within our organization and sets them up for a career in our industry.” 

Some days, the Zips Way means a smile and an encouraging word from a team member to a customer, and some days that looks like the over $500,000 Zips Car Wash has donated to local organizations to make the communities it serves better places. “Both are equally important and shape the culture we strive daily to share with those around us,” Overman adds. 

For an industry that started out as “mom and pop” operations across the country, carwashing has grown quickly into thriving, community-minded business models that are doing more than just washing cars. Creating a unique environment that focuses on more than just business growth has proven to change the lives of individuals and communities. And, at the end of the day, isn’t that what truly matters? 


Sarah Elizabeth Falanga is a marketing, PR and social media consultant for Zips Car Wash.