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There’s a science behind every color and how to use it in branding. For instance, as a warm color, orange stands out and excites. But for Zack Fortner, owner of Wash Boss Car Wash LLC, the decision to build an orange carwash wasn’t based on science.
“I always like being different. With orange being my favorite color, I wanted to make that my main color,” he states. “I wanted to build something that you couldn’t go by it without noticing it.”
People definitely noticed.
Being his own boss
When the first urge to join the carwash industry hit Fortner, he already had a good job with Toyota. Although he didn’t want to quit, he also wanted to start a business of his own — something he could do on the side. One day while he was driving around, he saw a carwash and thought, “Well, I can do that.” After doing some research, he opened a self-serve carwash with four bays, two in-bay automatics (IBAs) and a dog wash.
Although Fortner soon found he really enjoyed running a carwash, he started feeling that owning a tunnel would be the better way to go. So, he presented the idea to his longtime friends, Dr. Julko Fullop and Mike McPherson, who hopped on board as partners. Then, he quit his job to dedicate all his time to seeing this carwash built.
Wash Boss opened in November 2020 — a time of year Fortner felt actually behooved the business. “I think opening in November is one of the slower times of the year, and really, I wanted to open slow to try and get all the bugs out. That way, when we did get busy, we were kind of ready to go,” he explains.
Orange you glad you stuck to it?
To make his vision of an orange carwash come to life, Fortner partnered with Modernwash to design the building. For him, it was important to partner with a company that was experienced in designing carwashes specifically.
“They’ve done it so much and been around it so long that I wanted to make sure I used somebody that does have a lot of experience,” he notes. Fortner even drove hours away to visit several sites Modernwash had previously designed. After seeing the company’s products and speaking with its people, he said it was an easy choice.
Of course, because he had such a solid idea in his mind of what he wanted, he was still a bit concerned about getting Modernwash to bring that vision to life, but given how easy it was to communicate with the company, the whole process was very easy for Fortner. “It did take a little bit, because I am very picky, but by the time we got done with it, it’s exactly what I wanted,” he proclaims.
In fact, Modernwash was also able to provide expertise on one of Fortner’s wish list items: lots of windows. As much as he wanted them though, he was concerned about keeping them clean after washing thousands of cars. Modernwash was able to suggest both materials and cleaning methods other operators have used to keep the windows looking fresh and clean longer.
The final result was an orange carwash with a bright blue roof that, coupled with the windows in the tunnel facing street-side, allows for a dearth of natural lighting. When the light shows play in the tunnel, the carwash — which was eye-catching before — becomes impossible to miss.
“The whole point of this was when you drove by it, you had to see it. It’s not your standard block building. The whole thing is bright orange with a bright blue roof, and I’ve put an unbelievable amount of lighting inside of it. I could have saved a lot of money by going a lot simpler — kind of more of a standard wash — but that’s not going to get your attention,” Fortner asserts.
Of course, not everyone was on board for so much orange. Fortner hit a snag after he submitted the designs to the shopping center where he planned to build. Some of the approval board members balked, “strongly suggesting” that he not take that route. Fortner chalked it up to generational differences.
“They’re a bunch of older guys, and so they wanted just very beige, bland items. But it wasn’t in the contract,” he recalls. Determined to build his dream wash, Fortner hired an attorney to comb through the contract, which revealed that while the approval board could “suggest” he not use orange, legally, it could not force him to.
In the end, his gamble paid off. And while the striking design of the wash acts like a beacon, it takes more to make a loyal customer. As Fortner says, “Once I can get you in here, we wash a great car and will keep you here.”
So far, that has proven true: Wash Boss is washing more cars than anticipated.
Wash like a boss
Although he was already experienced with self-serve/IBA carwashes, Fortner still found there was plenty to learn. “The tunnel is so much more demanding as far as what time and effort you have to put into it,” he confesses, noting that, in addition to managing a larger labor force, the maintenance and attention to equipment is much more time-consuming.
But Fortner doesn’t mind the extra upkeep, because his favorite part about working at a carwash is the constant state of change: fixing various issues and making adjustments after seeing how cars come out. He constantly checks on wash results.
“I don’t want to just put out a great car — I want to put out the best car around. So I’m always trying to get a perfect car, which I know you can’t necessarily get, but I’m always trying to get there,” he says.
In his aim for perfection, Fortner put in as much state-of-the-art equipment as he could. For instance, he notes, “The license plate reader technology has been a great addition to us. It allows us to sign up members in about the same amount of time it takes to buy a regular wash. Plus, you don’t have to mess with installing stickers on windshields.”
Of course, such technology may lend itself to removing people from the equation, but Fortner makes sure that isn’t necessarily the case, because he believes people are the defining factor in the customer experience. “I am very big on customer service,” he explains. “That starts with finding great employees, which I have. They always greet the customers with a smile and provide the best experience possible. My employees take pride in their job, and this is key to creating the positive experience.”
It’s no wonder then that Wash Boss consistently receives high ratings and great reviews.
“I think anybody can wash a car,” Fortner says. “But, can you make a customer experience out of it? Can you do something different on your side than what anybody else can? I think people are scared to do that. People are scared to take chances.”
Fortner isn’t afraid to take those chances. His motto is, “What’s the worst that can happen?” After considering what that might be, he’s confident it’s something from which he can recover and learn.
“My advice to other [carwash] operators would be to dare to be different. Do something that nobody else will do,” Fortner concludes.