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Indianapolis Car Wash Startup, Prime, Seeks To Become Industry’s ‘Dominant Brand’

(Prime Car Wash)

A common trope in the business world is the idea of the mom and pop store that grew into a multi-million-dollar enterprise. Prime Car Wash, a new startup in Indianapolis, wants to get straight to the point.

“We felt like there was an opportunity if we could put business philosophy and business skill sets, along with good sound operations in the car wash industry, to develop something that could grow rapidly,” co-owner Robert Hatfield told IBJ.com. On the company’s website, they proclaim that they’re out to “create a national brand.”

The reason for their optimism, according to IBJ’s report, is that they think they’ve spotted an overlooked niche in the car wash industry. As everything — from car washes to supermarket lines — turns increasingly to automation, Prime Car Wash is in the business of a slower, more luxurious experience.

As the world becomes more and more impersonal and fast paced, luxury brands are finding fresh demand for things that slow things down. At Prime Car Wash, you can make an appointment, hand over your car and disappear into the Prime Cafe where you can get a double espresso and surf the web on one of their iPads. All of this is part of Prime’s effort to become the car wash industry’s “dominant brand,” a title Hatfield says no single business has managed to claim.

On some level that’s true. There are national car wash operations, like Mister Car Wash, and regional powerhouses, like Autobell. But even Mister Car Wash is only in 14 states.

IBJ, in one passage, quoted International Carwash Association CEO Eric Wulf:

Nationally, full-service car washes are not where the growth is occurring, noted Eric Wulf, CEO of the International Carwash Association, based in Chicago.

“The most common car wash format being constructed today is based on low labor and automation. Full-service, ‘salon-like’ offerings are certainly still viable, but it will require a supporting demographic,” Wulf said.

By that, he means customers with disposable income. While 71 percent of all Americans use a car wash at least once a year, only about one-third of those customers bring their cars in multiple times per month, according to the association’s surveys.

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