Two multimillion-dollar European-style indoor car washes are taking shape in west Little Rock and Maumelle, and they’re expected to open this summer, joining the Splash Car Wash & Oil Change chain of Little Rock.
The car washes, which are being built by Baldwin & Shell Construction Co. of Little Rock, will be unlike any others in Arkansas, Splash owner Paul Stagg told Arkansas Business, so he isn’t worrying about competition in a crowded market.
“There’s a lot of fast food places, but Chick-fil-A doesn’t have to share their business, do they?” Stagg asked. “You know what I mean? If you do it really, really well. And if you build a really nice place and you operate it really well, again, with really nice, friendly people, then chances are you’re going to be the one that gets the business.”
Stagg and his son, Chief Financial Officer Matt Stagg, already operate 16 standard-model Splash car washes, 14 in central Arkansas, one in Russellville and one in Rogers.
Paul first saw an indoor car wash at a tradeshow in Amsterdam in 2015. They can be found throughout Europe — in Amsterdam and Germany in particular — as well as in Washington, D.C., he said.
“I saw it there, and just, I loved it. It made sense,” he said. “And I just like to do nice things.”
Seven years later, the Staggs have two indoor washes in the works: a $12 million project underway at 15701 Chenal Parkway in Little Rock, inside the former Altitude Trampoline Park, a casualty of the pandemic downturn; and a smaller, $9 million to $10 million project coming together at 117 Audubon Drive in Maumelle, inside a former Walmart Neighborhood Market. The company closed on both properties in late 2020, Matt Stagg said.
Paul Stagg said both sites were a good fit because of their proximity to homes and heavy traffic.
The Chenal wash is just down the road from big Kroger and Costco stores, and the Maumelle wash sits right off Maumelle Boulevard, the city’s main thoroughfare.
Paul Stagg expects the efficiency and novelty of the indoor washes to attract more monthly memberships than the standard washes.
“This is not another car wash. It’s remarkably different,” he said. “I just think we have an extreme competitive advantage.”
The indoor car washes are expected to employ 30 full-time equivalents each, at annual pay from $30,000 to $75,000, Matt said. Splash has about 230 employees right now.
The indoor car washes are more expensive to build than the standard models, which cost around $5 million to build. They’re also larger — 35,000 SF versus the average 5,000 SF of the traditional washes — with indoor cleaning areas, lobbies and restrooms. It’s all part of Paul Stagg’s desire to give customers “a pleasant experience.”
“That’s really what we want, for you to enjoy the atmosphere,” he said. “We want this to be your happy place.”
Walking around the under construction Chenal location, he pointed to where two 150-foot wash tunnels will be, capable of handling 3,000-4,000 cars per day, along with four pay stations. The Maumelle location will have one wash tunnel and about half that capacity.
The tunnels are at least 30% longer than tunnels in standard car washes. Not only can they handle more cars, but they enable a faster and higher-quality wash by housing more equipment, he said.
Along with the free outdoor vacuums customers get at Splash’s standard-model car wash, 24 indoor vacuums will be available at both facilities for customers who pay a monthly membership fee.
Both facilities will have fast-charging electric vehicle stations capable of fully charging a vehicle in 20-30 minutes. And an interior cleaning system, staffed by 16 people and powered by an automated conveyor system, will be able to clean the interior of a vehicle in 12 minutes.
“Overhead, we will have a vacuum system on a trolley,” Paul Stagg said. “So we’ll actually clean the inside of your car while it’s moving.”
He said interior cleaning, because it requires more labor, isn’t profitable unless it’s automated, which is why other Arkansas car washes don’t offer the service.
Paul Stagg said customers will leave their cars during the interior cleaning. A lobby waiting room will have a children’s area and a window letting customers see their vehicle throughout the process.
The facility also includes a conference room for training and planning, a break room for employees, separate restrooms for employees and customers, and a manager’s office with a view of the car wash operation.
Also on site is a detached building housing a quick oil change operation.
Paul said the two European-style car washes will be energy efficient and recycle its water. He’s also considering solar power to run them.
The company is focused on encouraging customers to buy monthly memberships for its car washes. Memberships range from $19 for the most basic unlimited wash-only package to $69 for the best unlimited package, which includes washes and interior cleaning. The one-time cost for the most basic wash is $19; the one-time rate for the best wash and interior cleaning is $49.
Memberships are reliable revenue for Splash; revenue from one-time fees can vary based on factors including weather, Paul Stagg said. He said most of the costs for the company are fixed, tied to the building, so reliable revenue is a must.
It also doesn’t cost the business much to wash a car more than once, so these memberships are a win-win for both customers and Splash, he said. For $69, customers can come as often as they’d like and get a 30% discount on oil changes.
He said the company is trying to tap into changing buying habits, as many consumers are now paying for monthly subscriptions for things like streaming video.
Splash has a busy year ahead. Paul Stagg said the company doesn’t plan to build more European-style car washes unless another perfect property comes along.
Instead, he aims to open 10-15 of the standard-model car washes each year. Ten properties are under contract now, and car washes on those properties are set to open this year, he said.