El Car Wash was founded by two Miami-native entrepreneurs in 2010 and they grew to four locations. In 2019, two young NYC-based private equity partners, Geoff Karas and Justin Landau, arrived with new energy and an expanded vision for the business. It’s a classic story of reinvention and capital infusion.
When COVID-19 swept in, Landau and Karas were already in hyper-drive. Although they had to shift their focus due to the pandemic, the velocity of expansion never stopped.
Today, El Car Wash stands at 30 stores located from deep south Dade through Brevard Counties. By the end of the year, they should have 35 locations, including their first west coast locations. In 2024, 50 stores and in 2025 they could top 80 locations in Florida.
One could easily brand the duo as the ‘car wash kings’ of Florida.
“We are ultimately a neighborhood business,” explains Justin Landau. “It just so happens there are a lot of communities that need this type of service, and we are trying to listen to the demand and be where we need to be.”
El Car Wash is the Official Car Wash of the Miami Heat and the Florida Panthers, a partner of Baptist Health & also with Zoo Miami. It seems to be an unstoppable force.
One might wonder how the sleepy car wash business could be invigorated to this degree. It is the power of offering a premier membership and viral marketing that fuels this rapid growth. It also doesn’t hurt that global private equity firm Warburg Pincus became their partner in July of 2022.
“At first, we thought we were going to just be investors helping lead El Car Wash, but given our vision we ended up as CEOs of the business, and permanently moved our families here,” says Geoff Karas.
Much like McDonalds, there is a story beyond just selling car washes. Over the past four years, El Car Wash has used precision methodology to select A+ locations. In short, El Car Wash is also a real estate holding company. Unlike most other businesses, they bought almost all of the real estate under each of their car washes.
“We are prudent about buying quality real estate, where the car counts and the daily customer journey are favorable,” says Landau. “Store count takes a back seat to us having the right locations.”
Since their start in 2019, land purchase cost has doubled and even tripled in a few cases. Regardless, El Car Wash remains bullish on their (and the State’s) future growth.
“We see seasonality and normalcy returning,” says Landau. “It will be a net gainer for us as we continue to compete against Chick-Fil-A, Wawa, Racetrac, Chipotle and Starbucks for the A+ spots.”
The long play for El Car Wash is the real estate, but Landau reminded me that car washing is their daily maniacal focus. To win there, El Car Wash is an innovator. They have engineers and staff that are focused on bringing new ideas and improvements to what they call a “generational business.”
They rely heavily on their premier memberships to drive flow and consistent revenue. With plans starting at $25/month, customers can go as many times as they like to any location and get their car washed. It is the network of stores, quality of service and the ultra-convenient locations that make the membership valuable. And, just like the telephone, each added ‘telephone’ to the system doubles the network’s value.
Karas and Landau remarked about how “this is a local network with incredible local talent doing great things for customer service and quality of the product.” They, and the investors, are proud of the accomplishments of El Car Wash.
“Finding people who care and building a culture of people who care builds an overall brand,” says Landau. “We are ingrained in our communities and support our zoo, police and hospitals with cash donations.”
Being eco-friendly is also a priority at El Car Wash. Compared to a typical at-home car wash, a El Car Wash saves about 100 gallons of water. In addition, El Car Wash uses biodegradable chemicals, and disposes of wastewater by removing most of the solids and directly depositing the remaining liquids into the sanitary sewer system where they are properly treated and processed. They also recycle 88 percent of the water used through a PurWater Reclaim System.
Innovation abounds. Mojo Donuts operates inside the South Kendall El Car Wash location. They have special promotional days at various locations to celebrate our community. Non-profit organizations can fundraise with El Car Wash by selling e-washes and sharing some of the revenue. All stores have free vacuums, some even have compressed air to blow out your interior dust.
“But what really matters is speed, quality and customer service,” says Karas. “This is our core and we work to better ourselves every day.”
For many, a clean car is a matter of pride. You can feel good about your car (and yourself) when it shines. While every El Car Wash does a good job, I particularly like visiting their South Kendall location at 12970 SW 152nd Street. It is a huge location, and with the longer cleaning tunnel they are able to put more equipment in to give you that extra clean.