Tommy’s Express Car Wash: Revolutionizing the car wash industry

Historically, car washes have required manual labor with a much slower wash process. On the other hand, since its founding in 1969, Holland, MI-based Tommy’s Express Car Wash has evolved as a national car wash franchise that offers quick service and a professional clean that has completely changed the way a consumer experiences a car wash. Through its innovative offerings like state-of-the-art car wash facility, robust stainless steel car wash equipment, Tommy Transporter Dual Belt Conveyor, Tommy Club app-based membership club, proprietary POS system with an advanced Wash Club license plate reader system and an easy chem detergent management system; Tommy’s Express Car Wash successfully packs quality service with a great experience and has found success by creating raving fans. Tommy’s Express Car Wash is currently expanding through franchising since 2016. They currently have 39 operating franchise units and 80 are on the way–opening by the end of 2020.

We spoke with Ryan Essenburg, Co-Founder, President & Chief Innovation Officer at Tommy’s Express Car Wash to find out more about his successful business, his passion for changing lives and his intentions on shaking the car wash market.

"Our company culture is built on the words “We Own It.” In our company, that stands for Wash quality, Exceptional guest experience, Outstanding teamwork, Winning attitudes, Never-ending pursuit of excellence, Immediate call to action, and Training."

The ultimate car wash platform

Ryan Essenburg: “To define Tommy’s Express Car Wash, it is a unique blend of technology product, brick & mortar service businesses, and recurring revenue model. A truly rare and perfect trio! We have a modern, forward-thinking mentality built on a platform of age-old wisdom, producing the perfect cultural mix for disruptive car washing. We modernize a very primitive car wash industry with a unique platform for easy exterior car washing, conveniently located on retail corners across the country. We created a moving floor belt conveyor system to make it easy to load your car into our car washes without having to line up. We then created a mobile app to manage your unlimited membership and eliminated any need to get out of your car or roll your window down. Our app allows customers to come through at their convenience with unlimited car washing for a flat monthly rate. Also, our guests can wash their vehicles at any location worldwide with their membership. We provide a truly “effortless” wash experience for the guests to get in and out quickly and on with their day. The fast wash process allows us to automatically wash over 200 cars per hour with no manual effort in the wash process. Our automation ensures a great finished product with a clean, shiny, and dry vehicle at the end.  Self-interior cleaning centers at every location allow you to clean your interior whenever you want using our proprietary interior cleaning kits, so no one needs to get inside your vehicle. That, topped with overall guest experience provides our guests with a memorable experience that turns them into raving fans for a lifetime.”

Ryan Essenburg, Co-Founder, President & Chief Innovation Officer, Tommy’s Express Car Wash

Committed to exceeding expectations

Ryan Essenburg: “Our company culture is built on the words “We Own It.” In our company, that stands for Wash quality, Exceptional guest experience, Outstanding teamwork, Winning attitudes, Never-ending pursuit of excellence, Immediate call to action, and Training. We integrate these values into all aspects of the organization and all roles, which helps us deliver on our mission to Enrich Lives, Add Value, and Serve Communities. The purpose of our service is to frequently clean the exterior of consumers’ vehicles in an automated, fast, and easy manner, so they can get on with their busy day. When your car looks great, you feel great. Therefore, we believe the real purpose of our service is to make people feel great!”

Built on a legacy of 50 years

Ryan Essenburg: “In 2019, we celebrated our 50th year of business, from when we started in 1969 with our car washes in Michigan. We grew that chain to 6 locations and then entered the car wash equipment manufacturing business. We saw a need to design more robust products made of stainless steel in order to support high volume car washes. We patented our round arch equipment design and later patented our iconic building design as products available to car wash investors. We built several hundred carwashes for other people using our building and equipment components, including our own detergents line and controller technologies. Many of these car washes were very successful and a notch above the current car washes in the industry, but we felt we could do more. The products alone couldn’t make the perfect carwash. We realized that our 50 years of car wash ownership and operations had deep roots of processes and marketing tactics that these independently branded carwash customers lacked. We felt like we were building ‘fighter jet carwashes, without the pilot’s license to fly them.’ Around 2010, we began the steps to connect cutting edge products, with 50 years of processes. We combined the two halves—supply chain and corporates to reprocess expertise—to form Tommy’s Express Car Wash.”

Fueling the American dream

Ryan Essenburg: “I grew up in the industry and this is now my 20th year in the business, with no plans to go anywhere else. I enjoy seeing an empty piece of dirt turn into something magnificent and likewise watching dirty cars come in one end and clean cars go out the other end. Growth and opportunity also keep me striving ahead as we are filling a serious gap in service offering around the world.”

“The company started with my father’s vision to help other people become successful. He was already successful with our washes and used our equipment business to consult and help others get into business for themselves. Today, Tommy’s Express Car Wash is my way of sharing my family’s success with others, to help them enrich lives, add value, and serve their local communities. Undoubtedly car washing is a great business: not food, low labor, fun environment, strong returns without having to build a ton of locations, and service business which means higher upfront investment for automation but larger margins ongoing. To me, it’s immensely gratifying to help other people build businesses and live abundant lives, all while giving them a lifestyle that doesn’t require managing a lot of people or properties.”

“Tommy’s Express Car Wash cares about franchisee success and provides resources to help new franchisees succeed. First and foremost we offer proprietary product and service innovation. Further, we provide financial analysis and coaching operation, support with monthly and quarterly site visits and remote camera monitoring, marketing support with managed social media responses and content creation, centralized guest service administration, and an ongoing training hub called Tommy University. We also established a franchise advisory council early on to be the voice of franchisees, as well as an annual convention called Tommy Club where we build lifelong friendships and grow as a team. We offer multi-unit development territories, and many of our franchisees are building locations as fast as they can so I believe that’s a good thing!”

Gaining momentum

Ryan Essenburg: “Tommy’s Express Car Wash is on the path of rapid growth with the end goal of global car wash domination, to serve communities that are underserved worldwide. We will soon be bringing on Saudi Arabia, France, United Kingdom, and Australia sites as well.”

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