Car washes make a huge splash as service sector booms across Summit County

A motorist has their ride cleaned at the Splash Car Wash in Fairlawn,
A motorist has their ride cleaned at the Splash Car Wash in Fairlawn,

It's become a running joke on social media forums:

"Hey, there's something new coming in on this street. Any idea what it will be?"

"Probably a new car wash." Usually accompanied by a laughing emoji.

There is more than just a bubble of truth to this punchline. Some parts of Summit County, particularly Akron, Cuyahoga Falls, Green and Stow, have seen a boom in car wash businesses.

Since 2021, 10 car washes either have been constructed or undergone renovations, said Christopher Randles, chief building official with Summit County Building Standards. Seven of the 10 were new car washes, in Fairlawn, Cuyahoga Falls, Coventry, Akron, Tallmadge and Green. Randles added that the records he has do not include Stow, which has its own building department.

Kamelia Fisher, executive director at the Cuyahoga Falls Chamber of Commerce, pointed to two factors contributing to this booming business: car wash memberships and improved technology that allows this once-seasonal business to remain open year-around.

"The membership model has revolutionized the market," Fisher said. "On a good day, you can see lines at all of them."

Starting up, however, is an expensive endeavor, Fisher said. For example, Sgt. Clean Car Wash, which opened in late October in Cuyahoga Falls, invested $7 million in the enterprise. The owners said they expect to see a return on their investment in about seven years, Fisher added.

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Dorothy Somerville, president of the South Summit Chamber of Commerce, said that she, too, has noticed the increase in the number of car wash and car detailing places that have opened recently.

"I just had one call me today," Somerville said, adding that she knew of two car detailing businesses and two car washes that either opened or underwent renovations in the past two years. "We had one open last year."

Julie McClain, executive director for the Stow-Munroe Falls Chamber of Commerce, said five new car washes have opened in the Stow area in the past two years.

"Some have been in the works for several years now," McClain said, adding that the COVID-19 pandemic stalled many projects. "Once that cleared, the building projects started going through."

McClain said that while this may seem like a lot of new car washes, especially with some being close together, it still is a boon for the Stow area.

A truck is sprayed down with soap as it passes through the Splash Car Wash in Fairlawn.
A truck is sprayed down with soap as it passes through the Splash Car Wash in Fairlawn.

"A lot think there's an overabundance of washes, but this brings money back into the community and provides jobs," she said. "This should be supported. We had all the ice cream stands in the ’80s and ’90s. Trends come and go. There are a lot of big plans in the works. We should be seeing some more new things coming in late spring and summer."

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Water droplets accumulate on the window of Splash Car Wash in Fairlawn as a motorist gets their ride cleaned.
Water droplets accumulate on the window of Splash Car Wash in Fairlawn as a motorist gets their ride cleaned.

Splash car wash combines old, new car wash technology and features

Customers of Splash Car Wash or anyone driving by, will have noticed many changes at the locally owned businesses in Coventry Township and the Montrose area.

These locations, plus a third location in Green, were opened in 2015 by the Mallo family. The car washes feature long tunnels with broader conveyer belts — easier for vehicles to enter — and new vacuum facilities.

One highlight recently added at the Montrose location is the express detailing, said Danielle Mallo, the vice president and head of marketing. In about 20 minutes or less, customers can get the interior of their vehicles cleaned.

David Wachs, the head of detailing, said it's a novel service for the area.

A car starts along the washing process at Sgt. Clean Car Wash in Cuyahoga Falls.
A car starts along the washing process at Sgt. Clean Car Wash in Cuyahoga Falls.

"There's nothing like this around," he said.

In the future, Mallo said that the Fairlawn location will offer more extensive detailing, plus options for minor repair work such as window chip repair.

"We hope to open that in about a month," Mallo said. "We will do a grand opening soon."

Even on a cold, blustery day, with snowflakes flying through the air, there was a steady stream of vehicles lining up to get washed. Indeed, winter is actually a popular time for car washes.

"See all that white?" Mallo pointed to a darker vehicle that was entering the car wash tunnel. "That's our money right there. Everyone wants to wash the salt from their vehicles."

Splash Car Wash worker Kaylee Riggins gives a car a pre-rinse as it makes its way through in Fairlawn.
Splash Car Wash worker Kaylee Riggins gives a car a pre-rinse as it makes its way through in Fairlawn.

As well as new technology, Splash uses an old-school company, Simoniz, for its car wash, Mallo said.

"Their clean is unparalleled in the industry," she said. "It offers extra shine and protection. We know we are a few more dollars, but you can stretch your car washes longer."

"It guards against rust, which is important in Northeast Ohio," Wachs added.

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Brian Krusz of Sgt. Clean Car Wash stands at the Cuyahoga Falls Sgt. Clean location.
Brian Krusz of Sgt. Clean Car Wash stands at the Cuyahoga Falls Sgt. Clean location.

Variety of car washes, efficiency have led to greater use

Newer car washes also provide greater efficiency and safety, said Brian Krusz, the founder and director of growth and development for Sgt. Clean.

"Ten, 15 years ago, you might have been here for a half an hour," said Krusz, a Marine Corp. veteran and the "Sergeant" in Sgt. Clean. "Now, you can pull up, and you are in and out in about three minutes. That is society today; we want everything now."

There are 11 Sgt. Clean car washes. The first opened in Strongsville in 2013, followed by a second there and others in Streetsboro, Medina, Massillon and the Cleveland area. Most of the locations, Krusz said, were former car wash facilities that he and his two partners purchases and rehabilitated. The Cuyahoga Falls location, the newest Sgt. Clean facility, is one of the three that were built new.

Technology has helped with the efficiency and safety, Krusz said. For example, one program used is No PileUps, a virtual system that uses cameras and a monitoring screen to track the progress of a vehicle through the tunnel. If there's an issue — for example, the vehicle goes out of alignment or is shifted into drive — the conveyor belt stops until the issue is resolved.

A car gets soap spray on it as it gets washed at Sgt. Clean Car Wash in Cuyahoga Falls.
A car gets soap spray on it as it gets washed at Sgt. Clean Car Wash in Cuyahoga Falls.

Krusz said there are three types of car wash facilities:

  • The tunnel variety, where cars are steered onto a conveyor belt and taken through a tunnel for various stages of cleaning;

  • The laser-style car wash, typically found at gas stations that offer a car wash, although there are stand-alone businesses as well. These facilities have the vehicle park in the middle of a structure, with various cleaning tools and functions surrounding the vehicle; and

  • Self-serve car washes, where a business provides the hoses and wands needed, and the customer washes their own car.

"We try to have an experience, not just a product," Krusz said. "We offer unlimited car washes. We don't just have vacuums, we also have towels, air fresheners, and mat cleaners."

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Reporter April Helms can be reached at ahelms@thebeaconjournal.com

This article originally appeared on Akron Beacon Journal: What's driving the flood of new car washes throughout Summit County?