Car washing is America’ quintessential chore. But when French entrepreneur Bertrand Patriarca arrived in the U.S. three years ago, he was surprised by the industry’s lack of structure. Washers don’t need a license to operate. The largest car washing company owns less than 0.25 % of the country’s 113,000 stations. Patriarca intends to change this, along with three French associates and an app named Washos.
The service, which was created in 2015, allows customers to schedule a waterless, at-home wash in Los Angeles and Orange counties within three hours. Prices vary from $21 for a quick exterior hand wash to $189 for a full exterior-interior detailing. The company has been growing 25 percent each month since the beginning of the year, reported Patriarca, and will soon launch in San Francisco and then 10 other cities in the U.S.
France-Amérique: What makes Washos different from a gas station car wash?
Bertrand Patriarca: We take at least 55 minutes for a detailed hand wash — it cannot be compared with a 5 to 15-minute tune up at the gas station. We also wash 75 percent of our cars using a new waterless method that requires less equipment and is more affordable. Our technicians spray an eco-friendly solution mixed with carnauba wax onto cars and wipe it off to collect the dirt without wasting water. This enables us to operate in areas like Beverly Hills and Irvine that are impacted by droughts and forbid the usage of water when washing cars. Since we launched our company, about twenty other startups entered the business using the “green washing” angle.
Why did you choose to start a business based on something that can be viewed as a luxury?
Car washes are not a need, of course, but they are not a luxury either — you can wash your car for five dollars at a gas station. We first thought that our service would attract car enthusiasts who wash their cars at least once a week, but we see now that that our main clients are working moms who are so busy that they don’t have time to do all the chores. More than half of our customers are women.
What is your plan for expansion in the rest of the U.S.?
We have currently 110 washing technicians in the counties of Los Angeles and Orange. We’re planning to expand to San Francisco and Las Vegas next. Los Angeles was our laboratory; we conceived a model that we can replicate in any other city. One of our biggest challenges at the beginning was hiring technicians. We started by contracting companies and hired independent technicians, but not everyone was using the same techniques or equipment. This led to dissatisfied customers and hurt our brand. We eventually decided to open our own academy to train up to 50 new technicians per week. We put this technique into a playbook that we will use to expand our business anywhere in the U.S.