Company grows cow-themed car wash with fun and efficiency.

It all started when John Roush's favorite car wash shut down.

“I literally couldn't find any other places to get a good car wash. So, I started looking into this business,” says Roush, who founded Moo Moo Car Wash in 2008-09. Moo Moo's distinctive barn buildings stand out in the 13 central Ohio communities where they operate.

“I thought, if I'm going to do this, I want to do this with a building that has some character and a brand to it.”

He drew his inspiration from the historic Hunter's Run Barn in Pickerington, which burned down in 1996. Roush, who was a project manager and vice president of operations with Pickerington-based Berry & Miller Construction Inc. before founding Moo Moo, had the drawings, photos and renderings of the original barn.

“We got it through zoning because it's got a historical coolness to it. That was actually where the brand was born,” says Roush. He toyed with names like “Eco Barn” or “Eco Wash” (a nod to the company's environmentconscious operations) before coming up with the name Moo Moo on a long drive through the pastures that line Interstate 71. “Our silly name has done a great job of (making people smile). Plus, our mascot is funny. It blends into so much stuff we can do.”

The cow-and-dairy theme of Moo Moo's car wash menu, along with the Stampede Unlimited monthly wash pass program, bring character to a business which might otherwise be drab and forgettable. A self-described “humongous customer-experience person,” Roush wanted his company to provide a memorable experience for customers.

Judging by the gushing comments on Moo Moo's Facebook page, Roush has succeeded. Moo Moo generates emotional responses beyond what might be expected from a car wash customer:

“Me and my 3-year-old absolutely love going to Moo Moo Car Wash!”

“We love MooMoo because it's a car wash that actually gets your car clean!”

In a playful brand voice, Moo Moo uses social media to promote local specials and events to followers. Roush has bypassed billboards and ads for social and cause marketing campaigns. The more personal, localized strategy speaks to Roush's commitment to the central Ohio communities in which he operates.

In early August, Moo Moo hosted a school supply donation drive to benefit local children served by the nonprofit Volunteers of America of Greater Ohio's campaign called Operation Backpack. The back-to-school drive is one of the many charitable events promoted on Moo Moo's popular social media pages.

“I want to be involved in our communities,” says Roush. “I want to leverage the million and a half or two million people who come through our sites a year to help do something good.”

Roush, a youth hockey coach when he's not running Moo Moo, is all about building the right team and rallying his team of employees to take pride in their work.

“I can teach the skills, I can teach the system. But what I can't teach is hustle, heart, effort,” says Roush. “That's been a focus in how we hire people.”

Building a new car wash, finding a location, staying profitable—these are secondary to the primary challenge of maintaining a stable and strong workforce, says Roush.

Beneath Moo Moo's fun brand and customer service focus is a fine-tuned, cost-efficient operation.

Roush has cut down the standard time to build and is able to bring a new car wash to market in less than four months at a reduced construction cost.

“The average express model car wash (costs) somewhere around $3.5 million with land and building, and we're doing them for typically $1 million or more less than that,” says Roush. His investment in state-of-the-art equipment has added efficiency to the operation, reducing water and energy costs.

A Moo Moo express tunnel car wash uses 18 gallons of fresh water per car. Comparatively, self-serve car washes use between 60 and 80 gallons per car, and hand-washing a car in the driveway typically uses 120 gallons of fresh water. Moo Moo's equipment scans and profiles every vehicle that enters the wash tunnel, applying water, chemicals and electric brushes precisely when needed. Moo Moo's complimentary vacuum systems sense when customers are using them and automatically scale energy use up or down accordingly.

“We see another five years of pretty good growth here in the central Ohio market, and there are some other ancillary markets we want to dip our toe into here as well,” says Roush. “It's been a really, really fun ride so far. We'll see where we are in five years!”

Kitty McConnell French is a freelance writer.