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Contributed photo by Hutton & Co. / The ModWash express car washes are planned for 15 states by the Chattanooga-based Hutton Co.

A Chattanooga company has launched a new venture aiming to become one of the biggest operators of express car wash locations in the country in just three years.

Called ModWash, the business is backed by the local real estate, development and investment firm Hutton and has plans to roll out 100 locations by the end of 2023.

Hutton Chief Executive Officer Karen Hutton said ModWash looks to open a dozen sites by the end of this year and another 30 locations by 2021.

"It will be state-of-the-art equipment, the most modern out there," she said.

Hutton said the first location has already opened in Lexington, North Carolina, while another is close to completion in Thomasville, North Carolina.

She said the Hutton company will own the land and buildings and lease to ModWash, which is its own operating entity.

Hutton said each ModWash unit takes about $3.5 million to $4 million to develop. Permitting and construction typically takes about 14 months, she said.

Hutton said the company, which puts up structures for businesses such as McDonald's and Taco Bell as well as shopping centers and multi-family housing, was building car wash locations for other entities. While that work slowed, the car wash business concept remained on her mind, Hutton said.

"The right opportunity came along with the right people," she said.

The Hutton company owns 75% of ModWash while Hans Weger, a Georgia business consultant for Hutton in the past, is the minority partner.

Weger, who also is CEO of ModWash, said he and Hutton share the same vision. He said the company is founded on the concept to "make life shine."

"We wanted to create a company that was focused on customers and giving back to the communities and developing people," he said. "We'll make the car shine, help the community shine and help people shine."

Weger said if the company gets to 100 units by 2023, that will place it as one of the biggest such businesses in terms of size, though that's not necessarily the aim.

"The goal isn't to be the biggest, it's to be the best," said the CEO, who has held key management posts at LaSalle Hotel Properties, Outrigger Enterprises Group and Focused Brands.

Later this year, locations are planned in South Carolina, Florida and New Jersey, said Elle Welch, the company's marketing director.

"We have a big footprint in mind," she said about the company that wants to be operating in 15 states by the end of 2023.

She said there are no Chattanooga locations identified currently, but that's under consideration.

Hutton said the coronavirus outbreak has made it harder to ramp up a new business.

"We looked at our strategy," she said. "Different parts of the country are different. We pumped the brakes a little bit. Let's make sure everything is right."

But, Hutton said, people are still driving cars and taking care of them.

Weger, who is working out of Chattanooga, said that with the coronavirus, there are only a few players in the game trying to undertake a similar effort. Also, with the Hutton company doing the development, ModWash has a strong financial support system, he said.

In addition, Weger said, a ModWash car wash can be done without talking to anyone or touching buttons. Guests can buy monthly packages or single washes on its website, he said.

"Everything is based off the car tag," Weger said. "You've not been exposed to anything outside your car, which I believe is an important thing today. It's a small thing they can do for themselves. The car looks great."

Still, there are challenges at this time when it comes to operating the vehicle vacuums and recruiting the workforce, he said.

Hutton said that plans are to give 1% of ModWash revenues back to local communities where it will do business. Also, the company plans to put employees in leadership and training programs, she said.

"We want to make an impact," Hutton said.

Weger, who has spent more than 30 years in various finance, strategic and merger and acquisition leadership roles for public and private companies said the 1% of revenues the company gives back will go to education groups or organizations.

"Both Karen and I believe that education changes the cycle," he said.

Hutton said that after the coronavirus outbreak took place earlier this year, the Hutton company let some personnel go and furloughed others, but it has been able to manage through the crisis.

"We were able to work with lenders, retail tenants, gave rent deferrals," she added.

A few weeks ago, the company brought back all 15 furloughed employees, Hutton said.

She said Hutton has about 65 employees, while a construction company, Berry & Hutton, has between 80 and 100 employees. ModWash expects to employ about 100 people by year's end, Hutton said.

Contact Mike Pare at mpare@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @MikePareTFP.

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Karen J. Hutton, CEO of the Hutton Co., stands in her company's main lobby located at 736 Cherry Street.
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