Photography by Matt Hamilton / ModWash in East Ridge is one of about a dozen of the company's car wash units operating in the Chattanooga area as shown in June 2021.

From opening its first Chattanooga area car wash a little more than a year ago, ModWash now has about a dozen units around the Scenic City and more are planned, its top official says.

ModWash President and Chief Executive Karen Hutton says that, nationwide, the Chattanooga-based company aims to have 70 sites in operation by year's end. Through 2023, she has plans to open 80 more. Then that's to be followed by another 80 in 2024, as she directs a course for ModWash to be among the largest express car wash operators in America.

"We're right there in the hunt to be in the top 10 next year," she says. "We're not profitable yet, but we'll get there. It's a lot of investment."

Hutton is a longtime Chattanooga businesswoman involved in real estate and development. She says Hutton Company is still undertaking other projects, including building retail sites, self-storage and urgent care centers. But the company will continue to expand its footprint in the Southeast and up the East Coast.

At the same time, she says, there's a lot going on in the operational side of the business to improve and add consistency as her team grows in experience.

The company has changed the chemistry of its wash and is now using a concentrate that makes it "better and more predictable," and improves the overall process. It has also changed its equipment providers and improved customer service.

"It's about the customer," she says. "We want to make sure customer service is above and beyond."

Hutton says it's harder than it looks to gain consistency. The company now employs from 500 to 550 people.

"Culture is so important," Hutton says. "Hopefully we'll have an impact and not just about a car wash. We don't have it exactly right yet. We're always growing and learning."

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Contributed photography / Karen Hutton, CEO of Hutton Co. and ModWash

The International Carwash Association, headquartered outside Chicago, says the industry in North America reports annual retail sales of about $15 billion. In the United States, there are over 62,000 locations, with in-bay automatic/roll-over and conveyor units accounting for more than 46,000.

The majority of car wash locations in the United States are owned and operated by small- to medium-sized independent car wash companies, according to the association.

Hutton says the company was building car wash locations for other entities. While that work slowed, the car wash business concept remained on her mind.

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

Hutton says she'd like the company's multi-colored "mod drop" logo to become "like the Nike symbol."

She says her businesses are growing, as well as its home office located on Cherry Street. It recently added 20,000 square feet in a building next door.