Ziebart simplifies its business model to provide its growing franchise network

with the greatest return on investment. 

By Janice Hoppe-Spiers, Knighthouse Media

For nearly 60 years, consumers have relied on Ziebart’s vehicle appearance and protection services to protect and preserve one of their most valuable assets. “One point that sets our brand apart from many other automotive aftermarket brands is our legacy,” Director of Marketing Larisa Walega says. “Our customers appreciate, value and trust that legacy. We are a trusted brand that provides skilled technicians and knowledgeable professional staff who can walk you through an educated process of how to get that new car feeling with our products and services.”

Kurt Ziebart was a German chemist who arrived penniless in Detroit in 1953, but soon landed a job as a mechanic at a local automobile dealership. While rebuilding a 1953 Packard in his spare time, Ziebart began his first attempts at rustproofing its body panels. “He saw a need for rustproofing cars back in the ’50s because almost as soon as the car drove out of the manufacturing plant it would rust,” CEO Thomas E. Wolfe says.  

After perfecting and patenting the tooling and a sealant to rustproof vehicles, Ziebart and partners Rudy Herman and Joe Selagi opened their first rustproofing shop in the Detroit area in 1959. Four years later, Roger Waindle purchased the company and Ziebart opened its first franchise in Toledo, Ohio, in 1963. Ziebart went international in 1965 when it opened a franchise in Windsor, Canada. “From 1963 through the late ’70s we were a one product franchising company,” Wolfe notes. “All we sold was rustproofing and everyone came to us to protect their vehicles.”Ziebart2 fact box

Ziebart began diversifying its product line in the late 1970s when the OEMs warrantied their vehicles would not rust for so many miles or years. The company began selling accessories and in 1989, acquired the rights to the Tidy Car detailing franchise and trademarks.   

Wolfe joined Ziebart in 1977 as controller and later became CFO before accepting his current position as CEO in 1994. That same year, Ziebart was bought by its employees through an Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP), which has fostered personal commitment, dedication and long-term devotion to building the business. 

More than a decade later, Wolfe says Ziebart’s dealers were struggling and the company took a step back to reevaluate and simplify its format. “We took a look at the product line and are now only selling the products that are most profitable for the franchisees,” he explains. 

Today, Ziebart has three primary service lines: structural protection, films and detailing. The detailing service line has been the company’s biggest area of growth, which includes standard detailing as well as appearance and protection detailing. “Last year we launched Ceramic Z-Gloss? Paint Coating, which we guarantee that you won’t have to polish your car for seven years,” Wolfe says. “It’s one hell of a product and the hottest product we have right now.”

Expanding its Reach

Ziebart has grown from 22 countries in 1994 to 34 countries today with 900 locations offering its three primary service lines. Entrepreneur’s Franchise 500 ranked Ziebart No. 1 in the automotive appearance services category and No. 151 overall. The company was also ranked No. 62 out of 200 in the Top Global Franchises and is a proud VetFran member, gladly waiving the franchise fee for U.S. Military Veterans. 

Franchise Research Institute named Ziebart a world-class franchise this year after interviewing its franchisees on the support they receive. “We are very proud of that,” Walega says. “We are a very passionate team and everyone is invested in the continual growth of the brand and company. Passion, innovation and teamwork is at the root of this brand and we are constantly evolving and continuing to build on that legacy.”

Ziebart prides itself on being a strong brand with service lines customers have come to rely on. “The automobile aftermarket service industry is a natural business to be in,” Wolfe notes. “We chose our three major product lines because they are highly profitable for franchisees. Our average store sales in the U.S. are $1.047 million with 20 stores over $2 million. The franchisee sees 20 percent of that, which is an exceptional return on your investment.” 

Ziebart provides new franchisees with total support, overseeing every aspect to ensure the new location is successful. “We are the ideal turnkey franchise,” Wolfe says. “We train new franchisees from sales to accounting and technical support and develop a marketing plan for them. We approve their store location and layout and take them by the hand through the grand opening. We are only ever a phone call away.”

Increasing Brand Awareness

Moving forward, Ziebart plans to reintroduce its brand to a new audience by adapting its website and ensuring its service centers are easily accessible to its customer base. “We want to draw new leads to our franchisee’s stores,” Walega says. “It’s really about refining our customer experience and making changes both operationally and from a marketing standpoint to build relationships with our customers so they know we are there every step of the way to preserve and protect their vehicle.” 

Ziebart will continue to expand west in the United States and is also looking to add locations in Europe and North Africa. “There is great opportunity in the world, but we have to be careful which markets, both international and domestic, we go into to protect the franchise,” Wolfe says. “Vehicle appearance, specifically high-end detailing, films and protection is estimated to be a $91 billion industry and no one owns it. We plan to be the global preferred choice for those services.”


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