Starting a Car Wash Business Part 1

In last 10 years, the population of cars has increased many fold. In today’s context most cars are driven by the owners themselves and would any day prefer to have a quick car wash, rather than leaving the car the whole day at service station.

The Car Wash industry has grown from as simple as hand wash to sophisticated high impact pressure jet wash technology. Owning and running a car wash these days, is not just a mere business but, its one of the most lucrative and respected business.

You’ve probably never stopped to think about where your local car wash fits into the grand scheme of the car wash industry. The only thing you know is that when your car gets dirty you need to wash it, and the closest place to get that done is probably where you go.

Maybe you’ve spent some time considering opening a car wash business of your own while waiting in line for a wash on a bright and sunny Saturday morning. You’ve probably seen a dozen or more cars in queue, with each owner paying between P50 and P500 for a wash that they may not even be totally satisfied with. If you’re like many entrepreneurs, you may have started doing some quick math in your head, projecting what the car wash owner is probably making in one month, then one year. Maybe you even thought “Boy, this place is a cash cow!”

Finally it’s your turn. As you watch your car move through the tunnel, you see how automated the process is, how quickly it gets done, how little actual work seems to be required. “How hard could this possibly be? Anyone can make money running a car wash!” you might have thought.

Most car wash owners can share a wink and a smile at the naivet of the average neophyte. Many people think a car wash is a great business opportunity because they see it as a business that doesn’t require a great deal of hands-on work, but that still produces a great return on your investment. The reality is a bit more complicated than that. It’s not exactly a mystery, but ask any car wash owner, and he will tell you the same thing “It’s not as easy as it looks.”

What A Car Wash Is And Isn’t

When most people think of a car wash, they tend to think of an exterior-conveyor wash. These are the washes that put cars on a motorized track and drag them through a tunnel where they are rinsed, soaped up, washed, rinsed again and possibly waxed. The cars then emerge clean (and perhaps even relatively dry) at the other end. But this is only one type of car wash. Other types of washes include:

  • Full-service: This is basically a combination of the exterior conveyor with an inside cleaning added in.
  • In-bay automatic (also called a rollover): This type of car wash is an automatic wash consisting of a machine that literally “rolls over” a stationary car parked in a washing bay.
  • Self-service: Most self-service car washes are coin-operated brush-and-hose combinations that the driver uses to dispense soap, wash the car and rinse it off.

Myth #1: This Business Is A Cash Cow – Sure, if you drive by your local car wash on a sunny Saturday morning, you’ll see cars waiting in line for a wash. But drive by that same car wash on a rainy Thursday afternoon, and you’ll be lucky if you see one or two cars waiting. You might even see that the shop is closed for the day. Variables such as the time of the week, as well as the weather affect how profitable car wash businesses can be. And sometimes, people are content to let their cars stay dirty for “one more day.”

Myth #2: This Is A Hands-Off Business – As an outsider, all you see are cars being dragged along a conveyor as a bunch of gizmos and do-dads spray, buff, rinse, wax and even dry them. You might not ever see a human being doing any work at all. In truth though, this is not a business that you can put on autopilot. For one thing, those gizmos and do-dads can and will break down. And, depending on the type of equipment you buy, they might break down much more than you think.

Myth #3: You Won’t Have Employees To Worry About – This might actually be true for certain types of car washes (most likely self-service and, to a lesser extent, in-bay automatic washes), but for a full-service or exterior-conveyor wash, you’re going to have to hire employees and inherit the headaches and responsibilities that go along with them. In fact, aside from the initial investment in equipment and commercial space, employees will probably be one of the biggest costs you incur while running your business.

Myth #4: You’re In Total Control – Well, you are your own boss, that’s for sure. But until someone figures out how to control factors like the weather, you’re still going to have to answer to a higher authority. No matter how much time you put into your business, there are still going to be things that go wrong – things you just can’t control.

Even if you’re a mechanical whiz, some of your equipment is going to break down. And if it happens at a peak washing time, like that glorious sunny Saturday morning we keep talking about, you’re going to watch a lot of potential profit go down the drain. You will have to suffer through days or maybe even weeks at a time (depending on where your business is located) when the weather is so bad that the furthest thing on anyone’s mind is getting a car wash. And unfortunately, the bank won’t care about the lousy weather when your loan payment comes due.

Now For The Good News By now, you’re probably having one of two reactions. You’re either: a) sorry that you bought this book because what you’ve just learned is sapping your enthusiasm for opening a business that you thought would be a breeze, or, b) you’re thankful that you bought this book because you think it may have saved you from wasting your money opening a business that you thought would be a breeze.

But before you start looking elsewhere for that great business opportunity, consider this: Many people have made a lot of money washing cars. It’s a service that is always in demand and that most consumers are certainly willing to pay for.

The point in telling you about the pitfalls first is to make you think clearly and critically about just what it is you’re getting into when you open a car wash. Yes, there is the opportunity to make lots of money and have fun doing it, but only if you put in the work required to make your business a success. The rest of this book will deal with how to do just that. Let’s get started by examining the origins of the industry, where it is right now, and where it might be headed in the near future.

The Changing Attitudes Of Customers

People today have less and less time to spend on errands like getting their car washed. One of the main challenges of today’s car wash owner isn’t just providing customers with clean cars, it’s providing customers with clean cars in as short a time as possible. Another challenge is providing the best quality of wash possible. Customers today are better educated about their options and demand more value for their money.

Your Entrepreneurial Spirit

You will also need to evaluate whether a car wash is the right type of business for you. Will you enjoy the tasks that come along with it, fixing machinery, keeping supplies on hand, meeting and dealing with customers, resolving conflicts and crises?

For starters, how energetic are you? If you’re someone who falls asleep in front of the TV every night at 8 o’clock, you may not be able to put in the time and energy needed to make your business a success. If, on the other hand, you’re a dynamo, someone who enjoys expending energy and isn’t happy unless you’re on the go, you’ll have a better chance of being an entrepreneurial success.

sources: hillandfoss.com, smallbizbooks.com, ehow.com, dultmeier.com, photo from ensogo.com.ph

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