General Article

Choosing a Car Wash Location

The most important factor in planning a car wash is location. In order to get a feel for the type of location you're looking for, consider the circumstances which cause people to wash their cars. Some people, of course, set out solely to wash their cars. These people will go on to an inconvenient location or perhaps drive a little further because that is the sole purpose of the trip.

Most car wash customers, however, stop to wash their cars while they are on the way to do other shopping and when they have time to spare. Commuters infrequently stop on the way to work, but some will stop on the way home, especially if it is convenient. Travelers rarely leave a highway to wash their cars.

What it all boils down to is that the best location for a car wash is one near shopping areas (across the street from a discount house or shopping center next to a convenience store), and near densely populated residential areas (apartments are good) and with heavy local traffic. The actual site itself needs to be highly visible with easy access into the car wash. There should be room for a car to wait in line, and get back to the street easily. A divided street, a hidden location, an easily missed drive, or extremely heavy traffic resulting in limiting access would be a disadvantage. It is best for customers to enter from the main street through a wide drive, and exit on an alley, or side street.

Traffic count is important but as mentioned above, the type and speed of traffic is also important. The best car washes tend to be located on streets with 15,000 to 25,000 daily traffic count. That is not to say, that a modest car wash in a small town, would not be successful with a far less count. What is a poor location for a large car wash can be a good location for a smaller one.

There are formulas available that weigh the above factors to predict the number of cars one can expect to wash at a given location. Other variables that are almost as important as location are: type of equipment, advertising, prices, and general upkeep of the car wash.

A good car wash location depends on many factors such as existence of potential customers, space for volume production, local ordinances, drainage, room for easy entrance and exit, cost, traffic conditions and expansion possibilities.

Generally speaking, for a car wash facility, any city with a combined urban-suburban population of 20,000 or more is potentially a good location for a 8 bay car wash. Regardless of the size of the town, equipment can be scaled up or down to fit the particular picture. It follows then that a smaller combined population area can support a moderate sized car wash facility. The fact that there are presently car washes in the area does not necessarily rule out a location.

The quality and condition of the competition will determine feasibility. One fact remains, the best location has the upper hand if the wash is kept in a class "A" condition. Some property may be ideal, with regard to location and price, but may have bad topography, which will require fill dirt, and in some cases, retaining the walls. Either of these two items increases the cost of the land improvements.

The modern car wash represents a big investment, but will bring a substantial return to the investor who has a good location, a well designed building, the right equipment, and a time tested market. Car washing is a non-inventory cash generation with no credit, billing or collection problems.

Generally speaking, your investment for a complete high pressure wand type car wash facility can be divided into: 35% for land, 30% for the building and improvements, 25% for equipment, and 10% for miscellaneous building costs and fees. Your local situation will determine building and land costs. You may prefer to lease the land with or without an option to buy, thus reducing your initial cash outlay.

No doubt car washes are expensive, but properly executed and maintained, they represent one of the most attractive investments available. The tax benefits, depreciation and cost flow continuously attracts new investors into the market. A well selected location, with a good marketing survey to back up the site selection, will greatly enhance the profit potential.

The average cost of a reliable, high pressure self service equipment package, will be in the area of $18,000 to $35,000 per bay depending on the options you choose. Industry average gross income is approx. $1228.00 per bay per month, average monthly vacuum (each) income is approx. $240.00, and average monthly gross vending income is $419.00.

A high quality automatic touch less car wash has an approximate cost of $110,000 for building and improvements, approximately $75,000 for basic equipment. Options depend on the features you need to be competitive in your market area. Those include: drying system, type of point of sale equipment, spot free rinse, triple foam wax, credit card acceptance, etc.. Land is a variable averaging from $60,000 - $140,000. Assuming the automatic does well, you could expect $7,000 to $12,000 monthly income.

Experience has shown that all brick car wash buildings, consistently show higher profits than the older sheet metal buildings. This is possible because the brick car wash buildings looks more attractive, more professional, and will always capture a larger share of the available market, especially now that more women are using self service car washes.

Concrete is highly recommended to be used at the car wash, as asphalt is deteriorated by the detergents, and will have to be patched or replaced. Concrete will save on clean-up, maintenance, and also adds to the appearance and lighting.

This area is often overlooked when building a car wash, or is delayed until later. If landscaping is done as an integral part of the wash, the benefits and profits will be immediate.

The additions of drying stalls, car fragrance machines, carpet shampoo machines, and extra vending machines will add to the cost of the investment, but will greatly add to the appearance and profitability of the car wash.

The actual cash required to begin a car wash depends upon whether the land is purchased or leased, Most lending institutions will finance a car wash and site improvements with 20% to 30% down, and a 5 - 15 year amortization.