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Charity carwash competition

October 11, 2010
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It never ceases to amaze me when I read about carwash operators that ask others for advice on what they can do to help discourage or prohibit charity carwashes from operating in their markets.

Instead of trying to squash them, carwash operators should welcome them with open arms.

What is a charity carwash?
A carwash that raises funds for some charitable purpose is usually a collage of willing bodies (kids and parents) that use buckets, sponges, garden hoses, soap, towels and placards to wash cars in a local parking lot of a gasoline station, auto parts store or similar venue.

Why do they exist? First and foremost is the lack of funds. Charity carwashes are held to raise money for charities, but they are also held by:

  • Local church groups;
  • Girl and boy scouts;
  • Recreational sport groups; and
  • Many school functions that depend on contributions and donations to exist and survive.

For example, in my school district, unless your child participates in one of the competitive sports, there is virtually no money available to support extracurricular activities, recreational sports or many of the school programs, such as the color and marching guards.

If your child wants to participate in an extracurricular activity, the parents must usually foot the entire bill. This means paying an additional form of tuition and covering expenses such as equipment, travel and uniforms.

Second, charity carwashes are relatively easy to do. To hold one, you only need to have a willing host with a parking lot, a supply of water, kids and parents, and less than $200 in supplies and materials.

Are they a real threat?
According to some folks, charity carwashes can be stiff competition for professional carwashes. In some respects, I’m not sure this is an accurate assessment, here’s why:

  1. Charity carwashes are usually one-time events that are held primarily by kids and parents to raise money for charitable causes and kid-related activities and not as the basis for a competitive business model.
  2. Charity carwashes are usually held on a Saturday or Sunday from 8-9 am until maybe 2-3 pm during the summer months and not the peak carwash season.
  3. Charity carwashes do not have the capacity to wash a large number of cars. The average throughput for most of the charity carwashes that I have sponsored or supervised has been about 70 or 80 cars on a good day.
  4. And finally, most of the customers that come to a charity carwash are usually the parents, relatives and friends of the children, plus a collection of folks with vehicles that look like they haven’t visited a professional carwash for some time, if at all.

What should be done?
Professional carwash operators should welcome the opportunity to host a fund-raiser on-site or support a charity carwash off-site.

Marketing professionals will be quick to tell you that advertising is something that you must pay for and publicity is something that you pray for.

Getting involved with a charity carwash has the potential to generate a level of good will within the community that most carwash operators could not purchase at any price.

In addition to the publicity, carwash operators can take the opportunity to become good stewards by showing kids how to properly wash a vehicle, minimize environmental impacts, work as a team, have fun, and raise money for a good cause.

In the final analysis, professional carwash operators have far more to gain by reaching out and supporting charity carwashes than by opposing them.

Bob is a former carwash, express lube and detail shop operator and is currently president of RJR Enterprises (, a leading consultant to the carwash industry. Bob is a member of International Carwash Association and PC&D’s Honorary Advisory Board, and can be contacted at

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