View Cart (0 items)

Self-service: Greener grass, wetter water

October 11, 2010
/ Print / Reprints /
| Share More
/ Text Size+

Most self-service carwashes are open 24-hours a day, 7 days per week.

Unlike an employee, a self-service carwash will not call off sick, take a personal day, show up late or need a vacation.

As such, you will need to take care of the business everyday or pay someone else to do it for you.

Not all it’s cracked up to be

Even with a new facility, you will need to spend at least 20 to 30 hours per week at the wash. Otherwise, the business may not reach its financial potential.

Since leisure time has become such a precious commodity in our time-compressed world, you will need to consider how the demands of owning and operating a carwash may affect personal and business relationships, if you have a another 9-5 job.

  • Will you be able to handle the additional anxiety and stress?
  • Will the carwash initially lower your standard of living?
  • If so, is your family willing to accept this and the financial risk that comes with the demands of starting up a new carwash?

If you believe in the myth that a new self-service carwash is going to allow you to become your own boss and achieve financial independence, you may be in for a rude awakening.

If you want to become a self-service carwash owner, you will need to be prepared to take on at least several new bosses including:

  • Your customers;
  • Your lender; and
  • Your fixed costs.

Even if you have a good location and build right, the average net for a typical self-service with five wand-bays and one in-bay automatic is about $75,000 per year.

Being boss isn’t easy

Self-employment is not for everyone. You need to be a self-starter, you need to be able to organize your time and follow through on details.

You will also need to be able to make good decisions constantly, and sometimes under pressure.

Starting up a new self-service carwash also requires a considerable amount of patience.

First of all, most things will take twice as long to happen than you expect them to. Second, most of the folks involved with your project will probably not perform up to the same expectations that you have established for yourself.

And finally, you will need to spend a considerable amount of time to become comfortable with and develop a good working relationship with each person who will be a key player in the development of your new carwash.

Is your body up for the challenge?

The 20 to 30 hours per week it takes to run a successful self-service carwash may not seem like a lot of time, but you need to consider that this workload will be added to all of your other demands and responsibilities.

You will also need to develop a love for this business or you may eventually face the reality of becoming burned out.

Can your checkbook handle it?

The average cost to develop a new self-service carwash is now around $850,000 to $1 million.

Consequently, the investor contribution or down payment for this investment will be at least $170,000 to $200,000.

In all likelihood, you will need to borrow money from a bank and quite possibly need additional funds or gifts from family, friends or business associates.

Are you willing to risk everyone’s money including your own on the project? How will you meet your financial obligations in the worst-case scenario that something bad happens to you or the business?

The bottom line is…

Being self-employed and owing a small business also requires products and services for which there is actually a demand.

If there a sufficient amount of demand for carwash in your market or are you attempting to develop a self-service carwash because it seems like a good idea for a cash business?

If the latter applies, you may want to consider going back to the drawing board and re-evaluate your purpose for getting into the business.

Robert Roman is a former carwash, express lube and detail shop operator and is president of RJR Enterprises (, a Clearwater, FL-based company that provides professional advisory services to the carwash industry. Roman is also a member of PC&D’s Advisory Board.

Recent Articles by Robert Roman