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Selecting a site for your carwash

October 11, 2010
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Location, location, location — that ageless, world-famous mantra declaring the three most important things in a real estate purchase certainly holds true in the carwash site selection process. But there are numerous other factors to consider as well, and some of them may surprise you.

There are very few perfect pieces of property, and typically every piece of property will require some type of compromise — sometimes from the buyer and the seller, but more often from the buyer. In compromising on various aspects of the property, it’s just a matter of deciding what you can live with.

Factors to consider
Many factors come into play in the site selection process. Timing, for example, is critical. Property availability, restrictions and price can change due to economy; just as marketplace, motivation and neighboring developments and attitudes can change over time. Just because a desired piece of property seems unattainable today doesn’t mean it will be unattainable in the future. You don’t have to accept a permanent “no” in property acquisitions.

Remember too that, unfortunately, not every developer, real estate broker and anchor tenant fully understand and appreciate the carwash industry, and we often become a stepchild of sorts in their consideration process. This situation is slowly changing via developer education and various ongoing carwash industry public relations efforts.

Signage permits, landscaping requirements, building sightlines, road access, environmental requirements or restrictions, and other city, county, developer and neighborhood codes or rules are also definite points for research and consideration when selecting a carwash site.

At Autobell Car Wash Inc. and Howco Inc., two companies that have been selecting carwash sites and building carwashes since 1969, we adhere to time-tested and continually adjusted guidelines when selecting sites for ourselves at Autobell and others in the carwash business at Howco. Hopefully, the following advice will help you as well.

The steps to take, from start to finish
  • Define your desired market and then narrow your focus — what neighborhood in what city.
  • Define traffic counts, flow, and times; and know the probable destinations and demographics of the traffic.
  • Know the demographics of the neighborhoods and businesses in a 7-10 minute drive from your desired site.
  • Look or plan for a big driveway for easy customer access from the road.
  • It’s ideal to be near other retail establishments, i.e., grocery stores, dry cleaners, fast food restaurants, big box retailers, and others that typically host a lot of customer traffic.
  • The best site is in the middle of an upscale residential/retail/office mix.
  • Try to place your wash on the “going home” side of the road.
  • Look for traffic flow that is between 25-40 mph, as opposed to faster, stopped or congested traffic. Being near a traffic signal has both advantages and disadvantages depending on your position and traffic flow.
  • Full-service conveyor operators will typically want to be located in areas with higher income demographics.
As with any industry, get professional assistance via well-connected and savvy real estate and carwash experts. It could be the difference between failure or success.

Carl Howard is vice president and COO of Autobell Car Wash Inc. (, the third largest conveyor carwash chain in America and Howco Inc. (, a carwash equipment distribution company.

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