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Writing in favor of hosting a charity carwash

January 23, 2006
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Writing in favor of hosting a charity carwash
Robert Roman

A charity carwash is usually a collection of kids and their parents that wash cars in a parking lot of a convenience store, gasoline station, auto parts store or similar venue for the purpose of raising money for some good cause.

For example, the last charity carwash I participated in, my daughter's high school marching guard raised about $1,200 for the Katrina hurricane relief fund.

Unfortunately, there are carwash operators out there who believe that charity carwashes are bad for business and that giving to charitable causes is a poor business practice.

In fact, you can read posts on the Internet where carwash operators have asked others for advice on what they could do to effectively eliminate the practice in their markets.

The remedy most often suggested was to try and convince the local authorities that the charity carwash is allowing contaminants into the water system.

Protect the environment

A charity carwash does not necessarily have to be an event that leads to ground water contamination or the unauthorized discharge of wastewater to a storm sewer.

For example, the City of Redmond in Washington, offers a free Car Wash Kit for groups that want to sponsor a charity carwash that describes the right way to do it. This includes things like blocking off storm drains, using containment mats and tips on how to conserve water.

A group can also avoid water contamination and conservation issues by asking a carwash operator to sponsor the event at or through the operator's facility.

For example, the Puget Sound Car Wash Association offers custom printed coupons at a discount to non-profit organizations like schools, sports teams, etc.

The groups sell the tickets at retail price and keep the difference for their cause. There are over 50 carwashes in the Puget Sound region that participate in this program.

Less of a competitor

Charity carwashes may not be necessarily all that bad for business either. First of all, charity carwashes are one-time events that are held primarily on a Saturday or Sunday from 8:00 or 9:00 in morning till maybe 2:00 or 3:00 in the afternoon.

Second, they are not held during the peak carwash season when most operators make most of their money.

Third, charity carwashes do not have the capacity to wash a lot of cars. At most of the charity carwashes that I have sponsored or supervised, the best that we could do was about 70 or 80 cars on a good day.

And finally, the majority of our customers were mostly the parents, relatives and friends of the kids who were working. Is this a big hit?

If a group does six events a year at an average of 75 cars per day this would be 450 cars per year. If a carwash operator had 10 groups competing within their market this would be 4,500 cars per year. If the carwash was a medium volume site with 50,000 customers per year at an average of $14.00 per car, the charity market would represent 9 percent of profits at a margin of 20 percent.

At 70,000 customers per year and $17.00 per car, the charity market would represent 5 percent of profits at a 20 percent margin.

Based on the average $5.00 contribution that most charity carwashes garner, this drops to 3 percent and 1.8 percent, respectively.

This type of money is even less than what some car-care companies expect from their associates. For example, Oil Can Henry's franchise agreement requires each of their centers to dedicate 1percent of sales to community involvement.

Good will towards men

I don't believe that anyone expects carwash operators to give away the farm when it comes to participating in charitable causes.

In fact, if it is done right and for the right reasons, a carwash operator can actually use their participation in charitable causes and events like charity carwashes to help leverage long-term profits.

Philanthropic acts whether they involve monetary contributions or effort and time can create a lot of goodwill within the community.

This type of publicity and stewardship are actually good marketing practices. If carwash operators give in a manner that is consistent with the profit motive, charity can become a self-fulfilling prophecy where the operator is able to give back to the community and is rewarded with new customers and retaining more of their current customers.

If so, this benefit will flow right to the bottom line. Therefore, there is no need to settle for a half-full or half-empty glass when you can have a full glass.

Charity may begin at home but that is no reason why charitable causes and the economic notion of profit maximization have to be mutually exclusive.

I still believe that professional carwash operators have far more to gain by reaching out and supporting charity carwashes than by opposing them.

Bob is currently president of RJR Enterprises — Carwash Consultants (www.carwashplan.com). Bob belongs to the International Carwash Association and is a member of PCD's Honorary Advisory Board. For more information, contact Bob at roman427@verizon.net.