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Adapting to carwash surroundings

October 11, 2010
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Whether it’s the attraction of a nearby high-volume retail operation, or another non-competing business that can serve as an enticing draw for motorists, sometimes a property is too good to give up on, regardless of its unconventional shape.

But after a wash owner-to-be has made the conscious decision to build on a property that carries with it unique site conditions, what extra expenses or hurdles might pop-up or stand in the builder’s way?

Taking the usual steps
Odd shaped sites, such as triangular spaces or corner lots may provide a few setbacks during the planning and zoning of a carwash, but the process from the ground up could also call for unexpected costs.

Depending on the project itself, your building budget should be flexible to account for:

  • Unexpected fees or contract extensions with draftsmen, builders and other labor involved with making adjustments to the site.
  • Building materials that may have originally been unaccounted for in a first draft.
  • Miscellaneous add-ons nearby such as retaining walls, fences or other landscaping costs that usually ease complaints from residents or zoning boards.

Regardless of the size of the site or the type of washing, the first steps to take when beginning to plan the project should be:

  1. Obtaining water, sewer, electric and gas availability letters from local utility authorities through your city or town halls.
  2. Contacting a local architect and/or engineer to discuss local building codes and necessary utility requirements. It would be wise to touch on all updated city or town codes, so you may want to contact a public official during this process.
  3. Selecting equipment suppliers based on the style(s) of washing you’ve chosen for the site.

After your architect/engineer draws a complete set of building plans for the site, submit these plans to local zoning officials to begin the permitting process.

This is the stage of development that may show you the green light, or will send you and your designer back to the drawing board — depending on regulations and whatever unique qualities fall on your property.

Carbon copies
According to John Amelchenko, a partner with Aquatecture Associates Inc., Architects and Planners, Point Pleasant Beach, NJ, make sure all design professionals (architect, site and traffic engineers, equipment suppliers), have previous experience with the type of carwash you’ve chosen to build, and are all involved at the earliest point possible in the design process. Amelchenko’s team has designed numerous carwash facilities in the New York-metropolitan area, and has dealt with the restrictions of confined sites.

While planning the Auto Spa, in Newburgh, NY, Aquatechture worked alongside Joseph Frank of JR Frank Architect and was faced with the challenge of not only a narrow site, which typically impacts vehicular ingress and egress to the site, but a property set on a steep slope.

Amelchenko said they were eventually able to get around the issue of site steepness with the use of an engineered retaining wall, but the added construction in turn increased their costs.

In regards to extra expenses on tough sites, Amelchenko said operators should typically plan to spend an additional 15-30 percent extra over initial costs due to unique site conditions.

Too good to give up
When Mike Hutchins, owner of Frank’s Car Wash, Lexington, SC, bought some unusually-shaped property in October 2004, he knew the site would challenge his design team, but he refused to give up on the spot.

According to Hutchins, the pie shaped lot was a prime piece of realty, and serves as an ideal carwashing space for drivers around the Columbia, SC, area where it’s built.

The location’s proximity to a local interstate, and its placement next to high-traffic roads, boosted Hutchins’ estimated capture rate for what would be his eighth carwash under the Frank’s name.

Adapting to the space
While Hutchins bought the property in October, he didn’t start building on the pie site until January 2005 with an opening date set in September of that year.

And although it took about 90 days to figure out how it would work — after drafting about three alternative plans — Hutchins, along with his engineer and architect, were able to come up with a master plan totaling $2 million.

Fortunately, the site was able to reach its estimated opening date in September 2005 and features:

  • A 120-foot conveyorized carwash.
  • A 160-foot canopy area with 22 free vacuums for customers.

In the final plan, Hutchins made the longest side of the pie into the carwash entrance, but felt a snag when it came time to factor in a turning radius.

Original plans didn’t account for the stacking room that’s needed for the carwash, but adjustments were made in order to keep the well-lit vacuum area in, which Hutchins insisted on because he feels it is a great incentive for business there.

Because of the tremendous problems the original carwash plan caused, Hutchins actually suggested and was able to purchase a traffic light for the intersection at a cost of roughly $75,000.

Though the light and the road adjustments were costly, his effort did help to win the approval of the site by some residents, and also generated some good will on his part.

According to Hutchins, the traffic light and retaining wall that were needed for the carwash put an extra $200,000 on top of the total cost for the facility, but seems to have been worth the effort.


Special thanks to Gary Nowikci with Capital Equipment, LLC in Clare, MI, for his expertise on carwash supplies and site planning.

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