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Is it time to express yourself?

October 11, 2010
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Today there are several carwash service options from which customers may choose, such as:

  • Self-service;
  • Automatic;
  • Full-service; and
  • The express wash.

The wash everybody is talking about is the express wash with free vacuums. The beauty of the express wash is the customer base because it is attractive to people at all income levels.

Competitive price point
Typical express wash packages range from $3 to $5 on the low side and $9 to $11 for the upper end; the average per car expenditure is around $6.25 to $6.50.

What makes this wash the most attractive to the average customer is the free vacuums option.

Some owners allow their customers to vacuum as long as they wish, and some set a time limit of approximately nine to 11 minutes.

This prevents customers from tying up vacuum spaces for long periods of time on busy days while other customers are waiting.

Another nice marketing tool for the express wash operator is offering the customer a complete exterior wash with:

  • Triple foaming conditioner;
  • Underbody wash;
  • Clear-coat sealant;
  • Tire and rim cleaning; and
  • A tire shine application.

Most people are so busy in their day-to-day lives that time is very valuable.

To an extent, the express wash owner is giving back some of that valuable time by providing his or her customer with a good quality wash in just a few minutes.

With the wash time very minimal and the prices very competitive, express wash operators typically see a lot of repeat customers.

Minimizing labor
Some owners like the idea of having a tunnel wash without having to deal with high labor costs. They still have employees, but not as many as a full-service wash, where there may be 15 to 45 employees on the clock per day.

In an express carwash, owners typically have two to three employees working at any given time.

There may be one employee at the point of sale helping the customer choose which wash package would best suit them or explaining how the express pay terminals work.

Another employee is often located at the entrance to the tunnel helping the customer onto the conveyor, making sure that the customer places the car in neutral and that the windows are up, antennas are down, and instructing the customer not to brake or steer while in the wash.

At this point, the attendant will direct the car through the wash. The third employee on busy days may be assisting customers or other employees and handling any customer-related issues.

The owner will be utilizing fewer laborers and this option is more attractive to some operators.

Express chemicals
Proper chemicals and equipment are of the utmost importance to the express wash operator. Since there are no employees prepping the vehicles, this operation usually requires additional products and equipment to ensure a clean car, such as:

  • Spot-free rinse;
  • Rim and wheel cleaner;
  • Tire shine; and
  • An automatic pay station with gates.

A knowledgeable carwash distributor will be able to recommend the right equipment package for a specific location and advise the prospective owner on the size of the building, taking into account the size of the lot, the operator’s budget, and even the climate.

When selecting chemicals do not buy based on price alone. Some products cost less per container but may have fewer or inferior ingredients that hinder the ability to properly clean cars.

Chemical selection is a crucial factor in turning out a clean and shiny car, and the carwash operator has just one chance to make a good first impression on the customer.

Lock in a location
What makes a good carwash location? For an express wash, the potential owner should look for at least one acre of land or more.

Check with local zoning officials to make sure the property is zoned for a carwash. The ideal traffic count for an express wash site is 25,000 to 35,000 or higher (preferably commuters and shoppers) with high visibility.

It is best to be on the side of the road that gets the bulk of homebound, or outbound traffic. Being near a red light or a four-way stop is also a plus.

The ideal population within a three mile radius is 45,000 or higher.

Choose a qualified carwash industry consultant to inspect the site with you to ensure the location is a good one and to gather information (traffic counts, demographic, etc.) to create a pro forma on the specific location.

An experienced consultant should:

  • Assist with site selection;
  • Work with architects;
  • Suggest equipment;
  • Meet with the contractor and subcontractors; and
  • Help guide the owner through the entire project.

All of these considerations are important when deciding if an express wash model is the right concept for your site. The speed and quality of the express model offers the owner and customers numerous benefits. n

David Wallace is an account representative with Howco, Inc., consultants for the carwash industry and distributors of carwash equipment and supplies. David can be contacted at