Professional Carwashing & Detailing

Cutting construction costs while keeping up appearance

October 11, 2010

Question: How can a person building a wash or lube keep construction costs down without sacrificing the appearance of the site?
Anita Baron: There are various ways to save, but also times when it’s foolish to cut corners.

Owners must balance cost and quality in a way that’s best for their situation. That said, there are areas where paying for quality is more important than others.

Teamwork is crucial
In creating a new facility, a wash owner will need to deal with many specialists including an architect, contractor, equipment manufacturer, skilled trade workers, and an attorney who’ll work on issues of permits, zoning and more.

Dealing with one equipment vendor can often save time and perhaps money. Most equipment vendors have their own network of specialists.

Tip: Recommendations from other owners can be very useful, especially if the same individual is cited by several people. But in the final analysis, trust your instincts. You’re going to have to work with these experts, and it won’t be easy if there’s a personality clash or other warning signs.

Next, you not only need to find people who are fully qualified in their fields, you need to find people who can work as a team.

Although it can look like a cost-saving tactic at first, it’s seldom a good idea to create the team piecemeal — bringing in outside resources only when special expertise is needed.

Instead, assemble the whole team at the beginning so all members can get comfortable working together. This can both minimize false starts that waste energy and reduce the number of changes in your plan.

You can make it if you try
Early in the planning, clarify what you do and don’t want. Collect photos, articles, brochures, notes, and ideas from everywhere. Make a list of categories such as:

  • Room finishes;
  • Signage;
  • Glass and doors;
  • Equipment;
  • Heating and cooling;
  • Plumbing;
  • Electrical, and so on.

Then turn the list and collected documents over to a helper to create an organized file. That file should really have two parts: what you like in one, and what you dislike in the other.

The file’s purpose is to convey ideas to the design team quickly. Each team member will need information from the file eventually, and the best time for your experts to have access to it is at the beginning as they develop ideas for you.

Armed with your preferences, team members won’t waste time and money on things you don’t want and will concentrate instead on what pleases you.

Get in the zone
It’s never too early to build a rapport with zoning officials and other civil servants whose permission must be secured before the facility can be built and opened.

Experienced operators with a staff that includes an expert on zoning, permits and other matters will automatically turn to him or her. However, other owners would be well advised to hire an outside expert rather than try doing it themselves.

The technical details of local building codes, permits, and zoning laws are complicated and time-consuming to learn.

If mistakes are made, the owner may not find out until a key permit is denied after the feature in question has been built. Such "remedial" construction expenses can rise drastically, and the opening could be delayed.

In essence, municipal officials are the ones to have the final say on design and building issues — not the architect, and sometimes not even the owner.

Maintaining appearances
Color, shape, height, materials, lighting, and surface textures all have impact. A favorable impact can often be achieved with little expense by employing landscaping and pleasing exterior and interior finishes.

Lighting can be effective in calling attention to your carwash, especially after hours.

All these features require maintenance and sometimes repair. For instance:

  • Exterior painting will likely need to be done every few years (Ceramic tile will last longer without maintenance, but it’s more expensive);
  • Light bulbs must be replaced;
  • Fabrics fade;
  • Carpet wears thin;
  • Snow must be shoveled and so on.

More serious repairs may be necessary on occasion, and the time between repairs often relates directly to initial cost.

The seal on an inexpensive window could fail well before the seal on a higher-priced window, for example. Water can seep into concrete with very costly results, so installing a concrete sealant triggers an extra construction cost, but is a potential money-saver in the long run.


Anita Baron heads Butler Capital Corporation’s Car Care Division, overseeing Butler programs for both the car-care and the convenience and gas station industries. She also has experience in loan and lease activities with manufacturers and distributors of car-care equipment. Anita can be reached at abaron@butlercapital.com.