Hello again everyone. I hope all of you are enjoying your fall and having a great time during this busy season. Here on the West Coast, we are coming into one of our really busy seasons. This is great carwashing weather, and a lot of people have been contacting me about getting into the business.

Two common questions they are asking me are: How much money do I need, and what kind of profits can I expect in return?

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My response is usually: Do you have at least $1 million liquid that you can afford to lose? And, can you live with around 15 to 20 percent annual return?

Most people cringe at that those two prerequisites and are suddenly hit with a reality check. Those who do not flinch are ready for the early stages of getting into the carwash business.

Now, the question is where to send these newbies and which carwash model to put them into. Hence, the topic of this article: express carwashing.

No need to labor

Express carwashing has been popular now for quite some time, especially on the East Coast towards the South in states like Florida.

Here on the West Coast, they are really becoming popular and for good reason; labor laws and other factors are making it increasingly difficult to have full service washes operate at the same profit level once enjoyed many years ago. Now, that’s not to say that full service is unprofitable or risky — just the opposite. It is very profitable — you just have to know what you are doing and be cognizant of the environment in which you operate.

So, why express? Well, let’s examine some of the operational procedures associated with this model, and you can see for yourself why the express model is attractive to both the new investor and savvy operator alike.

First and foremost, there’s virtually no labor. That’s not to say there are no employees whatsoever. This carwash model requires only a handful of workers, and they don’t actually “touch” the car. This decreases the need for surety bonds and other types of added costs that are now part of the full service model. However, just to be on the safe side, I do recommend carrying a bond where applicable.

Second, by not really having any labor, the need for extensive management is gone as well, which brings us to the point of what express carwashing is all about — volume without labor.

Express service from start to finish

There are definite factors and formulas that go into making a successful express wash, which we will discuss in a later article, but for now let’s concentrate and focus on the operational aspects of express from beginning to end:

The line to the carwash entrance and queuing area is formed in a straight or sometimes curved pattern with the entrance at a straight, angled or horseshoe (u-turn) endpoint.

The greeter (greeting station) is automated by using a kiosk, instead of a person, although some washes still use an actual person inside a booth, which is sometimes very helpful. I also recommend positioning an employee at the actual computer kiosk during the busy times.

The tire cleaning, wheel cleaning and tire dressing applicators are all automated and actually work really well, and in many cases, they look better than hand-applied methods, which, of course, cost much more.

The tunnel itself tends to be a little longer and chock-full of very high-tech and expensive equipment that is usually geared towards high-strength, industrial-type cleaning versus “gentle hand wash”-type equipment.

There is also a growing trend to add some type of vending at the end (or beginning) of the tunnel so as to offer customers several different products to help clean their cars and perhaps detail the interior a little. These items include window cleaning towels, dashboard wipes, fragrances and drying towels.

Once the customer reaches this area, he or she is probably near the self-serve vacuum area, and many owners have installed air nozzles there too as a convenience for those customers. Note that some carwashes (particularly the busy ones) put up a sign, noting “5/10 MINUTE LIMIT” in the vacuum area. This will help reduce complaints and get customers moving along much faster.

This basically summarizes the makings of the express wash model and most of its components along with a general characteristic of layout and throughput options.

One of the great facets of the express wash model is that there is not a lot of cash involved in most demographics. Obviously, this changes in more urbanized areas, but on the whole, most of the transactions are done electronically.

Aside from that, the other important thing to remember is conducting maintenance inside and throughout the carwash property. The more customers you have at the facility, the more maintenance you will need to do. Preventative measures in this area will save you a bundle in cash and headaches.

As always, please feel free to call me if you have any questions or need any help. ’Til next time … keep all lanes open.


Christopher C. McKenna of McKenna Assets LLC, based in Redondo Beach, California, can be reached at (310) 947-9711 or via email at [email protected]. Visit www.carwash-consultant.com for more information on specific customer marketing. For more information on this subject and other carwash equipment, products and services, please visit www.theschoolofwash.com.