Industry expert Steve Gaudreau, president of BRINK RESULTS, and a 25-year carwash veteran and author of Creating Exceptional Managers and So You Want to Own a Carwash, gives the low-down on what to look for and what makes an ideal site when choosing a carwash location.

How to start a carwash: The variables

Debra Gorgos: How should one go about selecting, and eventually choosing, a carwash site?

Steve Gaudreau: There are 20 key variables that need to be considered when evaluating and eventually picking a site to build a carwash on. Some of the variables are obvious:

  • Zoning
  • Traffic counts
  • Population density
  • Site dimensions
  • Site requirements, etc.

Some variables are a little more subtle but no less important such as:

  • The level of existing competition
  • Street signage regulations
  • The proximity to retail trade areas, etc.

And this list is less than half of the issues that need to be considered when selecting a site for a carwash.

DG: What factors go into an “ideal” carwash site?

SG: For a site to be considered ideal, the most important factor is that the type of carwash being considered matches the needs of the market. For example, if the site is in a low income area, are you offering a lower-priced service as part of your menu? To offer a lower-cost service, the unit costs of the type of carwash model you are building and the carwash volume requirements for profitability need to be in line with the planned market penetration.

How to start a carwash: Realize it takes time

DG: How much time would you say that the site selection process takes?

SG: To find a site that has the potential to be successful, depending upon the size and complexity of the market, can easily take up to one year. Once a site is selected, assuming that zoning allows for carwash use, it rarely is approved and built in less than 12 months. Two years is a very common framework from start to finish for this process. Obviously that time can be shortened if someone engages professional assistance in the search and/or approval process.

DG: What should be avoided when choosing a site to build a carwash?

SG:Excessive competition. In any brick and mortar situation you never want to be the last one to build and be part of creating an overbuilt market. Most new investors approaching the carwash industry tend to overestimate their ability as a brand-new operator to “beat” the competition. This unfortunate, but common, situation can be avoided by obtaining an objective, experienced, professional market analysis that can best answer the competitive question.

How to start a carwash: Follow these steps

DG: Once a site is chosen, what steps should be taken?

SG: Even before a site is chosen, the next steps after site selection need to be thought out in advance. The most important step is to identify the resources needed to complete the project. The primary resources that should be identified very early on are the equipment distributor, the general contractor including engineering and architectural services, the approval process team including legal and planning services, financial support including the lender and/or other investors and the most overlooked resource of operational assistance in terms of how an investor will become trained to operate their new business successfully. It is not that hard to run a carwash — poorly. Very few do it well. And making money in the carwash business is a function of executing the fundamentals of the business very well.