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Starting a Carwash

Investing in a carwash education

Perhaps the most well-known corporate training program in the world is McDonald’s Hamburger University. There, employees learn restaurant management skills that can help them advance their careers within the company.

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Most industries, in fact, have some type of training available, and the carwash industry is no exception — although, according to Bob Fox, Sonny’s CarWash College and tech support manager, this industry was probably a little late to the game. “Had the training of today been available before I opened my own wash back in the ’90s, I would have been much more efficient and more profitable as a result,” he says.

However, there are many aspects to running a carwash. There’s the business management side, of course, dealing with both the human and economic factors. On the other hand, there is also the technical side, since equipment and chemicals play essential roles in the business. As such, it’s an industry that requires both a little classroom learning and hands-on learning.

To that end, Luke Schoenbeck, marketing director for Mark VII, believes there’s something special about education in the carwash industry. He states, “While offering courses is becoming more common, the breadth and depth of the courses offered in the carwash industry may be more unique. We’re seeing more manufacturers providing online courses, regular educational webinars, video tutorials and full, immersive and live experiences.”

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So, no matter if you’re just entering the industry, have only been in it for a few years or are a seasoned veteran, there’s always something for you to learn.

New investor classes

Outside investment in the carwash industry has been growing by leaps and bounds in recent years, prompting a need for classes that give interested parties a thorough overview of the carwashing world. In Fox’s words, these courses are meant to share “the good, the bad and the ugly of going into the carwash business.” 

These sorts of classes will cover all the basics: different wash models, capital costs, finding site locations (and understanding local zoning and permitting), project time frames, equipment and chemical selection, plumbing, electrical, marketing, wash package development, employee recruitment, subscription models and more.

“For new investors, it’s as much a lesson in business [and] marketing as it is in [carwashing],” Schoenbeck says.

These courses also serve as a small investment you can make before committing to the large and costly project of building a carwash. After all, it’s better to spend a couple hundred dollars learning what’s involved in this undertaking than to throw tens of thousands of dollars into the start of a project, only to realize it’s not for you. 

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“By the end of that seminar, they should have a pretty good idea as to whether they want to spend any more time and money pursuing a carwash project,” Fox adds. “Some thank us for saving them a lot of money and headache when they realize it was more than they had bargained for, while others get even more excited to take on a project.”

Additionally, since several manufacturers provide their own new investor courses, these classes inevitably serve as an introduction to the companies’ equipment. However, if by the end of the class, you decide not to partner with that company, that’s fine too. In fact, to do your due diligence, you should attend multiple new investor classes from different companies, just to get the various perspectives they offer. 

Fox also recommends that new investors take an equipment maintenance class, which provides an introduction to carwash equipment and teaches students, for instance, about why wraps spin in one direction and side washers in the other; how fast wraps spin in relation to conveyor speed; and what, where, when and how much grease to use.

“They leave that class with a lot of confidence and, hopefully, they’ll use the preventative maintenance advice they receive to keep their washes up and running with minimal disruptions,” Fox notes.

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Classes for experienced operators

A stagnant knowledge of industry practices will end up costing you in the long run. “Treading water is just drowning slowly,” Schoenbeck asserts. “If you’re not sharpening your mental blade for your industry, you’re falling behind. Lean on manufacturers for best practices and industry information. They have a wealth of knowledge to share.”

Manufacturers are always looking for new and innovative ways to appeal to carwash customers, because they can only succeed if their customers succeed. And, with constant company innovations, there’s always something new to learn about. 

Aside from classes, many manufacturers will put on trade show seminars and webinars. Most will even give personalized tours of their factories if the customer is serious enough about expanding his or her carwash knowledge.

“We often like to ask our customers to share their stories and tips and tricks,” Schoenbeck says. “There are plenty of seasoned veterans in our network who have stories to tell, and it’s our job to facilitate telling those stories.”

Of course, carwashing is a hands-on industry, and there’s a certain amount of technical know-how you need to keep a wash running. Laura Edgmond, marketing manager for National Carwash Solutions, says, “It’s really important … to offer hands-on educational courses, so [attendees] are not only familiar with [the] products, but they are also able to work on them.”

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To that end, she notes, most classes in the industry are geared towards those who have already been a part of it for at least a few years. These classes range from equipment maintenance and repair to cleaning solutions courses (to better understand and manage chemical usage) to business courses specifically tailored for managing a carwash.

According to Fox, while experienced washers attend all the classes his company offers, he sees most of them in the equipment repair class, which is 90% hands-on in tearing down equipment.

“This class not only shows them how to be more efficient when making repairs, but it also reinforces the things they’ve been doing right,” Fox affirms. “We’ve had several students tell us they learned more in their week here than they did on their own in 20 years.”

One other unique course that Edgmond says is available is a “refresh and renew course.”

“This course really focuses on people that have really been in the industry for three to seven years, [and] their equipment might start to get a little outdated or not as showy as the new equipment. So, we do a course on just educating people on how they can keep their site up-to-date and make sure it’s keeping up with the competition.”

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Virtual trade shows

As happens in times of crisis, people innovate. The responses brought on by the coronavirus pandemic that reared its head at the beginning of 2020 have been fascinating to watch across all industries. And, once again, the carwash industry has been no different.

This year, the industry experienced the unique situation of having its main event, The Car Wash Show™, cancelled in response to the pandemic. All association trade shows host educational seminars for the benefit of their attendees, but The Car Wash Show undoubtedly provides the most expansive offering, and people from around the world gather in order to learn together.

However, within days of the cancellation, several notable manufacturers announced they were holding their own free, virtual trade shows and educational seminars in order to provide the industry with some of the missed opportunities it had with the cancelled show.

“A lot of people go to the trade show; it’s their yearly event [to] kind of get out and see what’s going on in the industry,” Edgmond says. “So, we truly felt like our customers were the ones missing out the most from [it] being cancelled.”

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Many of these virtual trade shows not only let carwashers know what new products and solutions these companies have to offer, but they also covered topics of general interest for all operators. In fact, several panels featured hot-button, current issues, such as how carwashes can keep afloat during the coronavirus pandemic. According to Edgmond, it was important to her company to focus on what carwashers wanted to know and what could benefit them in the present, rather than six months down the line. 

Schoenbeck echoes this sentiment, saying, “We feel a responsibility to keep our customers informed, especially now while social distancing is in effect. I keep a close eye on carwash forums and social media groups. The community is very concerned about shutdowns and business being slowed. The least we, as manufacturers, can do is provide free information on best practices and ideas for keeping their businesses running optimally.”

Learn more, earn more

Edgmond realizes that education, especially in the current climate, may not seem like a high priority while companies are looking to reevaluate their expenses. However, she says, you have to look at the payoff in a different way. “Education, especially in times like this, might be put off … but I think spending money on education is something that pays for itself time and time again.”

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After all, if you educate yourself on maintenance and repairs, you’ll save money by keeping equipment running better for longer and not having to hire others when it breaks down. Or, if you invest in the business/management courses, you can actually increase your profits and revenue because you’ll be thinking of and doing things differently at your wash. So, Edgmond believes, investing a little time and money will always be worth it.

“I don’t think you can overstate the importance of training and the benefits derived from it,” Fox concludes. “I’d urge anyone who doesn’t currently send anyone for formal training to try it — invest in your people, and the returns might shock you.”  

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