The Car Wash Show™ is the place where most manufacturers release all the new products they have to the market. So, it is easy to walk away from the show in awe and with a long list of new equipment, signs, lights and more that you want to add to your site. However, the single most important thing you need to do before getting hooked on all that shiny new gear and writing a check is to form a detailed plan.

In addition, you need to look at making changes to the look of the building. How long has it been since you have made changes? The fast-food industry, for instance, has found that a store after a remodel will likely see a 15-plus percent increase in sales just from an improved look. As such, this article contains a list of tasks you need to consider and complete as well as things to avoid when looking into a remodel.

Sonny’s The Car Wash Factory; BEFORE REMODEL

Things to do

  1. Evaluate the current situation, wash packaging, prices and volume at the site. Make sure you will get a value add and return on investment (ROI) out of the changes.
  2. Determine if any site layout changes or other improvements are required.
  3. Put together a marketing plan with new packages, new menus, new on-site marketing, lighting, etc.
  4. If you are adding new chemical applicators or tunnel equipment, you need to evaluate the flowing water lines to see what type of plumbing may need to be changed and if booster pumps or other water solutions will be needed for the remodel project.
  5. Check the electric coming into the building to make sure you have room to add all the new things. If not, get quotes and check the ability to bring in new power before ordering the equipment.
  6. Check the wash controller and point-of-sale (POS) system to see if upgrades or replacements are needed to get the most out of the new technology being added. You need to make sure you have the functions needed to add and properly operate the new equipment.
  7. The pay station screens will need to be updated to match the new marketing.

Things not to do

  1. Don’t just add new equipment and services without looking at the whole site and forming a plan to bring it up to standards.
  2. Don’t raise prices without adding value for the customers. This will create a lot of pushback and unhappy people.
  3. Don’t complete the remodel in stages over a long period of time. This will end up costing much more in the long-run and will not have the same positive effect on the business as doing it at one time.
  4. If you can’t do the project to the level it requires, wait until you have the funds to do so. Or, work with an expert to make sure the stages you do it in work together to give you the biggest return.
  5. Don’t rush into the project without all the proper planning and commitments on the timeframe from all parties involved.

    Sonny’s The Car Wash Factory; AFTER REMODEL

To open or to close

Another big choice you need to make as an operator is whether you are going to remain open during the upgrades or close down for the whole project. When I did a recent remodel to add a second tunnel to the site I run, I decided to stay open during the entire process. While staying open definitely has its challenges, it also allowed me to minimize the impact on my existing business. It did, however, leave me questioning my sanity at times.

I would like to share some of the things I learned from the process. To start, if you are doing site configuration changes as well as adding equipment, get the site changes done first, and then move onto the equipment. This will allow you to get the most out of staying open and not make the carwash look like a construction site.

For me, it was a bit different because I was adding a whole new tunnel to an existing site. But, you can stay open at a site with a single tunnel also. If this is something you are considering, you need to ask your suppliers for two quotes. The first quote should include a timeframe and cost for staying open; the second one should have a timeframe for closing down and a cost for doing the whole project.

Once you have the quotes, you can run some ROI models and see what option makes the most sense. It is usually going to cost quite a bit more to stay open during the process because of all the extra time and night hours. One thing to keep in mind about staying open is figuring out how not to disrupt your customers. However, remember that you risk losing them to another location if your carwash is closed during the project.

Finally, when you are taking on any remodel or retrofit project, it’s important to budget for any hidden costs or other surprises that may pop up. Make sure you add about 10 percent to your budget for issues and overruns that may pop up. When the project is done, you will definitely feel a bit older, but the business will seem so much younger, and the customers will hopefully love it.


Robert Andre is the vice president of customer success for Sonny’s Enterprises. Sonny’s is the world’s largest manufacturer of conveyorized carwash equipment. Robert has managed, owned and operated carwashes since 1998. Robert started with Sonny’s Enterprises in 2006 and has held various positions, including CarWash College president and vice president of external sales. As a member of the executive team, Robert continues to help Sonny’s customers grow and operate successful locations.