How to start a carwash business - Professional Carwashing & Detailing

How to start a carwash business

How to take your new carwash from a plot of land to its grand opening and beyond.

It’s an exciting time to be in the carwash business. Equipment and chemistry advances continue to produce cleaner, drier, shinier cars in smaller footprints than in the past. The “extreme” tunnels are reducing land requirements, opening a new universe of potential carwash properties. The larger sites are washing more volume than was ever thought possible. More people are building multi-site operations at an extremely quick pace.

The opportunities are plentiful with the proper guidance and support. Here are some tips that should get you through the process of getting into the industry with a little less pain and carry your business into the future.

From the ground up

This is the most important part for a new investor to get right. This is the proverbial “secret sauce” … except that there is no secret here. You just need to do your homework and make sure the property has what it takes to support a thriving carwash business. You need to have the demographics, traffic count, ingress and egress, speed limit and visibility, just to name a few of the factors.

You cannot settle for a C site — you need to go for the B+ or A sites if you want to be a successful location. Yes, some carwashes are successful on sites that are less than ideal, but do you really want to gamble with such a large investment?

Related: The basics of carwash site design

Prior to buying the land, you want someone who has knowledge of the area to take a look at the property. Ideally, this should be your equipment provider, as this company should be a huge part of your team from planning to successful operations. You need to consider things like the permitting process in the area you select, the price of utilities, any changes to the traffic patterns, road construction, etc.

What’s your unique selling proposition?

Next, you need to figure out how to create business and, ultimately, customer loyalty. Why should a customer choose to spend his or her hard-earned money with you? How is your building going to stand out and draw customers in?

Related: Build brand power with the right USP

Look at as many successful carwashes as you can. I recommend putting a travel budget together so you can go around the country looking at washes. Use this time to learn what they do well and find areas you can improve on in your own operations and building design.

Analyze which architectural features on buildings and signage attract your attention and add curb appeal. The clearer the picture of what would set your new wash apart from the competition, the better off you will be. Keep in mind that the carwash business today is more retail than ever before. This retail image needs to show in everything you do.

Building your carwash business

Hiring employees and staffing are like building a great sports team — you can’t just have a bunch of good individual players. All employees must be able to work together on your behalf. You must choose between whether you’re going to find the players or go with a pre-built team.

If choosing option one, you must find the players you will need: an architect, civil engineer, general contractor, etc. If choosing option two, a design build firm handles the process from end to end.

As a third option, you can also consider prefabricated buildings, which can really speed up the process of getting open, in most cases.

The importance of making sure someone with knowledge of successful carwash business operations provides design input cannot be overemphasized. Most distributors and manufacturers can provide you with what you need to make sure you don’t make any mistakes that will cost you throughput once open.

Purchasing equipment

You should have budgeted what your equipment was going to cost during the planning phase. Now is the time to finalize your equipment package. It is recommended that you look over all the quotes you have and check with the manufacturers to see if they have any new technology that you may want to add.

Your equipment manufacturer or distributor will supply the general contractor with all necessary files to incorporate into the final architectural plans. Send a copy of your final approved construction prints to your equipment supplier for review. The equipment supplier, or the installer, will then schedule a concrete trench inspection with your general contractor.


The construction process can seem like it is taking forever. You may feel like a kid on Christmas morning waiting to open your presents. How will you pass the time and make sure you are getting the most out of the process? Here are some ideas:

  1. Establish your business, and open your bank accounts.
  2. Finalize all signage and uniforms.
  3. Finalize your menu and price structure, and come up with all the promotions for the first year.
  4. Join your local association as well as the International Carwash Association (ICA).
  5. Subscribe to all trade journals.
  6. Start looking for your management team members, and start these employees prior to equipment installation, if possible.
  7. Develop your employee handbook and operations manual.
  8. See if you can find a “host” wash to work at.
  9. Research chemical suppliers, and find one that has a solid service   network in your area.
  10. Plan your grand opening several weeks after you’re up and running.
  11. Outline your marketing plan and community involvement strategy.
  12. Schedule training for yourself and the management team on the maintenance, repair and management of your wash.
  13. Plan to be present during your equipment installation.
  14. Plan to be present during your computer installation.

Hosting a grand opening

Nothing makes a splash like a well-executed grand opening, whether it is a large charity event or a few weeks of free washes. You need an event that is going to get the community talking and showing up to the wash.

Make sure you set aside $10,000 or more. You may consider doing a series of events over the course of a few weeks — it never fails to rain if you just plan one big day for a grand opening.

You should also consider a soft opening that lasts a few weeks to work out all the bugs and thoroughly train your staff.

Keeping it going

Your wash should start off clean with everything in place. Your equipment provider will have the equipment dialed in and your chemical provider will have the chemicals dialed in. Ideally, the employees will be executing all the processes just as you imagined.

Now, the hard part … keeping it all that way.

Don’t forget to document all the settings on the equipment and chemicals. Take pictures of the way all the new, shiny equipment looks. Take pictures of the friendly staff in clean uniforms.

Use all of this to make sure you maintain the standards you set and never let employees or the carwash slip over time. In fact, you should look to always be making improvements to take your service to the next level.

Robert Andre is the vice president of training and education for Sonny’s Enterprises, the world’s largest manufacturer of conveyorized carwash equipment. In addition to equipment, Sonny’s is known for providing training through CarWash College in Management, Repair and Maintenance and also offers marketing and site evaluation services. Andre joined Sonny’s Enterprises in 2006 and has held various positions. As a member of the executive team, Andre continues to help Sonny’s customers grow and operate successful locations.

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