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The new self-service carwash model

Today’s equipment and the new services offered make self-serves an attractive alternative for customers.


Self-service car washing is still vibrant and profitable. Although wand-type carwashes have fallen out of favor in recent years, it remains profitable for existing washes and innovative equipment advances have created more reliable operation and improved incomes for new carwashes. Generally, self-service carwashes require a lower investment with lower risks. Even during this economic stall antiquated self-service carwashes are being renovated and operated for a profit. Inventive business plans actually favor these washes.

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The investment threshold to refurbish self-service bays is much lower than other forms of wash facilities. Although in many urban settings, the financial return indicates that stand alone self-service carwashes do not cash-flow for the short term. It is important to visualize these carwashes as a long term investment and self-service should always be considered as part of any carwash offering. Wand-type equipment outlasts other carwashing variations, requiring fewer equipment replacement cycles. Self-service carwashes provide a solid income source with less maintenance and fewer employees.

Finding a diamond in the rough

Closed and foreclosed self-service carwashes may be purchased for a low cost and re-established as an energetic business with years of sustained profit. By shopping local markets and consulting with real estate agents these closed facilities may be located and purchased for a fraction of their original price. As neighborhoods and traffic patterns shift, additional income may be added to sites that previously proved to be less feasible.


Rural routes

According to the 2010 US Census report, 95 percent of the United States land mass is considered rural (population centers of less than 50,000 people). The census also indicates that 19.3 percent (over 5.5 million people) of the population live in these rural areas. Self-service carwashes are ideal for small town America. Most of these small towns have at least one self-service carwash and many of these carwashes are inadequately operated and ripe for modernization.

Providing services not offered at other sites

New services offered in self-service wash bays make them an attractive alternative. Hand-held air dry blowers, tire inflation and in-bay vacuum cleaners are among the alternative features that are popular in cold climate self-service bays. These features are extremely attractive in a heated-bay environment. Marine flush, bug-off and tire brush are trendy in warmer climates.


Outside the box

During major renovations or when designing a new site, many owners overlook the possibility of combination offerings (i.e. roll-over/self-service or tunnel/self-service). Combination carwashes target a wider spectrum of customer demographics. These combination sites are more inclusive, providing wash services to more customers and improve the business’ income.

Combination sites display more activity and will encourage more business in each of the self-service, roll-over automatic and tunnel bays. Wand bays also offer a more diverse service for customers needing to wash items that are not typically washed in the roll-over automatic/tunnel. Customers can wash anything that will fit into the wash bay. Many vehicles and items washed in a self-service facility do not lend themselves to washing in other wash facilities, such as:

  • Motorcycles
  • All-terrain Vehicles (ATVs)
  • Recreational Vehicles (RVs)
  • Utility Trailers
  • Tractors
  • Boats
  • Lawn furniture
  • and other smaller items

Wash Me Express

The newest trend in self-service car washing is a single station, stand alone carwash unit. The Express wash is equipped with a vacuum cleaner, tire inflation, and carwash that accommodate a wide variety of customers with minimal space and expense. This equipment may be placed at businesses as an additional service such as a convenience store, self-storage facility, boat ramp or an apartment complex.


Make a wise purchase

The best designs with lowest operating costs are seldom purchased for the lowest initial cost. The idiom, “You get what you pay for”, also applies to buying self-service equipment. Designs with simpler configurations, rugged components and smoother operation will prove to be the best investment. By shopping for high efficiency and durability a true value may be achieved.

Gary Wirges is the president of CustomKraft Industries, Inc. For more information, visit or call 800-869-1448.

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