So You Want to Own a Car Wash  

Lately there seems to be a new interest by "newbies" to own a carwash. Professional car washing has been on the scene for a long time and has gone through many changes – especially in the last 10 to 15 years. Previous to that period, most car wash investors were hands-on type of entrepreneurs that did not mind long hours, hard physical work and had the dream of owning their own successful business. They found the best location they could afford, put up the biggest sign that was allowed and worked hard to keep the wash in good operating condition. With minimal competition, a little bit of luck and a lot of hard physical labor they succeeded.

While hard work and long hours are still a requirement the successful operator today must also have marketing skills, understand more than basic business principles and have good management skills as well as business acumen. Today the car wash industry still draws the attention of individuals looking for a business that offers long term success with acceptable risks. However, to own and operate a successful wash has become much more difficult. Stiff competition, an uncertain economy and long stretches of bad weather tests even the best businessman.

Professional car washing seems to be a fairly simplistic business from the casual observer. You build a wash, operate it as well as possible and collect the money. If it were really that simple many more would choose it as an investment and there would not be so many wash failures. As an individual investor expect to be a hands-on operator ready to spend long hours at a challenging business. This is not a business for the faint of heart or one who expects little personal involvement in it. In addition, you will find yourself at the will of some things you have no control over like of the weather and subject to economic trends both up and down. If you have considered all the pros and cons and decide to invest the fun begins.

Like any investing in any other business the most important hurdle is financing. Before going too far into it, you need to have a very good idea of how much it will cost and how you will be able to finance the project. The few lending institutions willing to finance a wash have very strict guidelines for financing with very little if any leeway for the potential investor, especially if you have no previous industry or business experience. Make sure you have either a personal reserve to meet your personal obligations for a minimum of at least a year or more or plan for it in your financing arrangement. This is extremely important. I have seen seemingly successful washes fail over personal financial issues.

An investment in a wash is not something you should undertake on your own. Put together a team of individuals whose judgment you trust including an architect/general contractor, accountant, banker, lawyer and an industry specialist. Look for an independent consultant or a distributor you can trust to help you through the process. Make sure that either the consultant or company has been involved the process of building and operating a wash in the past. In either case be sure to check out their qualifications and references thoroughly before choosing one to work with. This is one of the most critical decisions you will make in the entire process.

Before building a wash you might be able to save yourself a great deal of aggravation, time and money by checking out washes in the area you have chosen to operate in. Like many other industries, most existing washes can be bought for the right price. If you find one that meets your criteria and budget you will be able to avoid a great deal of work like site selection and development, feasibility studies, contracting services, dealing with local and state regulations and boards and the general headaches of the building process.

After building or purchasing an existing wash now the real work begins - you have to operate the wash profitably. This is where your consultant or distributor could be invaluable. They should be able to help you develop manuals and training programs for operating the wash and assist you in the start up. Setting up a good infrastructure will be key in your success both short and long term. Constantly evaluate your wash's performance and do not become complacent if you experience immediate success or depressed if things do not go well in the beginning. Operating a wash is a process that really never ends. You must constantly evaluate your operation capitalizing on your successes and correcting failures.

The decision to invest in a car wash is one that should be done after careful research on the industry and an evaluation of how much you are willing to invest in terms of both time and money. On the positive side even if it does not go as well as planned you will still have the concrete assets of the land and building even though it will be considered a single use one. If you succeed in addition to those assets you will have positive cash flow and a valuable business. Like any investment there are risks involved that need to be examined carefully. Professional car washing is not an easy business. Many have failed. Think the process out carefully and good luck with your decision.