Starting a car wash (or any small business) can be a challenge. The amount of planning and preparation that goes into the process is staggering and even if everything goes well, it can take time before a facility’s customer base and profitability rise to the point where long-term success is possible.
There are many things that you will need to be successful. Below we will outline some of the main things you want to research and know about when you are working to start your first car wash business.
It would be a mistake to think that a business plan is only a tool to generate funding through small business loans. While a detailed business plan is a vital part of obtaining financing, the process of creating the plan helps the entrepreneur do much more than just sell the startup. Writing the plan will force you to examine your strengths, explain why your wash will be successful, expose possible threats to that success, and determine how you will eventually evaluate the wash's progress after you open. It will detail your goals in terms of return on your investment, how large of a staff you are planning to hire, what your pricing and expenses will look like, and what estimated revenue you can be expecting. Mostly, a complete business plan will give you confidence and give investors confidence in you.
A professional business plan uses a standardized format, often as a Word document, often as a Word document, which should be followed closely. According to the SBA, the total length of the business plan can run from 30 to over 100 pages.Many times on top of a business plan, you will also have to develop financials, and you will want to make sure you understand what all these definitions mean. Here is a link to some common terminology that would be helpful.
One thing is always talked about when buying a house or opening up a retail business such as a car wash, and it is location, location, LOCATION! Even the best car wash with the best marketing plan will struggle if you do not have a great location.
Here are a few of the things you want to look at when selecting a site:
- Traffic Count: In most instances, a car wash is generally an impulse purchase or an impulse visit if you offer monthly memberships. With that said, exposing your wash to the most significant amount of passing traffic is of primary importance when selecting a good location. Generally speaking, busier roads are more desirable due to the high traffic count, but some other criteria you should be looking for, such as speed limit, type of road, and traffic flow.
- Demographics: Generally speaking, a wealthier middle-class area gives you more access to customers extra cash to spend on car washes. With that, you will also want to look at the driving age demographic within a 1,3, and 5-mile radius of your store to find a denser local population since it gives you a large customer base than a sparsely populated area.
- Local Attractions and Partners: When looking for a great car wash site, it is vital to know your neighbors and what they do. Different areas tend to rise and fall in popularity and profitability, and it is critical to see that before they happen and anticipate change. One of the best strategies is to pick a location that has a major retail presence like outlet stores, grocery stores, town centers etc. ad build nearby. Ask yourself this question, if Chick-fil-a doesn't want to build here, do I want to build here?
Just as much as a great car wash starts with a great site, the site layout of a new car wash can make or break its long-term success. This is why proper design and site selection are some of the most critical and strategically demanding steps early in the development process. The customers who use your car wash want two things 1.) A clean car 2.) a great guest experience! If your site does not flow well, even the best piece of property in a town can lead to a bad experience driving your customers away from using your wash again.
The most common mistakes made during the site layout phase is due to the lot size or shape. Often, issues arise from forcing a car wash layout onto a piece of land that is too small or not the right shape. This, in turn, can sometimes cause problems in turn stacks while entering a wash with not enough room to turn their car to enter the tunnel or safely exiting the wash at the end.
Before you buy a piece of land, make sure you talk with our city officials to find out if there are any standards that they have for building at that location. We've found more and more throughout the approval process that many cities have strict standards that can compromise our own internal standards.
One of the most significant things many small companies miss today when starting a business is defining their "Why" for business. Passion doesn't begin with WHAT, or HOW you wash cars, it is WHY you wash cars that matters. If your employees or team members are unengaged or disinterested with your why, it will affect every part of your operations, and-most of all-, your customer experience will suffer. Be missional with your why. You have a unique experience, no matter the size or the location of your wash; you and your team have an opportunity to serve others and act as a positive force in your customers day. Having a team bought into your why helps them move in the same direction and strive to be the best.
Always make sure that you work on/define what excellence looks like for your team. Take the time to define what excellence looks like in your employees' day-to-day activities and put it in writing. Then make sure those expectations are clear during employees training, reviews, and routine checklists. Every team member should know what is expected of them and be hired, fired, and promoted based on your expectations of excellence.
In today’s work environment, sometimes even simple praise and recognition for a team member goes a long way in their happiness. When an employee exceeds expectations and does a fantastic job, make sure you praise them and let them know you see the hard work they are putting in. Even when you provide feedback or correction to a team member, make sure you call out the areas that they are doing well in before giving them the areas they need to work on.
Hiring a Manager:
One of the first steps you will have to decide is if you will be are going to be present at your wash as an owner/operator or if you are just going to be the owner. If you will be the owner/operator, you will want to find a wash manager to balance your skill sets and passions. For instance, if you are more hands-on with the mechanical part of the wash and that is what makes you the happiest, you will want to make sure your wash manager is much more hands-on with guests working the windows, training the team, etc. If you are not great with the mechanical side of things or don’t have a passion for it, you are going to want to hire a wash manager that is more mechanically minded and enjoys that part of the business.
There are some things many great car wash managers should know and do to help your wash be successful. When hiring a manager, look for the intangibles, see how they react to adversity/ tough questions, how they enter and exit the interview, body language, etc. These things help play a part in the manager you are looking for. If they enter the room without a smile and lousy body language, what will that say to your future customers and team members? If they come in smiling, are engaging in the interview, are friendly, and take the time to listen during an interview, it is a better chance that’s how they will interact with everyone on your site.
Opening and Marketing Your Wash
So, your wash is nearly finished! The final touch-ups on paint are drying; the equipment has been installed, you're dialing in your chemistry and running test cars. The question you now have in your head is, will there be any customers at my wash?
Remember, prior planning prevents poor performance. Early success and development of your customer base don't just happen overnight. It stems from planning, strategy, and energy, especially when it comes to marketing. You cannot merely make things up as you go, such as your logo, colors, style, and brand voice. This is 2020, and your digital presence and brand identity go a long way in developing trust with your potential customers.
Between digital and traditional advertising, wash operators have plenty of marketing options to choose from, and over time you’ll have the opportunity to evaluate different messaging and formats and see what type of marketing gives you the best return on investment.
But before your grand opening, you won’t have this luxury, so commit to launching your campaign with the necessary investment across a wide range of channels to hit the best possible cross-section of potential customers in your area.
When you build your wash, you become a part of/invested in your community. Sometimes the best marketing happens when your team gets out in the community and starts building relationships with other business owners, non-profit organizations, and regular customers.
To round this all out, good car washes are in demand, and if you can nail the basics, you have a much better than even chance of being successful.
So relax, have fun, and don’t be afraid to engage your customers as they visit and really get involved in fielding excellent and bad reviews, answering questions, and engaging your customers directly with contests, challenges, and incentives.