Car washes are popping up everywhere nowadays. It used to be that land owners built self-serve car washes to try and monetize a B or C level piece of property, but now car wash developers are seeking – and paying top dollar for – primo sites to build car washes. And gone are the little brick garages with no doors with coin machines. The new car washes are efficient and beautiful, with high end design and an outstanding customer experience.
Many car wash owners are still mom and pop operations these days. Sure, the corporate chains are everywhere and they are expanding as fast as they can purchase dirt, but the individual owners can still play in the car wash game.
We have built a lot of car washes over the years and we have seen the car wash business change drastically. And while the car wash business has changed, the essential elements of building them successfully haven’t. So whether you’re a well-capitalized corporate entity or a scrappy investor building your first, here are the 4 things you need to keep in mind:
1. You must have good architecture and engineering.
This is true for all construction projects, but it bears repeating. A good architect and engineer may carry a higher sticker price, but the end result is financially advantageous. Plus you’ll have less bruises on your forehead because good architects and engineers will help solve problems and thus keep you from beating your head against the wall in frustration. Vet your A&E team. Your buddy from the church softball team is probably a super nice guy, but I promise your relationship will change if he designs your car wash in a subpar manner. Check references and get a professional.
2. Buy the best (not the cheapest) wash equipment.
If you go to a car wash trade show these days, for example the Southwest Car Wash Association Expo, you will see a convention hall full of equipment vendors claiming to be the best. While as general contractors we almost never supply the equipment, from our conversations with owners and suppliers we can attest to the fact that you do in fact get what you pay for. Buy it right, or buy it twice.
3. Collaborate and communicate.
This too is a necessity for all construction projects, but there are some nuances for car washes to keep in mind. Because car washes are often built by smaller owners, their construction management is often done by the owner. And that means – except in rare cases – inexperience. Further, you have the added complication of the car wash equipment provider working in the same space as the general contractor. So here is what you need: team work. Up front, all parties (the GC, architect, owner, and equipment provider) need to get on the same page. If everyone stays in sync, the project has a high likelihood of success. If anyone in the chain doesn’t communicate or gets bowed up in conflict, everyone loses. It’s supply chain management 101. Communicate and collaborate.
4. Get excellent electrical, concrete, and plumbing subcontractors.
Now, the general contractor will likely select the subcontractors, but it is crucial that the client insist upon excellent electrical, concrete, and plumbing subs. And further, the client should be ready to pay a premium for them. Of course, these are only a few of the subs that will help execute the job, but these three are really important. Car wash slabs can be tricky – thus then need for a good concrete sub. The building is basically a giant equipment room to house the car wash equipment, so the plumbers and electricians need to be skilled and professional to help execute the connections in their proper places. And, perhaps most importantly, see the previous point with regard to the importance of working as a team. When electricians and plumbers are on the same page with the equipment provider and are working together to serve the client, the result is excellent.
The reason car washes are so hot right now is because they can be highly lucrative. We have seen small owners build, stabilize, and sell car washes for such a profit that it changes their family’s financial future. We have seen larger owners build portfolios of streams of cash flow which can either be realized or sold for a profit.
We don’t pretend to be experts in operating a car wash, but we can help you build one. But regardless of whether we’re your contractor or not, if you’ll heed the above 4 essential elements of car wash construction, you’ll be glad you did.