Top Questions from Prospective Car Wash Owners: Construction

Top Questions from Prospective Car Wash Owners: Construction


When we speak with prospective car wash owners, an important part of the conversation revolves around construction. Naturally, questions arise about this part of the process. How much property is required to build a car wash? How important is visibility? What are the best types of lots? How long does construction usually take? 

After 40 years of helping folks navigate car wash projects from beginning to end, we’ve gained valuable insight into each layer of the process. This month, we’re sharing what we’ve learned about car wash construction, from site selection to building timelines. 

Location Is Everything 

Really, it is. When choosing a location for your wash, the importance of site visibility can’t be overstated. Gaining the attention of drivers on main roads is vital to the success of your business, as well as the visibility of your services and signage. The very best spots have direct visibility to a main thoroughfare in your area. Access to your wash can be off an access road, but you should still aim for the highest visibility possible. Almost without exception, paying a premium for a great lot will dramatically increase return on investment. 

Beyond visibility, there are other variables that affect a lot’s suitability. Things like property easements and lot setbacks are important; a large utility easement that runs through a parcel in an inconvenient location can ruin what would otherwise appear to be a great lot. And when it comes to structures, keep in mind that car wash buildings are typically long and narrow and will require plenty of stacking area for customers. As for lot size? As a general rule, lots with more depth than width are your best bets. Smaller in-bay automatic sites can be built on less than an acre, whereas larger tunnel sites can require an acre or more. 

Typical Timelines 

Car wash projects require patience. It takes time to find the right piece of property that will accommodate a car wash. Proper zoning, traffic, access, and visibility are all essential. 

Once a few suitable locations have been identified, we move to the proforma, or feasibility stage. During this stage we will utilize proprietary industry tools and formulas to arrive at approximate wash counts for a site location. Additionally, we pull traffic counts, population counts, and incomes. This stage can take weeks or months depending on the number of lots analyzed. 

So what kind of timeline are we talking about, specifically? It can take 3-6 months to find a suitable location that is properly zoned (or could be properly zoned with a variance) and obtain approval to build both from local and state governments. This process varies  from city to city, so remember this is an estimate. 

The building process itself also varies based on type of wash and time of year. A good rule of thumb for an in-bay automatic site is 3-4 months for the construction process, whereas a tunnel will take roughly 6 months to construct.

Remember: each step of building a car wash is important, and the decisions you make during the earlier part of the process will affect how your wash fares in the long run. At Harrell’s, we’re committed to walking with you through each of these steps, guiding you through the decisions that ultimately lead to success.

Top Questions From Prospective Car Wash Owners: Wash Types

Top Questions From Prospective Car Wash Owners: Wash Types

Building a Car Wash Choosing a Location

Here at Harrell’s, we talk with a lot of prospective car wash owners. Naturally, those looking to break into the business have questions and curiosities about the brass tacks of owning a wash. There’s undoubtedly a lot to consider before building a car wash.

Every scenario is unique, but the questions are often the same. Prospective owners need to know about wash types, locations, the building process, and operation, among other important considerations. This month, we’re tackling one of the biggest questions we receive: What type of car wash is best for me?

This question is extremely important and needs to be answered early in the planning process. In order to move forward with the feasibility analysis (or pro forma), the team at Harrell’s will ask some basic questions: Will this be your primary business? Is this a supplement to an existing business like a convenience store or auto service shop? How much time are you planning to spend on site operating your wash? Are you in a high or low population area? Once some of these basic questions are answered, we can start talking about the type of car wash that’s best for you.

In-Bay Automatic

In-bay automatic sites are typically best for owners that already have a primary business or are adding a wash to an existing business, like a gas station.These sites require less employee oversight on an hourly basis and are designed to run unattended for pretty substantial periods of time.

In most cases, in-bay automatic sites have a lower threshold with regard to traffic and population requirements.They can be built in larger metropolitan areas as well as smaller towns with populations below 4,000 people. We have many single bay automatic sites in towns with fewer than 3,000 people. Many of these sites have self-serve bays as well.

For larger metropolitan areas with higher traffic numbers, additional in-bay automatics can be added in series. Two to four bay automatic sites are common throughout our territory. In-bay automatics are offered as either touch-free or soft-touch, and multi bay sites often have at least one of each.


The other type of car wash would be a tunnel, or conveyor style, car wash.These sites usually require larger populations and traffic and consequently require significantly more of the owner’s time.

Tunnel car washes are offered with an older, more traditional, steel in-bed conveyer or with newer belted technology. We recommend that tunnel washes always have employees on site during operational hours. Multiple employees working in shifts along with a management team is highly recommended for optimal operation.

The ROI for a busy tunnel site can exceed 15-20% but this return will require either a significant time investment or a significant investment in strong management. Most often, it needs both to be successful.

When it comes to the type of car wash you’ll operate, it all comes down to your unique situation. The team at Harrell’s has over 40 years of experience in the industry and we’re happy to help you navigate the process of building your own car wash, from startup to success!

How Social is Your Wash?

How Social is Your Wash?

Building a Car Wash Car Wash Loyalty Program

If you’re a business owner, you’re always thinking of your customers: earning new ones, retaining old ones, giving them a great experience, growing the relationship. Without customers, your business won’t survive. Without them, there’s no you.

You’re likely already communicating with your customers in a number of ways, but if social media isn’t one of them, you’re missing out on a golden—and free—marketing opportunity. With more than 3 billion people using social media on a regular basis, your customers are already engaging with their favorite brands. Make sure yours is one of them.  


The currency of social media is eyeballs. The more viewers you get, the greater your chances of conversion. Without a presence on platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or LinkedIn, you get zero visibility and lose out on the chance to, first and foremost, remind people you exist. Getting in front of an audience informs or reminds them about your business and your services, and that’s the first step in the right direction. Make your presence known!


Capturing attention is only part of the battle. When using social media for marketing purposes, you ultimately want to encourage action. Make each of your posts count. Share the new wash special, showcase the cool new equipment, show off the sparkling car rolling out of your tunnel—give them a reason to use your service. But remember: nobody wants to be marketed to all the time. Balance out your content by sharing helpful tips, behind-the-scenes peeks, or posts that show your personality. Connect on a real level, not just a sales level.


One of the greatest things about social media is the unique opportunity to talk directly to your customers. If someone comments on a picture or post, make sure you take time to respond! Follow, re-post, and tag other businesses in your community; they’ll probably do the same for you. Make yourself accessible and responsive, and you’ll build lasting trust in your brand.

The Tube is a car wash in Fort Wayne, Indiana that uses social media effectively to drive business and reach their customers. Using several different platforms, they’re able to share videos, promote specials, recruit new employees, share positive reviews, promote their services, and connect with their community.

Ask yourself how your own wash can use these platforms to do the same. Posting photos and engaging with users takes a bit of planning and effort, but the reward is often a customer base that grows in number and loyalty. Contact your Harrell’s rep today to talk about the best tools and plans for marketing your wash.

Flat Belt Conveyors: 4 Reasons to Love Them

Flat Belt Conveyors: 4 Reasons to Love Them

Building a Car Wash

Inside the car wash tunnel, the most important piece of equipment is your conveyor. Moving cars through the wash is what you’re here for, so it’s worthwhile to select the best conveyor for the job. While chain and roller systems have long dominated the industry, many are making the leap to flat belt conveyors. Why? We’re rounded up a few of the top reasons these systems are gaining traction.

They’re easier for customers.

Admit it—lining up your wheels with the chain and roller track can be a little intimidating as a driver. Not to mention the possibility of damage to your vehicle if you don’t follow the rules about turning, braking, or shifting out of neutral. Flat belt conveyors follow none of these rules. Drivers can easily pull onto the belt and be transported on a safe, worry-free ride to a cleaner car.

They put cars through the tunnel faster.

Cars can enter the tunnel at a faster rate and pull closer to one another on the belt, allowing for a quicker throughput. Plus, there’s no waiting for an attendant to wave you onto the track and fewer opportunities for errors that slow the process. And more cars through your wash means more revenue.

They’re easier to maintain.

Flat belt conveyors are sleeker and simpler in design than their chain and roller counterparts. With fewer moving parts, the equipment has less chance to fail or malfunction, halting car wash business and depleting your bottom line.

They wash more vehicle types.

A flat, wide belt means you’re free from the size restrictions a chain and roller system might impose. Think massive duallies or low-profile sports cars—potential customers you’d miss out on with a size-restrictive track.

Have questions about conveyor systems and which type is right for your wash? Contact a Harrell’s rep today to learn more about the features and benefits available to you!


Selling Up: 3 Trusted Tips

Selling Up: 3 Trusted Tips

Generate Revenue Site Maintenance

Developing a happy, satisfied customer base is important at any car wash. Every wash strives to pull in steady business and earn a great reputation among vehicle owners. But don’t forget: just because a customer pulls into your wash doesn’t mean the selling process has ended! We’ve compiled a few trusted tips for increasing your average ticket and ultimately, your bottom line.

Work the Menu

Think of your menu as the unpaid employee, silently promoting your services to customers. The design of your menu board can be just as important as the information it conveys. The average customer likely comes in looking for a basic wash, but presenting the added services in an easy-to-understand format can be effective in increasing ticket averages. Think simple package names that are clearly ranked, straightforward benefits that show the added value of higher packages, and font sizing that makes it easy to read from a distance.

Expand Your Services

Consider adding to the selection of services at your wash, giving customers good reason to purchase more during their visit. Whether it’s a fragrance option or a premium sealant, those special touches are what set your wash apart from the competition, help pull in new customers, and ensure a loyal and returning base.

Get Personal

When employees have the opportunity to interact with a customer prior to purchasing a wash, it’s the perfect chance to get personal and specific. A quick glance at a vehicle will reveal areas that need extra attention. Dirty rims, salt residue, a bug-laden windshield, or muddy tires are all reasons to upgrade a standard wash and purchase added services that target specific areas of the car. When a car wash employee points out the area and offers a treatment recommendation, customers often listen and purchase the added service. A conversation with someone who can see the exterior of a vehicle carries more weight than words on a menu. Make it personal!

Ready to discuss ways you can transform ticket averages? Get in touch with your Harrell’s rep today to find out more.

The Single Area You Control…Always.

The Single Area You Control…Always.


If you invest in a business, there will be factors you can’t always control. The competition, the weather, the employee that flaked—some things are out of our hands. But not everything. The area you have complete control over, always? Customer service.

The human experience is crucial to the success of your business. When a customer comes to your wash and interacts with an employee, it can make or break the whole experience. Their car may come out sparkling clean, but if they had a rude or neglectful experience with an employee, it leaves a sour taste. Remember: courtesy and professionalism go a long way in any business, and you have one hundred percent control over the way you treat people.

Customer Service in Action
Some car washes do this exceptionally well. When customer service is beyond the norm, people take notice! Our friends at Clearwater Car Wash in Indiana are a great example of this above-and-beyond approach to service.

When Assistant Manager Trent Barlow and Wash Attendant Michael Lehman heard about a customer losing her necklace while using a vacuum at their wash, they immediately went into search mode. They dug through the trash, looked through all the dirty hoses and filters, and sifted through collection bins with no luck. The necklace was a gift from the customer’s children and she was devastated. So after closing that evening, they tried again. In their second search, they found the necklace! Their customer was so happy to have it returned that she brought all the employees donuts the following day. This is the heart of true customer service—treating others how we want to be treated ourselves.

It doesn’t stop there. Clearwater Car Wash uses their business to encourage service in their community and around the world. Portions of single washes go toward Water for Good, an organization that helps provide clean drinking water in Africa. Each month, they host a donation day where $2 of every wash goes toward a designated nonprofit organization. They work with local community services to supply Christmas gifts to a family in need every December. They also hold raffles and give away prizes and gift baskets to their Unlimited Pass Members each month. They use their business as a way to build up the community and invest in those relationships.

We love hearing these stories that illustrate the power of customer service. What are practices you’ve heard of, or done yourself, that reveal the positive effects of great, above-and-beyond service?

3 Tips to Go From Reactive to Proactive

3 Tips to Go From Reactive to Proactive

Building a Car Wash

We’ve all fallen victim to knee-jerk responses when something goes wrong at work. It’s an all-too-common scenario: something breaks, someone quits, something unexpected crops up, and suddenly you’re channeling all your energy into a crisis that wasn’t on your list for the day.

Of course, some things in life can’t be foreseen or prevented. But when it comes to running an effective car wash business, you’ll dramatically reduce downtime and avoid these reactive moments if you plan smarter on the front end.

Schedule regular equipment maintenance

It seems like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised at how often car wash operators skip over routine servicing of their wash equipment. It’s costly in every way when a critical part of your wash suddenly breaks—plus it reflects poorly on your image. Make the time to have your equipment checked and do minor repairs when necessary, and avoid the stress of an unexpected catastrophe.

Build and develop a great crew

Hiring and firing takes time, and comes with the territory of running a car wash. If you put in the leg work up front to screen and hire competent and promising employees, you’ll be rewarded in the long run. Prioritize consistent and thorough training, give ample opportunities for growth and advancement, and help to create a positive environment. A professional, happy crew makes for a better impression on customers and an overall stronger business.

Always be marketing

It’s tempting to take your foot off the gas momentarily when it comes to your marketing efforts. But don’t wait until you see a dip in your bottom line to start paying attention to how you promote your wash. Make it a continual practice to evaluate your prices, your menus, your promotions, your technology, and your engagement with customers across platforms. It’s much easier to stay alert and ahead than to come back from behind.

Don’t let disaster sneak up on you! Harrell’s Car Wash Systems can help you take proactive steps to ensure your wash runs smoothly and profitably.  

No Second Chances: Nailing the First Impression

No Second Chances: Nailing the First Impression

Building a Car Wash Generate Revenue

One of life’s most valuable lessons is to fight the inclination to judge people by their appearances. What you see isn’t always what you get, and our first impression of a person is rarely the most accurate.

But car washes aren’t people. And in the case of a driver looking to get their vehicle shiny and clean, the first impression is the only impression, and the one that determines whether or not you get their business. In an industry that promises customers a clean product, it’s critical for your wash to echo that virtue at first glance.

So Fresh and So Clean

The exterior of your car wash needs to look clean and tidy or you run the risk of losing customers right off the bat. Remember: you’re likely not the only car wash in the area. If your site looks unkempt, it’s an immediate red flag.

Consider your curb appeal. Is there trash in the parking lot? What about dirty surfaces or walls, or aging paint? Are trash receptacles overflowing? Is the landscaping healthy and attractive? These separate elements come together to form the overall impression of your business, so make sure you’re keeping them all in check.

In addition to keeping your wash tidy, it’s a good idea to look at other areas that contribute to the first impression. Think lighting, signage, and color schemes. These can be powerful marketing tools in themselves, lending a fresh (and clean) vibe to your business. For a potential customer, an updated look promises attention to detail—and a place they trust to get their car sparkling clean.

Cleanliness in always within your control. Don’t lose customers before they’ve ever set wheels on your property! Harrell’s Car Wash Systems is happy to help you navigate a clean path to profits.

Technology is Changing. Is Your Wash Keeping Up?

Technology is Changing. Is Your Wash Keeping Up?

Building a Car Wash Generate Revenue

Consumers love new technology. Look at smartphones, for example. When Apple releases even the slightest upgrade, people clamor for it. There’s something inside us that wants the very best products and services available, especially once we know they’re out there.

The car wash industry is no different. It’s 2019, and wash technology is more sophisticated than ever. As you look ahead, it’s important to consider the benefits of equipment upgrades and replacements. The decision to invest in new features doesn’t just help your customers, either. It’s critical for your relevance, reputation as a wash, and ultimately, your revenue.

It’s Better For Customers

Step into your customers’ shoes. Better yet, slide into your customers’ driver’s seat. What kind of wash experience are you providing? How long are they waiting in line? How clean is their car getting? What’s it like to move through your particular wash? Is it exciting, impressive, and exceptional? Or is it routine, average, and unmemorable? What might make a customer come back, and what might keep them away next time? These are questions worth asking to become—and stay—competitive and profitable.

Customers want to be delighted. And this happens when they have an abundance of advanced features and services to pick from. It happens when they get through the line quickly and their schedule isn’t disrupted. It happens when special touches, like LED lights, catch their attention. And it mostly happens when their car comes out looking spotless and shiny.

It’s Better For You

We all know equipment depreciates over time. Car wash systems have a lifespan of around ten years, give or take, if they’re properly maintained. Of course, a complete wash system replacement is no small investment. But by offering a better wash with improved features, you’ll be able to raise your prices to match those benefits. Upgrades typically boost revenue by up to 25%. Consider the impact on your bottom line.

Today’s wash systems are increasingly efficient and allow for quicker throughput. The LaserWash 360 Plus and Tandem Surfline from PDQ offer substantially faster wash speeds and reduce operational costs with efficient, precise cleaning. Laserglow Illumination creates a standout appearance and enhances the wash experience dramatically—something customers will remember.

Is it time to look at investing in new technology? Harrell’s Car Wash Systems can help you determine which upgrades will keep your car wash current and competitive.

Minnesota Hotdish

Minnesota Hotdish


It’s cold in Minnesota—really cold. This time of year is particularly brutal, but our friends in the northernmost parts of the country have developed a tasty way to warm up: “hotdish.” Some might try to call it a casserole, but they would be wrong. Proper hotdish is an oven-baked, anything-goes, delicious mess of a meal…with tater tots on top. If winter travels have you trekking through the Land of 10,000 Lakes, carve out some time for a hotdish pit stop.

The Back Story

When scouring the Upper Midwest (and in particular, Minnesota) for the history of the hotdish, you’ll likely travel back to the Great Depression era. The first known recipes were printed in a 1930 cookbook by the Grace Lutheran Ladies Aid in Minnesota. Their version of the casserole-esque dish included ground beef, canned vegetables, canned soup, and macaroni noodles. During the Depression, home cooks were accustomed to stretching meat in creative ways, the “hotdish” casserole being one of them.

Over the decades, the hotdish became a staple of family dinner tables, church potlucks, and social gatherings. Everyone had their own take on what to add to the mix, which evolved over time (notable mention: the introduction of canned cream of mushroom or chicken soup.) Today, ask any Minnesotan about hotdish, and they’ll likely conjure a creamy, comforting picture of home in their mind’s eye.

The Breakdown

OK, so what’s inside the casserole dish? Well, pretty much anything, as long as you stick to the basic non-negotiable components: meat, vegetables, starch, and something creamy to bind it all together. Traditional versions are usually made with ground beef, canned vegetables (green beans and corn are go-to’s), and cream of mushroom soup. Meat is browned, veggies and soup added, and then the whole thing gets a layer of tater tots before heading into the oven to get hot, bubbly, and crispy. Part of the fabric of Minnesota, it’s a simple, no-frills, easy dinner to serve crowds. And pretty much everyone loves it (with ketchup on the side).

Nowadays, chefs and home cooks are elevating the classic. Restaurants have revived the dish on menus, sometimes trading out ground beef and canned soup for short ribs and béchamel sauce. The yearning for mom’s version from childhood competes with the struggle to stay sensible and reasonably health-conscious, resulting in a sort of hotdish hybrid that often marries the two. Minnesota-based food blog Pinch of Yum demonstrates one such marriage with a Southwestern sweet potato riff. Edible proof that traditions matter, yet evolve a bit here and there.  

Where To Pull Over

The best way to appreciate hotdish is probably in a Minnesota kitchen with a family that’s been perfecting it for generations. But that’s—you know—not always an option on your travels.

The next best thing is to stop into a restaurant that pours all kinds of experience and love into the casserole dish, kind of like The Mason Jar in Eagan, MN. Their Tater Tot Hot Dish sticks to the familiar basics: beef, corn, house-made cream of mushroom, tater tots, and lots of cheese. The Bulldog, with three locations sprinkled around the Twin Cities area, adds carrots and peas to their mix. Or opt for breakfast-style hotdish, like the sausage-laden one catered from The Buttered Tin in St. Paul.