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 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!