Top Questions from Prospective Car Wash Owners: Operation
Building a Car Wash Choosing a Location

Talking through all the preliminary questions of building a car wash with prospective owners is important. Choosing a location, constructing the wash, and securing the best equipment are all critical to ensuring a strong foundation for car wash success. But inevitably we arrive at this point in the conversation: What can owners expect once the wash is built? Today, we’re tackling the topic of operation. Here’s what you need to know about running a car wash after the building phase is checked off.

On-Site Employees

Depending on the type of wash you operate, the number of employees you’ll need on the site can fluctuate. Here’s what we’ve found to be true in different scenarios: In-bay automatic locations typically require only a single part-time employee. Busier in-bay locations could require a full-time alternating shift between two employees.

Tunnel or conveyor-style car washes require full-time employment continuously while the site is open. For express exterior-only tunnels, two to three people per shift is typical with peak periods requiring more employees. Site managers and assistant managers are usually required as well. For tunnel sites that offer additional services such as quick detail or full service options, two to three times that number of employees could be necessary.

Return on Investment

This is hands-down one of the biggest questions on the minds of prospective car wash owners, and rightly so. Once the investment has been made, what’s the expected rate of return?

Of course, this number varies and depends on where your car wash is located and what type of wash it is. That said, a typical return on investment is 13-18%, with larger projects potentially reaching 20% or more. This is why the planning and proforma stage of the process is so important. Return on investment will vary greatly based on population, traffic, competition, and type of car wash.

For example, an in-bay automatic in a town with a population below 10,000 people with two competing washes could return 15%. A larger tunnel (conveyor) style wash with limited competition with heavy traffic could exceed 20%. Think about the type of wash you’re planning to operate and your own unique set of circumstances and environment, and you can project—to a degree—what your return on investment may be.

We’re here to answer your questions about site planning, construction, equipment, operation, and much more. Give us a shout to start the conversation about building your own car wash. That’s what we’re here for!

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?
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
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!


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
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?
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.

Choosing a Car Wash Location
Building a Car Wash Choosing a Location Site Selection

There are numerous things to consider when choosing a car wash location. This decision is one of the most critical elements of the development process. Car wash site selection is a complex process and unfortunately is often made without proper planning. We at Harrell’s specialize in site selection and prefer to be involved before any offer is made on a property.

One of the most important questions to ask when choosing a site is, does the car wash I want to build match the needs of this market? The best location may be near major retail or big box shopping destinations. Many people stop to wash their cars while they’re running errands or grocery shopping, so proximity to retail is often very important. However, studies have also shown that people are willing to drive past a conveniently located wash for a better value.

Generally speaking, busier roads are certainly more desirable. However, there are other factors that should be taken into consideration such as traffic speed, road type, ingress and egress, income, competition and proximity to a traffic light. Weather also plays a major role in car wash success. Typically, harsh winter areas that require salt for paved surfaces create large surges in volume.

After a site has been selected, Harrell’s can also assist with feasibility studies and business plans. Moreover, there is no rule of thumb for property size. Depending upon the style of wash (tunnel, in-bay automatic, self serve) the property size will fluctuate greatly. Again, this is why it’s best to get us involved from the beginning!

If you have an interest in investing in a car wash, Harrell’s will provide you with the information you need to make the decision that is right for you. Again, we can assist you with every step of the process including site selection, site layout, as well as recommending contractors and/or financial institutions. Harrell’s can also help with a car wash remodel. We know how to help you make money by raising your per car average thus maximizing your revenue while managing your utilities. So whether you’re choosing a car wash location, building a new wash or remodeling your existing wash, give us a shout and we’ll help get you moving in the right direction.

New Years Resolution:  Wash More Cars Per Hour
Building a Car Wash Wash More Cars Per Hour

Looking ahead to 2017, the car wash industry forecasts revenue in excess of $7.1 billion! Our interest is to help you increase your portion of that revenue by washing more cars per hour. So if you’re interested in a better return on your investment, lowering the cost of ownership and increased revenue, talk to us about installing a 360 system.

Sure, upgrades require an investment. But owners who have made that investment tell us time and again that it was absolutely worthwhile. And we’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: investing in equipment upgrades really does pay off! We’re always excited when a customer upgrades the equipment on their site. Site upgrades accomplish so much. They add curb appeal. Curb appeal attracts more customers. More customers mean more revenue. And because of the upgrades, site owners can raise their prices….which means more revenue. Customers love having a better experience. Owners love having increased business. Here’s a telling example:

One of our customers with a double bay site upgraded to a LaserWash 360 Plus over the summer and here’s how their numbers changed from one month to the next:

Old wash pricing: $10, $9, $8 or $7 per wash
Average price per car: $8.50 x 1,688 cars per month = $14,348 revenue

New wash pricing: $15, $12, $10 or $8 per wash
Average price per car: $11.25 x 2,019 cars per month = $22,714 revenue

That’s an $8,798 increase in one month! And that’s not all: The upgrade to new equipment provided lower maintenance costs, less chemical usage, and increased throughput of 2-3 cars per hour. In some cases, there are even tax advantages for new capital equipment purchases.

With the LaserWash 360 Plus, while it’s a perfectly capable system “out of the box,” it’s based on a modular system to enable you to add new features over time. If you are running a 360 Plus system and are looking to extend its functions and increase revenue, talk to us about upgrading to 3x Foam, Super Sealant, Rain Rinse Arch, Bug Prep, OverGlow, LaserGlow Illumination Effects, as well as a variety of drying options.

We were surprised to learn recently that one of our longstanding clients had no idea that we do tunnel washes. We figured he couldn’t be the only one — so let’s talk tunnels!

Understanding that tunnel washes can be a bit intimidating to customers with their MRI-type feeling, we’ve opened up our tunnel car washes with full-length bay windows and large entrances. We nicknamed this the “microbrewery effect” because it reminds us of how you can sit in a microbrewery sipping your craft beer while knowing it came from those big beautiful steel tanks in the very next room. And it’s cool to look at.

Whether the tunnel is an Express, Inbay or Mini, here’s the important part: you can wash more cars per hour, and set higher wash prices for the incredible clean that tunnel washes produce. On a busy day, more cars and higher prices means more revenue for you. Take a look at the Totally Tommy Mini Tunnel wash. The benefits are immediately obvious. The Mini requires as little as 1/2 acre, can be 70-90 feet long and can process between 70-120 cars/hour. And talk about cool! The curb appeal is immense, and the benefits to you are huge.

Interested in talking with us about a tunnel wash? Our team will work with you from start to finish to create and customize your tunnel site.

Harrell’s Car Wash Systems can help better prepare your business for the new year. We are focused on your success and driven to maintain the highest quality service and products to meet your car wash needs. Contact us today to learn more about ways to improve your car wash and increase revenue in 2017.

How Building Car Washes Is a Lot Like Poker
Building a Car Wash

Are you considering building a car wash in Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky or Illinois?

If so, let’s talk about poker for a minute.

Building car washes can be a long, somewhat complex process with an almost unlimited number of variables. I’ve often compared a start-up car wash to playing poker, and here’s why: in poker, the answer to most questions of how to play literally any hand is, “Well, it depends.”

With any strategy game you must consider your competition. How strong are the other players at the table? Do they know every card dealer by name and live in the casino? Or are they just visiting from out of town looking to play a few hands to pass the time? This is a very important question to ask yourself when contemplating constructing a car wash. Where are you sitting at the “table?” Your location, or position, at the table is essential to calculating what starting hands you’ll play, how much you’ll wager and when to simply fold and wait for the next hand.

Another key to success is simply a question of time. How much time (and other resources) are you willing to dedicate to the game? Is poker a hobby, a career or a game that simply requires too much time, money and effort to be the best at the table?

And like poker, starting any business means that your investment is at stake. When the competition raises the stakes, are you ready or willing to ante up? Is there a bit of gambler in you?

Those are a lot of questions, we know. Before you throw in your cards and fold, however, we’d like to ask one more question: How great would it be to have an expert sitting beside you through every hand, guiding you in making the best decisions with the cards you have?

That is exactly what we do at Harrell’s Car Wash Systems. We aren’t here to simply provide equipment and wish you luck. That’s not how we do business. At the start of every new car wash project, we start with an in-person market pro forma or feasibility study to identify all the variables applicable to your scenario (or, in poker lingo, we take a look at your hand and see what we think you can do with it). We can help you identify key players in your market and strategies to best position you for success.

The best location to open a car wash also varies significantly depending on the type of wash you want to start. A tunnel style car wash, for instance, typically requires a higher level of investment and time. This necessitates a very strong traffic count, population density and/or retail environment in order to be profitable. By comparison, in-bay automatic washes can generally be built with lower levels of traffic, population and retail. There are countless other market variables that need to be accounted for before a project can move forward. Land zoning requirements, ingress/egress, car stacking, turn radius, incomes, etc. all need to be considered. Finally, how much time can you dedicate to this business? How involved will you be on a daily basis and will it be your primary source of income?

How will you play the next hand? What type of car wash is best for you? Well, it depends… Don’t let the unknown keep you from having a winning hand in this thriving industry. When you have Harrell’s on your side, it’s like having an ace up your sleeve! Give us a call today to get started. We’re the Midwest’s leading car wash distributor, and we’ll bring our expertise to the table to guide you from start to finish.