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.
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.