Top Questions from Prospective Car Wash Owners: Construction

Top Questions from Prospective Car Wash Owners: Construction

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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.

Minnesota Hotdish

Minnesota Hotdish

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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.

Road Trip: Joshua Tree National Park

Road Trip: Joshua Tree National Park

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California may have earned a reputation for its breathtaking beaches and coastline, but travelers who venture into the state’s vast desert will be rewarded with a different version of beauty. A wild, mystical vibe permeates the landscape where the Mojave and Colorado Deserts collide just east of the Nevada border. Joshua Tree National Park spreads out across 800,000 arrid acres and attracts campers, climbers, hikers and stargazers all year long.

So What Are Joshua Trees?

They’re yuccas that grow as trees with clusters of spiky leaves. The name is rumored to come from early settlers (not a U2 album) who saw a resemblance to the Biblical figure Joshua reaching his hands up in prayer. Massive numbers of these trees are scattered across the region, giving the national park its moniker.

 

Why Visit?

The better question is: why not? A 2.5 hour drive from Los Angeles, it’s a picturesque road trip into an ancient desert unlike any other. It’s the epitome of “getting away from it all,” as you’ll discover there’s no lodging or electricity or lights or cell reception. This is the California High Desert; unplug from society and embrace the adventure! The varied terrain is a giant playground waiting to be explored.

 

What To Do?

Hiking

There are several entrances to the park, but the main one is in the town of Joshua Tree (a music and artist’s community that’s a cool destination unto itself). Buy a day pass or an annual pass at the entrance, grab a map, make sure you have water, and hit the trails. There are several areas to park near major trailheads, and the scenic hikes are some of the most beloved in the country. Some notable points of interest: Intersection Rock, Arch Rock, Skull Rock, Hidden Valley, and Keys View, which provides sweeping views of the Coachella Valley.

Stargazing

Don’t forget to look up. Throngs of visitors come to Joshua Tree to marvel at the night sky—a miraculous, glittering canvas above the desert landscape. The East side of the park is best for stargazing, as it’s the furthest from any city light pollution that might dim the spectacle.

Camping

More than 300 campsites are scattered throughout the park and run $15/day, and remember: there’s no electricity or running water here. If you aren’t into tent camping, check out lodging or AirBnB’s in the town of Joshua Tree.

Climbing

There are literally thousands of climbing and bouldering routes, plus plenty of experienced guides to help you scale the huge rock formations and take in the desert sights.

Wildflowers

Portions of the park explode with wildflowers in February, March and April, so bring your camera to capture the blooms. These months see a higher volume of visitors to Joshua Tree, not just for the flowers but for the great weather (the summer months can be especially hot).