There are myriad details to take care of before breaking ground on a new car wash project. The discussion that follows addresses the most important of these.

Overhead plumbing layout

Once you have selected a site and performed due diligence regarding competition analysis, demographics as well as obtained a proforma, you will need to make sure that the site is zoned correctly and passed through the city requirements for development including obtaining all building permits. An official business plan outlining your preferred business model will need to be created prior to meeting with your financial institution. You will also need to acquire appropriate financing. Research your chosen financial institution’s requirements such as, but not limited to, environmental, title search, and other requirements for funding, including your participation.

BUILDING YOUR TEAM

You should start building your car wash development team with the following individuals.

Banker

Your banker should have experience in commercial lending with knowledge in commercial construction projects around the same cost as your car wash project.

Architect

When choosing an architect, you will want to make sure that they have commercial building experience, preferably building car washes. The architect will bethere are multiple changes in technology from year to yearresponsible for coordinating all of the drawings from the civil engineer, mechanical, electrical and plumbing drawings, shop drawings, and structural drawings for your project and submitting them to the city for approval of a building permit. A comprehensive set of drawings and specifications will help eliminate future delays and unexpected project costs by giving your general contractor as much information as possible to use when he or she begins to bid the project.

Construction at various stages of completion.

General Contractor

In selecting a general contractor, it is important to choose one who specializes in commercial projects in the $2 million to $5 million range, and who has the depth and the organizational requirements and is financially stable. It is important to make sure that the general contractor and all associated parties have insurance and that the owner has written proof of such insurance. Your general contractor will perform multiple duties throughout your project such as overseeing all submittals, creating and maintaining a construction schedule, and submitting draw requests for funds to be dispersed to appropriate parties upon inspection approval according to a pre-determined draw schedule. In addition, your general contractor will attend the kickoff meeting, pre-construction meeting, as well as weekly progress meetings. They will also be responsible for hiring the superintendent, project manager, and sub-contractors such as, but not limited to, the electrician, plumber, and concrete subs. The general contractor will be an invaluable resource to help you not only stay on schedule during construction but to also help avoid costly delays and deliver a quality project and warranty.

Equipment Supplier

Your equipment supplier will end up being your key person throughout the entire building process — even after the architect and general contractor are gone — as this relationship will continue beyond the construction. It is therefore important to do extensive research when choosing an equipment supplier. The chosen company should not only have multiple years of experience but also be financially strong with a comprehensive parts and chemical inventory, have technicians with a high level of knowledge and constant training that offer service 24 hours a day. Your equipment supplier will work closely with the architect and your entire team in helping to ensure that the drawings reflect critical details for the project. They will also assist with helping to understand requirements necessary for obtaining city building permits as well as communicating with the general contractor and sub-contractors to answer any questions during the construction phase of the project.

During the early phases of construction your equipment supplier should perform several site inspections to monitor critical stages to verify that all necessary plumbing, electrical, and foundation work has been completed accurately according to the drawings and if there are any problems that can be identified and corrected before the project progresses further.

Also, during construction they will assist with helping to develop menus, pricing, and marketing assistance. Your equipment supplier should be your advocate during the construction of your car wash by keeping a consistent line of communication with you on the entire project to ensure that the project is built from an operational standpoint as the industry is very dynamic and there are a multitude of changes in technology in the professional car wash business from year to year. In addition, the equipment supplier should also supply you with all of the owners’ manuals, a maintenance schedule, operational information, and operational training information.

MEETINGS

Once you have chosen your financial institution, architect, general contractor, and equipment supplier, the team should be assembled for a kick-off meeting. During the meeting an in-depth discussion as to responsibilities, timing, scheduling, and coordination should be developed.

Example of a partial construction schedule.

Prior to any construction being done a pre-construction meeting should occur at the site with the general contractor, project manager, superintendent, owner, sub-contractors, architect, and civil engineer along with your equipment supplier. Introductions and exchange of contact information should occur at this meeting. All meetings should have written notes and a pre-construction schedule should be developed or altered if one already exists. Weekly construction meetings with progress photos should be held with appropriate subs and vendors to discuss progress, change orders, and job conflicts. Scheduling is extremely important and long-lead-time material and owner’s selections should be discussed and monitored carefully so as not to impact delays. Owner participation in all meetings including the weekly meetings is necessary to minimize costly mistakes, interim financing, and schedule delays. Once all members of the construction team have met, a construction schedule has been established, and all permits have been obtained, the construction officially begins.

AVOID HICCUPS

While the goal is to avoid unnecessary delays and unexpected costs, being aware of their possible sources can potentially help to avoid them. A common source of delay is not having an accurate construction schedule from your general contractor that considers lead times on materials needed and ordering equipment ahead of time. If initial drawings by your architect are not comprehensive enough, or if all drawings are not submitted to the general contractor for bidding, this can not only cause delays with additions or changes not initially accounted for but also cause extra costs as the initial bidding was not done with enough information.

With a multi-million-dollar project such as building a car wash, starting your project with a solid foundation of an experienced and knowledgeable team can provide you with the greatest opportunity for success. It is highly recommended to spend the time, effort, and money necessary to produce the documentation to aid in completing a plan for the ultimate execution of an outstanding start to a successful business.

Ralph Nasca is an industry veteran and manager of Lewisville, TX-based Pro-Tech Service Company LLC. You can visit the company on the web at www.pro-tech-service.com.