Referred to as Uber for car wash, on-demand car wash apps provide car-care services as and when needed by consumers.
The process is easy: Download a mobile app from the App Store or Google Play, select a car wash company for the nearby area, and make a booking. The customer specifies the place or they can “pin” their location where they want the vehicle to be cleaned at the specified time.
However, according to some of the online reviews, what is not always easy is finding service in the nearby area. As a relatively new business concept, on-demand car wash is not ubiquitous.
For example, I downloaded one of the car wash apps and did a targeted searched for service in Tampa, Clearwater, and St. Petersburg, FL. No service at this time for this company. However, I did a random search and found the company did offer service in Pittsburgh, Boston, and several other major cities.
A car wash app may be of interest to both service providers and start-ups. Consider MobileWash, which currently provides on-demand car wash and detail services in hundreds of cities in southern California and is expanding into Arizona, Nevada, Texas, and Florida.
According to its website, the average order is around $70 and about 75 percent of that goes to the detailer. The company says its partners typically make more than $1,500 per week.
A car wash app makes for an interesting start-up proposition. According to app developer Net Solutions, the single dedicated app model comes in three flavors. Simple apps have simple features such as profile making, search, notifications, and messages. These apps may take two to three months to develop at a cost of between $40,000 and $60,000.
More functional apps such as McDonald’s Loyalty App will have features such as in-app purchase, payment portals, API integration, and real-time messaging. These apps may take three to six months to develop at a cost of between $60,000 and $150,000. Complex apps like Uber with all kinds of advance features may take nine months or more at a cost of $300,000 and up.
An alternative to creating a car wash app from scratch is to purchase a ready-made car wash app from a mobile app and web development company. This approach can reduce estimated cost by 50 percent as well as time to market.
To illustrate, let’s assume it cost $50,000 to purchase a ready-made car wash app from a developer located in India.
For this, we would get an Uber-like car wash app with customer, washer, and administrative panels. Customer panel includes bookings, scheduling, payment, push notifications, and history. Washer features includes profiles, requests, status, and reviews and ratings. Admin panel allows for live tracking and management of customers, booking history, and payments.
App annual operating expenses would include functional costs such as third-party integration fees, maintenance (e.g., releasing software updates, host server fees), and promotion.
Shown above are estimated start-up expenses for our Uber-like car wash app. This does not include the cost to start up or operate a mobile car wash or detail unit. However, this is a drop in the bucket compared to the cash needed to build or buy a commercial car wash.
Implementation of the app requires identification of suitable target market areas and recruiting a sufficient number of mobile car washers and detailers to provide service through the app. This is where car wash app companies have difficulties. Today, the technology can be purchased off the shelf but not the operation.
There is no getting around the labor, management, and customer service needed to succeed in the car wash and detail business. Moreover, there is the issue of quality control and quality assurance when working with a host of independent operators.
These variables are difficult to control especially on a grand scale. Consequently, a car wash app start-up might target a major city or develop a regional operation that covers one or two counties.
Creation and expansion of a network could begin once a brand is established. Target market would include businesses, individuals, and households willing to pay the higher prices that on-demand services command. This could include corporate offices, hotels, casinos, shopping malls, white collar professionals, single working parents, seniors, etc.
For example, one of my neighbors is 80 or so and he pays a mobile service several hundred dollars to basically wax his car a couple of times a year.
What is possible financially?
Shown above are hypothetical financials for an app business that offers on-demand car wash and maintenance services (i.e., express wax) but not reconditioning services. Under this scenario, washers would have potential to make about $47,000 annually.
Arguably, this level of earnings would be strong enough to attract and retain a sufficient numbers of wash partners. More is possible, but it would require offering higher-end detail services requiring people with higher level of skill and competency.
To avoid the potential inconsistencies in working with 1099 contractors, the car wash app company could take the traditional W-2 approach of hiring employees. This would allow the app company to conduct a more thorough recruitment process and dictate stuff like standard operating procedures, rules and policies, material use, etc.
In the final analysis, a car wash app business is no different than any other car wash business. A successful one is 20 percent splash and 80 percent how customers are treated.