The key to success in the car wash industry is to master the fundamentals.

            For example, if someone wants to stay in good physical shape, they can take over-the-counter drugs that promise to burn belly fat while they sleep or stick with the fundamentals. In my case, this includes calisthenics and bicycling, eating right, and rest (asleep at 11:00 p.m., up at 5:00 a.m.).

            Unfortunately, there is no miracle supplement to safely melt away the pounds. If you want to stay in shape, you have to do it the old-fashioned way. No pain, no gain.

            Same applies to the car wash business. However, unlike taking the time to exercise every other day, the car wash business is seven days a week, rain or shine. Consequently, it’s not advisable to jump feet first into this business.

            Like staying in good physical shape, it is advisable to start slowly, develop a foundation, and then build on top of it. For example, one of the basics of starting a new car wash is to prepare a business plan. The plan needs to outline the business purpose, how the company will become profitable, and when a return on investment can be expected.

            A car wash needs a physical location from which to produce and deliver products and services. Consequently, the geographic area under consideration must have a market opportunity strong enough to achieve the owner’s goal for net profit.

            Opportunity can be validated by determining the potency of unmet demand, anticipated growth, and competitive density. Similarly, real estate can be validated by determining the potency of key site criteria such as physical characteristics, demography, traffic, and competition.

            Once built, the operator will need to drive traffic to the business. This means selling people what they want. Pundits opine car wash customers mostly want a good experience. Arguably, we can define good experience as a consistently clean, shiny, and dry car, at a great price and value.

            Here, value refers to value-added such as offering customers premium products, customer loyalty programs, and amenities (e.g., free vacuums, towel program).

            Delivering a good experience requires more than an attractive store front and an automatic car wash system with computer-controlled equipment. For example, attendants are not required to operate self-service spray bays or in-bay automatic car wash systems.

            However, someone is needed for a certain amount of time each day for general housekeeping, maintenance and repairs, and administration. So, even a so-called “unattended” car wash requires personnel whose performance can have an affect on the customer’s experience.

            Further up the food chain, car counts are much greater, there is customer contact, and full-time staff and management are required to handle it.

            Today, finding enough people with the right qualities has become a real challenge especially for companies that offer assisted-services or want to create a network of stores.

            Moreover, given the sameness of many washes, marketing prowess has become a key factor in creating a sustainable competitive advantage. For example, the car wash industry has transitioned from an analog world to a more digital world.

            Today, marketing fundamentals involve mobile payment, text communication, subscription programs, responsive website with FAQ, and advertising and promotion on social media.

            However, when it comes to planning a new wash, some things never change. For example, in the late 1950s, Dan Hanna, Sr. invented the first mechanized car washing system.

            During the 1960s, Hanna invented many of the devices that operators rely on today. This includes the wraparound brush, roller-on-demand conveyor, soft cloth wash, wheel cleaner, water re-circulating system, and more.

            Hanna also developed guidance on planning for a new wash including how to determine equipment, building, and property requirements. Although some of this guidance has been adapted for new innovations, much of it remains as it was decades ago.

Bob Roman is a car wash consultant. You can reach Bob via e-mail at or by visiting