I love negotiating a deal. And few things are as satisfying as getting a steep discount. Yet, I recently advised a colleague to offer the full asking price for a piece of land on their next project. Why? Because getting a steep discount typically includes agreeing to a fast close.

            Car wash permitting can be a long and unpredictable process and zoning classifications are rarely absolute when building a car wash. And this owner was concerned with the permitting process’s potential length of time and outcome. They didn’t have a lot of experience managing the cost of carrying real estate for an extended period. Recommendation: sign a contract stipulating the closing is contingent upon the issuance of permits from the municipality. And know you will probably need to hire an architect and a legal team to expedite permitting prior to owning the land. Why do I say this?

            The strategy may seem crazy to some when purchasing land, and it’s not always prudent. But it’s also not unheard of to have permitting delays exceed a year, and legal and architectural fees are moneys that must be spent, regardless.

            This investor preferred to focus on what they do best: getting a property permitted for a car wash. Let the broker do what brokers do best; managing the carrying costs of real estate while waiting for a sale. This investor may pay more for the piece of dirt but may spend less overall if they had to carry the land.


            We know this intuitively. Last year when I was traveling and forgot to send flowers for my wife’s birthday, I practically kissed the feet of the florist that committed to a two-hour delivery before my wife went to dinner with friends. There was a rush charge (I’m sure it was steep), but I don’t remember because it didn’t matter. Unfortunately, determining the true cost and value of our decisions in our businesses isn’t always so clear. Sometimes you need to scratch a little beneath the surface.

            It’s not always cheaper to do it yourself. I’ll admit to being as guilty as the next guy at believing I can be an expert at everything. Fortunately, age and painful lessons learned affords me the ability to impart some wisdom. I’ll detail several DIY traps before moving on to an even bigger opportunity: ensuring a customer experience that remains relevant over time.

Curb Appeal Attracts and Retains Customers

            You’ve got staff. You’ve got downtime. You’ve got a lawnmower, a weed whacker, and a leaf blower. Add them together and you’ve got a landscaping service. Right? Not really. Your staff might do a fantastic job keeping things tidy, but it’s unlikely many of them have a green thumb for pruning, pulling weeds, plant selection, and re-mulching. Hire a landscaper to maintain a clean, attractive facility. Focus your staff’s effort on delivering an exceptional customer experience.

Positive Interactions with Staff Will Help Retain Customers

            It’s hard to dedicate the time to training staff when you are overwhelmed with the accounting of time. Think about outsourcing your payroll so you spend less time calculating tax obligations and preparing checks. Regulations change constantly, and the penalties for noncompliance are steep. Unless you have a background in accounting, letting a payroll company take care of payroll may be the right move to let you and your staff focus on washing cars.

Capture Rate is not a Marketing Strategy

            Simply relying on passersby to turn onto your lot alone is not going to fuel growth. Every wash needs a marketing plan in place and the wherewithal to execute it. In a smartphone dominated world, a solid marketing plan always has an online component. The complexity of ecommerce, text messaging, social engagement, and reputation management continues to grow exponentially. There’s way more to it than meets the eye. Our industry is filled with some very savvy marketers. If you’re not one of them, you owe it to the growth of your business to hire an agency that can get the job done.


            Good wash quality costs less than bad wash quality. Aftermarket racks, low-profile rims, trailer hitches — all items customers’ vehicles feature that make it difficult to wash and require retracts. It won’t cross their mind while complaining about your service to friends and family across social media. Bad wash quality for a single customer in our hyperconnected world can be costly to your volume.

Redundant Components

            Every wash should have multiple wash actions to ensure that every surface, of every car, of every shape and size is reached by at least one friction motion of your equipment package. If a wrap-around is retracted, redundant side washers, chemistry, and high-pressure blasters ensure the surfaces are washed. Ditto for a tire brush retract where redundant side washers, high-pressure, and chemistry again come to the rescue.

            If a top brush is retracted and it’s the only horizontal friction motion in the tunnel, you will absolutely miss some areas on some vehicles. I always recommend having a wash mitter that never needs to be retracted. This provides a redundant motion to clean the incredibly visible horizontal surfaces. Yes, top brushes clean better at high speeds. Yes, having multiple top brushes allow you to increase conveyor speed and throughput. Yes, chemistry and high-pressure advancements can deliver solid results for many vehicles even when the top brushes are retracted. Yes, if you only have space for a single horizontal friction component it should be a top brush.

            Yet, despite all those advantages, I always install at least one wash mitter if I have space. Because when you look below the surface, a single dissatisfied customer has the power to harm the reputation of a wash. I refuse to give customers a legitimate reason to do so.

Customers Are Addicted to Newness

            I once had a favorite Italian restaurant. Twenty years ago, when it opened, it was a struggle to get a reservation. Ten years ago, it was still my go-to for family celebrations. Today, the food is still great. The service and value of the meal are still phenomenal. Nothing has changed. Which is why, after my last visit, I suspect it will soon be closing. Twenty years of grunge deep in the corners of 20-year-old bathrooms; 20 years of wear on tables, chairs, and carpeting that “feel” old. A silent piano since there’s no longer enough traffic to justify paying someone to play it. I want to grab the owner and ask why did you let this happen? There’s so much more to maintaining a fresh experience that customers crave than just good food at a good price!

            Don’t learn this lesson the hard way. Look at your business now and take out a pen. Write down all the opportunities you see for a better business outcome. Chances are one or more of the items on that list are standing between you and serious growth.

            Good luck and good washing.

Joining the company in 2000, Anthony Analetto serves as the president of Sonny’s CarWash Equipment Division. In this role, Anthony leads the innovation of new products to drive client success and oversees all operations, engineering, and supply chain management. Washing cars for more than 30 years, Anthony was the director of operations for a 74-location national car wash chain prior to joining the company.