Once the decision is made to get into the professional car washing industry, the first important task to accomplish is choosing a distributor. From the moment you select a distributor, their role will be to guide you through all of the many facets of building and operating a successful car wash. You could even consider your distributor as a business partner as they will be your resource for choosing the right location and site, helping you determine the best equipment for both your site and your business model, assisting in the design and construction phase, and finally walking you through the opening of your car wash to help you become a successful owner and operator.
There are different levels of distributors based on capabilities. I’ve narrowed them down to primarily three types. Type 1 generally only sells and installs equipment. The principals of these companies are normally mechanically minded and excel in that area. They generally do not have a storefront and usually do not employ more than three to four people with two service vehicles.
Distributor type 2 provides the same level of service as type 1 but will also supply chemicals. This distributor usually has a mechanical type of background as well as some chemical background. They typically will have a storefront with a limited amount of inventory — more chemicals than parts. They will also employ between four and six people with two to three service vehicles and one delivery truck. Distributor types 1 and 2 know less about the business and operations and are focused on delivery of the services they provide.
Finally, distributor type 3 will provide services such as consulting, site selection, design and architectural supervision, preliminary site layouts, construction supervision and/or construction, training, sales and marketing information, and ongoing service and maintenance. This distributor will have an active storefront stocked with parts and chemicals. They will employ anywhere from 10 to 40 employees with six to 18 service vehicles and four to six delivery vehicles. This distributor level is, in many cases, extremely passionate about the car wash business, is truly committed to building successful professional car washes, and, in general, is definitely needed for someone who is new to the industry.
Once you choose a distributor they will begin communicating with you about your business plan and goals and will offer guidance and advice, as well as assist you in site selection and analytical site analysis. Choosing the right location is one of the most important steps in developing a successful operation. Some factors to consider are demographics, site accessibility, traffic count, zoning laws, competition, and access to utilities. Your distributor can assist with a variety of resources to help you through the site selection process with referrals to realtors, assisting with your city zoning commission, and helping you choose a location where competition would be at a minimum.
Once a site has been chosen a survey will need to be obtained from the seller of the property with any easements, setbacks, and utilities noted. Your distributor will also create a proforma on your chosen site, which will reflect estimated potential volume projections, income forecasts, expense forecasts, and potential return on your investment. Included in the site selection phase is creating a site layout and beginning the design phase of your car wash. It will also be necessary at this point to select a general contractor, architect, and engineer. Your distributor will be able to provide referrals for these services. Additionally, your distributor can assist in outlining the necessary financial requirements and even possibly meeting with your banker.
Part of building a successful car wash is having the right equipment customized to meet the needs of each owner and site. Your distributor will play an active role in making suggestions on equipment best suited for the specific needs of your car wash and facilitating the design and layout of chosen equipment for your site. As a future car wash owner you may have specific ideas about your vision for your car wash. Your distributor will help incorporate those ideas whenever possible to produce an efficient and productive car wash.
Marketing is essential for operating a successful car wash and that begins with signage. At this point in the project you will want to have a name and logo chosen for your car wash as this will be displayed on your signage. Your distributor will provide guidance, helping you design your car wash menu with package options as well as signage selections with feedback on color choices, text spacing, wording, and pricing. Having adequate and appropriate signage will help communicate effectively to the customer the name of your car wash, promote optimum visibility to the motoring public, and create a brand. Your car wash menus with package descriptions and instructional signage will also convey the wash services each customer will receive and provide critical instructions for customers as they enter and exit the car wash. Marketing should be a constantly evolving process at any wash, and should be among the highest priorities of running a site. Through visibility, accessibility, promotions, and personal contact with the community, operators can ensure their investments are getting the promotion they deserve.
The distributor plays an active role in the process of constructing the car wash and the installation of the car wash equipment. Once equipment has been selected and ordered your distributor begins assisting with coordination efforts on the construction phase of your car wash project. A pre-construction meeting between your distributor, general contractor, architect, and general contractor’s sub-contractors will be necessary prior to beginning construction. This meeting will assist all parties involved by making sure everyone has accurate information to prevent costly mistakes from being made and to assist in creating a construction schedule.
During construction of the car wash, your distributor should do several site inspections to ensure that the site is ready for important steps such as concrete pours. Maintaining a clear, open, and productive line of communication between the owner, distributor, and all trades working on the construction of the car wash is critical to eliminating unnecessary project delays or expenses.
Once the rough in of electrical and plumbing is completed, the building is dried in, and equipment has been delivered, installation of the equipment can commence. A team of your distributor’s service technicians will install the car wash equipment. The sub-contractors will now complete final hook ups to provide a working system. During this period, coordination and installation of the cash management system is being tested with the wash equipment. Your distributor’s chemical representative will also play a role in making sure the proper chemicals necessary for each function of the wash process are set up. At this point your distributor will start training you and your employees and test washing vehicles.
OPEN FOR BUSINESS
One of the final stages in your car wash project, and one that your distributor will be very involved with, is the opening and operational training necessary to get your business started in the right direction. Prior to the opening of your car wash your distributor will go over with you a list of startup supplies, chemicals, tools, spare parts, and business-related items that will be needed to operate successfully. Just before your car wash opens to the public, your distributor should have personnel from their service department present at your car wash to provide maintenance training for the car wash management and staff in proper maintenance of the car wash equipment in addition to providing a complete owner’s manual.
During the grand opening of your car wash, your distributor should be on site to perform additional operational training. Once your car wash is open and running your distributor will be a valuable resource for ongoing chemicals, parts, maintenance, and advice. Finally, your distributor may offer a preventative maintenance program to help prolong the life of your car wash equipment and keep your investment in prime operating condition. As with any successful business relationship, the partnership you have as a car wash owner with your distributor will help you build and maintain a successful car wash.
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.