Strategic Options Abound for Lower Cost of Entry into the Car Wash Business

Feb 20, 2023




by Nate Edwards, Territory Sales Manager/Equipment, Howco Inc.

The investment cost of entering the car wash business can vary as greatly as the different models, sizes, and real estate for wash locations. While some less expensive self-serve equipment packages can cost as little as $20,000, the higher-end options, with tunnels and complex equipment, can cost multiple millions once land and construction costs are included. Fortunately, there are lots of choices and opportunities for car wash investors and operators at every level to consider - whether they are just entering the industry or adding to their car wash portfolio.

A recent trend we have noticed at Howco is a surge in lower cost of entry. Investors are concentrating on compact washes with essential functions at “newly discovered” locations, such as apartment complexes that have suitable space for self-serves. This placement provides convenience for tenants to wash their cars, trailers, boats, RVs, and motorcycles. Many developments have an ideal real estate footprint to add a wash that serves as a favorable amenity for residents, and as a revenue generator for the property owner.

Other similar opportunities for this strategy include retirement communities, rental car agencies, self-storage facilities, car dealerships, marinas, convenience stores, military bases, and college campuses. The Splash ‘N Dash “car wash in a box” option has been particularly popular and effective in this realm, and typically falls into the $20,000-$25,000 price range for equipment.

Another popular lower-cost trend is revamping older car washes and other suitable buildings that are ready for their next chapter of business life. This tactic is especially beneficial, as the location has already been established as a business and is easily adaptable for a significant refresh. Logistically, the basic infrastructure of the building and systems for water, sewage, and electricity are already in place, as well as ingress, egress, signage, and related permitting and zoning requirements.  

We often get calls from new and existing car wash operators who own or have their sights on a piece of land or building that they want to consider for a car wash. Since Howco is a comprehensive car wash advisor and supplier, we quickly address the inquiry to assess the property via Google Maps to see its location; the kinds of businesses and demographics within a certain radius; the location and model of other car washes in the market; ingress and egress; traffic counts; and road intersections and configurations.

Next, we visit the site to meet with the customer, explore the area, develop a business proforma for the location, and consult with the operator to determine the best car wash scenario for that site - be it self-serve, in-bay automatic, touchless, express, or even a tunnel, if feasible.

Additionally, if there is a building on the property, we determine the condition and possibilities commensurate with the type of wash being considered. Our building conversion experience includes banks, car dealerships, general retail, and all types of car washes.

The lower cost entry segment of the car wash industry is attractive because these options take less land, equipment, and labor to operate, and are often cashless via club membership plans/apps and credit card/bar code scanners. Many smaller car wash set-ups can mimic the services of larger washes by offering vacuums and unlimited wash club plans.

Our industry is fortunate to have such a diverse array of car wash models that can fit into various site, budget, and market scenarios. If someone wants to build a car wash, Howco can help make that happen.