How To Clean Up In the Car Wash Business – David Begin


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After working in the tech industry for over a decade I had this romantic notion to own my own business. I traveled frequently for work while my kids were growing up and I realized I didn’t want to miss out on those years. After 5 years of research and evaluating different concepts we launched our first car wash business. I kept my day job for the first couple of years to ensure we were able to pay the bills while I transitioned into small business ownership. I ended up opening a total of 3 locations and ran those until we sold them in 2019.

As a business model, car washes are operational intensive businesses. The concept I tell most people is a car wash is a mini-factory with the finished product being a clean car. The beauty of the business model is the technology and systems are the main components that do the work. From the moment you drive up to a modern car wash you are interacting with a piece of technology, be that the pay station that captures your order information to the process control system that provides all the specific details about your car to the car wash system. Today with the advent of RFID and license plate readers we can get to know our customers better and understand their habits.

If you were interested in getting into the car wash business, a great place to start would be the different types of car wash operations. The most common operating models are exterior express, full-service, self-service in bay, self-service wand, or in bay automatic. Today, 8 in 10 new car washes are the exterior express operating model, because of its operational efficiencies and profit margin. In general, you can build a car wash for 2 to 3 million dollars after you purchase the land. Depending on where you build, the land could cost you half a million up to 3 million. Coincidentally, on the revenue side, you can expect to generate 500 thousand to 3 million in annual revenues depending on how successfully you grow the unlimited club customer base.

Since I exited my car washes, I’ve launched 2 new businesses related to the industry. Begin Insights is my consulting business where I offer advice and support to people in the industry looking to grow or expand their operations. More recently, I helped launch Carwash OS which creates programs to help people get their car wash businesses up and running. Most people, myself included, when they first get into the industry, don’t realize that if you don’t have good processes and procedures in place the effort required to keep the business running will overwhelm you.

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