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Selecting the location for a car wash - what you might want to consider

Apr 13, 2015
Choosing to open a car wash business is a major event. With so many factors to consider before taking the plunge, one of the first things to focus on is location. The right location can be the difference between a booming business and a failed one.

In a case study done by Rutter's Farm Stores and published in the National Petroleum News Magazine, president Scott Hartman says that the availability of extra land doesn't necessarily mean the spot is right for a car wash. Other factors should be considered, such as demographics, area traffic, zoning and environmental regulations, lot size, and nearby competition.

Demographics of the area in which you choose to open your car wash will play an important role in the success of the business. Determine the income level and the general ages of the population in your chosen area, and then do adequate research to learn which groups are the most likely to take their vehicles through an automatic car wash. Local planning and zoning boards are useful resources for demographic information.

A spot near a residential area is best. The neighborhood should also show positive signs of growth. The area doesn’t necessarily need to be a thriving metropolis; future growth is more important than a town’s current condition. Research the economic predictions for each location you consider, so that you know ahead of time what to expect.

In addition to residential areas, look for a spot that has a speed limit between 25 and 45 miles per hour. Ideally, your sign should be visible to drivers for at least 40 seconds. This gives potential customers enough time to notice your building, and then allows them the opportunity to make a split-second decision and pull into your lot.

While these traffic guidelines sound simple enough – and maybe even inconsequential in the whole scheme of things – don’t make the mistake of brushing them off. Traffic factors are as important as demographics. Too much traffic runs the risk of preventing customers from being able to easily access your car wash, while too little traffic means less visibility to potential customers.

While searching for the perfect location for your car wash, remember to research all zoning laws. Find out if the area you’re considering allows car washes, and what kind of paperwork you need in order to remain in compliance. Some locations will only allow car washes with certain permits. Again, the local planning and zoning board is a resourceful tool to help you with any information you need.

In addition to zoning laws, you need to consider environmental regulations for your car wash location. Because these regulations vary by region, it’s crucial to research what they are and all fines or other consequences associated with them. It may be wise to add water reclamation to save water, and to consider using only biodegradable soaps and solutions.  
Another factor to think about when choosing a car wash location is lot size. The size you need depends on what type of car wash you choose,the number of bays you plan on having, the placement of your vacuum stations, and future expansion plans. Take land costs into consideration when planning the layout of your car wash, so that you can make the best use of space for the least amount of money possible. Professionals say that a corner lot, while a bit more expensive, is better than an inside location.

Every business has competition – it’s just a fact of life. But how much competition and where it’s located are important factors to consider when planning your car wash business. For example, one competing car wash located on the other side of town may not affect your business, but two or three within a few miles could cause serious problems for everyone involved.

Sometimes competition is out of your control. Maybe you’ve found a location that meets every other qualification on your list, but there’s another car wash across the street. If you do happen to find yourself thrust in this situation, be sure to offer something that sets you apart from the competition.

A car wash business can provide you with a significant profit when done right. Hartman recommends talking to others who have successful car wash businesses, attending trade shows, and talking to several manufacturers before you make a decision. With these steps, you're sure to find the perfect spot for a successful car wash.

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