The Complete How-To Guide for Starting a Car Wash

The Complete How-To Guide for Starting a Car Wash

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11We all love to have a clean car – start your own business today

The following tricks of the trade will help you launch your own car wash business.

Shiny wheels, the perfectly clear windows and not a streak in sight. In today’s fast paced world we often don’t have the time to do it ourselves – and when we do, there are other things that quickly fill that time.

And so we pop off to the local car wash to have it done and ticked off the list so that we can move on to other things.

How often have you sat considering owning a car wash of your own while you’re waiting for your car to be done? If it’s more than once, then maybe you should consider taking the leap and starting a car wash business. 

10Contents in this guide

  1. How to Choose What Type of Car Wash to Open
  2. Steps for Registering a Car Wash Business
  3. Car Wash Funding Options
  4. Choosing a Location for Your Car Wash
  5. Car Wash Insurance and Liability Cover
  6. Car Wash Equipment and Supplies
  7. Car Wash Marketing and Branding Basics
  8. Hiring and Managing Your Car Wash Staff
  9. How to Set Your Prices?

9How to Choose What Type of Car Wash to Open

There are many different kinds of car washes to choose from

The first decision that needs to be made involves deciding between a franchise and an independent business model. Both of these come with their own set of risks and rewards – all of which have been set out in the table below.

Pros and cons of a car wash

The decision between an independent venture and a franchise opportunity must be a personal choice based on your personality.

In general – if you are someone who likes to blaze your own trail and like to have complete and utter control over every aspect of your business, then starting a car wash, or any business, as an independent is the way to go for you.

If however, you are better at working within the guidelines and like the freedom of someone else, in this case the parent company, making the decisions for you – then starting a franchise is the way forward.

 

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Make sure when investigating the car wash franchise you are interested in, that you choose a recognisable brand with a good reputation in order to get the full benefit of buying into a franchise.

With both franchising and independent ventures, you now also have the choice of starting a mobile car wash, instead of a fixed full time entity. This also comes with pros and cons and these are listed below.

Pros and cons of going mobile

Need to know: Should You Purchase An Existing Franchise?

8Steps for Registering a Car Wash Business

Register your business using this easy guide

Here are the main steps for registering your new small to medium enterprise:

Register your business with the Companies and Intellectual Property Commission (CIPC). This involves lodging a Notice of Incorporation (CoR 14.1) and a Memorandum of Incorporation (CoR 15.1 A-E). These forms are available at www.cipc.co.za. They take roughly five to seven days.

Alternatively, it is possible to use a service that registers your company for you with the CIPC such as this one. These services do of course have their own fees attached.

Thereafter, you must open a bank account for your business. Depending on the correctness of the application forms, this only takes a day or two and is free of charge.

For an SME, earning less than a million rand a year – the only form that SARS requires is the IT77C that must be accompanied by a certified copy of your ID and a copy of the company’s registration documentation. The IT77C form is available from www.sars.gov.za. If your employees aged 24 – 65 will be earning more than R5 000 per month, then you will need to register for UIF and PAYE.

To register for unemployment insurance – visit www.labour.gov.za for more information on the process and for the forms.

The final step that takes place in conjunction with the step above is to cover your employees in terms of occupational injuries, diseases or death in terms of the Compensation Fund. This is optional. These forms are available from www.labour.gov.za

In terms of the permits and licenses you will need to start a car wash you need to first assess whether or not the premise you want to work from is purely residential or if it has been zoned to allow it to be a business property.

Furthermore, to operate a car wash you might need to apply for a permit under the water restriction bylaws depending on your municipality and the province you are in. For more information on the permits possibly required visit the Department of Water Affairs website.

Read: Start A Business They Said… It’ll Be Easy, They Said…

7Car Wash Funding Options

Fund your business using this guide

Before you even begin to look for funding, you will at this point need to create a detailed business plan. No institution will give you funding without one. For instructions on how to put a business plan together watch this video on business plans for dummies.

Sourcing funding for a start-up can be a bit of a challenge if you do not know where to go or what they are expecting of you. Here is a quick rundown of what you would need to prepare in order to encourage others, such as financial institutions, to give you the funding you need to start your venture.

Resource: New Ways SMEs Can Find Funding

Broadly speaking there are four main options available to entrepreneurs starting their own businesses. These are: Loans from financial institutions, own capital, investors and grants. Grants usually come from the government and are loans that you won’t have to repay, but grants come with strict guidelines on how the funds may be used.

It is always preferable to start with the bank that you already do business with – that way they have all your information and know your financial habits and behaviours as well as your credit record. Another option is to look at credit unions.

When applying for funding here are a few tricks to help you get the cash:

  • Make sure that you have a detailed business plan that shows how the funds will be used and spent. It is highly necessary for you to have a detailed knowledge of the costs involved in your business – from supplies to staff to overheads and equipment.
  • Know about the industry and the market you are entering. It can be beneficial for you to do a market analysis.
  • You will more than likely have to use your personal assets and wealth as collateral for your new business.
  • It will show your dedication and commitment if you use your own capital to place an initial investment. In some cases, it is required for you to do so – such as with SEFA – the Small Enterprise Finance Agency who require a 10% personal initial investment.

Resource: Attention Black Entrepreneurs: Start-Up Funding From Government Grants & Funds

6Choosing a Location for Your Car Wash

Location, location, location

With a fixed location – most of your business will come from ‘walk ins’. It is essential to your business that your car wash, or any service based business, is in a location that is convenient.

More often than not people do not specifically set out to go have their cars washed but rather end up having it done because it was easily available and they had the time.

Here are a few tips of choosing a successful location:

  • Being near a shopping area is always preferable
  • Heavily populated residential areas with high traffic volumes are better for business
  • The site must be easily accessible from the road
  • It must be easy for customers to get back onto the road once their car is clean
  • Highly visible
  • A decent size car wash has more than one washing and drying bay, there needs to be enough space for these as well as a waiting area
  • Enough space for cars to queue
  • It is also in your interest to pick a location that will allow for expansions as your business grows.

In South African law, verbal leases can be upheld in court, but it is always best to get the agreement in writing.

In clear and concise language that both parties can understand, make sure that your lease covers any changes you may or may not make both structurally and superficially.

Make sure you know how your rental will be calculated – it is usually quoted in Rands per square metre per month, excluding VAT for commercial and industrial properties in South Africa. Make sure you both agree on what costs will be covered by your rental and what costs you will incur (i.e. electricity).

Know under what circumstances the lease may be voided by either party. And finally, know who is liable for damages to the property or for instances of burglary.

Resource: How do I go about analysing and choosing a possible location for my business?

5Car Wash Insurance and Liability Cover

Ensure your business is fully insured

First off, for new owners the importance of a disclaimer needs to be highlighted. A disclaimer can exempt car wash owners from covering the costs of repairing vehicles that are damaged on their premise but they do not cover gross negligence on behalf of the business owner.

It is the responsibility of the owner to ensure that all machinery and equipment is well maintained and is regularly checked for foreign objects that could cause damage. It is also the responsibility of the owner to make absolutely sure that all cleaning products used throughout the process are car-friendly.

Furthermore, public liability cover is not enough. Property in the custody, care or control of the car wash owner is excluded from cover under the public liability section. The correct policy to have in place is the Motor Traders Internal section.

Your level of insurance coverage will have to be higher if you and your employees are the ones driving and moving the cars.

It is important that you as the owner of the car wash to have general liability insurance that covers:

  • Medical expenses to yourself and your employees in case of injury
  • Custody, care and control coverage
  • Equipment break down
  • Damage to cars – you will need to set this limit for your policy
  • It is also important (especially if you have bought the property) that you have property insurance that will cover your premise in terms of theft, damage, fire, flooding etc.

Leonard Degee, who has been in the independent car wash industry for 12 years, knows that in order for his car wash to continue successfully, it is important that only management handles all the cars.

Not only does it make the insurance coverage easier and cheaper, but customers are usually happier knowing that the person who might be moving their car is more accountable.

4Car Wash Equipment and Supplies

Obviously the equipment you need will depend on the type of car wash you open.

In some cases, all you’ll need is a bucket, clean water, soap and some good cloths – and the willingness to approach people to offer your services. But if you would like to open a more professional business and reach a broader market then there is some equipment that you’ll need.

If you are opening a franchise, the parent company or franchisor will be making the decisions for you. If you are opening an independent location or mobile business then you will need to source the necessary equipment.

The basic equipment needed for a manual car wash is:

  • High pressure system
  • Oil/water separation Unit
  • Drainage unit
  • Industrial vacuum cleaner with wet upholstery cleaning option
  • Possibly an upholstery cleaner
  • Depending on the products you choose you might need a foam attachment on your hose.

Alongside your basic equipment you will also need your location to have:

  • Concrete wash bay slab
  • Pump room
  • Drying bay
  • Ancillary Walling and Paving

The Basic equipment you will need for a mobile car wash is:

  • Pressure washer hose with a compressor
  • An industrial hose with nozzle and gun
  • A good sized tank in the back of the truck/van or even trailer
  • A generator (remember to keep extra fuel handy)
  • A powerful vacuum cleaner

For cleaning products and supplies, you have a multitude of varieties to choose from. If you are inclined to go the eco-friend route, there are even ranges of waterless cleaning solutions.

The cleaning product basics you would need are:

  • Car soaps
  • Metal polish
  • Plastic polish
  • Car wax
  • Glass cleaner
  • Fabric shampoo
  • Leather cleaners
  • Detergent for the pedals
  • And then sponges, cloths, brushes – preferably suitable for use on all cars.

Here are some suppliers of equipment and cleaning products:

Keep all equipment in good working condition with regular check-ups. For an easier resale, make sure you have detailed maintenance records on all equipment.

In  Degee’s car wash, they purchase R3000 worth of stock every month – which covers the 360 or so  cars that they clean.

3Car Wash Marketing and Branding Basics

Simply put, branding is your promise to your customers; marketing is communicating that promise to them.

Branding and marketing are two very different concepts, both of which are highly important to the effectiveness of your business.

In order to bring the customers to you, there are a couple of things you could do. These involve connecting on an emotional level, staying relevant and flexible, committing to the community you work in, staying visible and finally aligning your marketing tactics with your brand strategy.

The biggest secret to marketing is being able to differentiate yourself from your competitors. Brand Strategy Insider is an online resource for branding and marketing and they list 50 ways to differentiate your brand.

For the car wash business here are the applicable ones:

  • Expand your appeal
  • Rewrite the experience
  • Break away from conventional wisdom
  • Be the expert
  • Share values with your customers
  • Engage the senses
  • Focus on aesthetics
  • Treat people differently than your competitors do (treat them better)

When you are implementing these values in your brand, make sure that they go deeper than just your aims. Make these things that make you different the foundation of your business.

That means engraving these changes in the mission statement and instilling it in your staff. It’s important to note that your staff are your brand ambassadors. A good service experience means that people will come back and more than that, they will tell others about you too. Word of mouth is a powerful tool in launching a new business.

Degee says that the best marketing strategy they have is their car wash’s visibility.

In terms of marketing schemes available to you as a new business owner, you have a couple of easy options.

Available marketing options:

  • Keep the conversation active with your customers
  • Flyers
  • Customer databases so that you can text or email them your specials (these must be opt in)
  • Signage
  • Posters
  • Advertisements in local papers and on local sites
  • Promotions
  • Coupons
  • Specials
  • Discounts
  • Always squash any bad word of mouth by proving the opposite
  • Consider loyalty reward programmes to encourage repeat customers.

Resource: The Complete Guide To Writing A Marketing Plan

2Hiring and Managing Your Car Wash Staff

Hiring staff should be your next priority

“Good management and good staff is the most important thing,” says Degee. With your staff often handling the money, it is easy for untrustworthy staff to “slip it into their pocket.”

Make sure your staff is reliable and Degee advises that you need to keep theft as low as you possibly can.

If you open a bigger operation than just yourself, or if you are needed to expand your business as it grows, then you will need to hire staff. Because you are in the service delivery industry, you need to remember that your staff needs to treat your customers well – as do you.

To this effect, hire people that are

  • Polite
  • Friendly
  • Punctual
  • Efficient
  • Have a good sense of service delivery.

The number of people you hire depends on your expected workload. The more washing and drying bays you have, the more people you will need. You also need to consider how many days of the week you are open and how many hours a day.

Obviously, if you want to go the more automated route with a machine run conveyor system, then the need for physical staff will be less.

Read: As An Entrepreneur, Be A Motivational Leader To Your Staff

1How to Set Your Prices?

People will pay a little more if the service that they receive is outstanding – but the quality of your work must justify the price.

If you are going to give a variety of different services then you should have options for all budgets and time frames to suit the biggest market possible.

As with any service industry business – you need to have competitive prices for the services that you offer. It’s important to do some market research in your area as to what your competitors are charging for which services.

Important factors to consider:

  • The cost of your cleaning supplies
  • Your overhead costs
  • The amount of cars you can do in an hour
  • The number of staff members you have
  • Your working hours for the week
  • Competitor prices for similar services
  • The type of area you are in (residential, urban, rural, business?)

For a mobile car wash it is important to consider many of the same factors including fuel price and distance travelled. In general, the cost of a mobile car wash service is higher than that of a car wash that a patron will go to because of the added convenience factor for the customer.

When deciding on prices for a mobile business, you will once again need to do current market research into what your competitors are charging.

To end off, it is important that you and your staff do a good job on the cars that you clean. The best way to get repeat customers is to supply the ones you have with an amazing service. For an in-depth tutorial on how to professionally clean a car – watch this video.

Advice from Car Wash Pros

Degee offers a few tips for an entrepreneur starting his own car wash.

  • Trustworthy staff is hard to find. Sort that out before anything else.
  • Sometimes, the easiest way to bring in new staff is through our existing staff.
  • A high turnover rate brings the possibility of more theft – try keeping good staff for as long as possible.

For the International Carwash Association visit www.carwash.org.

Next guide: How Do I Start a Transport or Logistics Business?

truck-driver

Katie Cubitt
Katie Cubitt completed an internship with Entrepreneur Magazine in 2014. She is a final year Journalism and Linguistics student at the University of Johannesburg.
  • praveenkumar

    Very nice tips for launch car wash business.This tips is really use full to interested people who r looking car wash business.

    Praveen
    http://acetennisacademy.in/

  • Hemant Kumar

    To start best car wash business in India visit I suggest is Speed Car Wash, best franchisee model i have come across…

  • Sayon

    Excellent article. Any idea where I can find stats on the car wash industry in South Africa. Any help is much appreciated.