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6 Common Mistakes People Make When They Start a Car Wash

by Louise W. Rice
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Opening a car wash might not be your idea of a dream business, but the fact is that a car wash can be incredibly profitable. It’s a great way to make a lot of money while performing a pretty simple task. That said, even though cleaning cars is a simple enough thing to do, you will need to work hard at it to be successful. Running a car wash is as much about hustle as it is about skill. 

Despite its potential, car washes do fail. Often it’s because the owner did not take into consideration certain factors, or they made easily preventable errors that led to disaster. To help you avoid this with your burgeoning business, here are the most common mistakes people make when they start a car wash and how you can prevent or fix them. 

1. Not Wanting to Put In the Work

A car wash is a hands-on business. If you think you can start or buy one, and stay away while it runs itself, you are sadly mistaken. You need to be on-site to take advantage of high volume times and to pivot when the volume is low. You will need to provide consistently excellent service to keep your customers coming back. Car washes rely on repeat customers, so every car that comes through must be properly washed and cleaned to customer satisfaction. With the owner on-site, you will be able to make sure that your staff covers all the details and make your customers happy. 

2. Assuming Traffic Will Come on its Own

Too many owners and investors think that when they build their car wash, they will capture traffic just based on location alone. Unfortunately, this is not true. Even if you have the best location possible, car wash customers are creatures of habit. They will go where they’ve always gone, for the most part. You need to make sure that you properly market your car wash. You can do this on social media, print ads, SEO, and broadcast ads as well. Social media and local SEO will probably get you the most bang for your buck and help you bring in new customers. Do not assume that the customers will come just because you have built something. 

3. Relying Too Much on Equipment and Machinery

To have your customers come back time after time, you have to provide something other car washes don’t offer. Getting a good wash is not just about splashing some water and soap and calling it a day. It depends on water temperature, the power of the sprays, the soap mixtures, and how long the car is cleaned. These factors can change, and the shape and size of vehicles vary, which means that they will not all get cleaned the same. 

You can’t only rely on automation to provide a great wash. You and your staff must pay attention to all of the little details that will make a car shine as brightly as possible. Cover every spot by hand, and get into the nooks and crannies. You also need to make sure that your chemicals are mixed properly at all times so that they are as effective as possible. Taking the extra time and attention will keep your customers happy and keep them coming back time and again. 

4. Not Having Insurance

A car wash comes with some risks. For one, heavy equipment can be dangerous for your cleaning staff. You will also have clients on-site who may be walking near slippery places where water has gotten on the floor. Plus, if you damage someone’s vehicle, they will want to be compensated for the repair costs. Car wash business insurance is vital to make sure that you are protected. A lawsuit, natural disaster, or an injury to a client could cause you serious financial damage. However, by having the right insurance, you can weather those storms and keep your business running no matter what. 

5. Not Being Prepared for Different Weather

Different types of weather tend to bring out customers and can also deter customers from getting their cars washed. If it has been rainy for a few days or more, you can expect a rush on the first sunny day. If you live in a cold part of the country, you may not get many customers daily, but you can expect a rush on slightly warmer days. Plus, when the snow starts melting and the roads are not salted, springtime can be pretty busy. 

The problem is that you need to be prepared whether you will have a rush of customers or things will be quiet. Your staffing has to keep pace, which can be hard. You do not want people sitting around and doing nothing, but you can’t leave yourself short. Otherwise, your customers will get stuck in a long line and are less likely to return in the future. 

6. Assuming That Managing Staff Isn’t Hard

Unless you plan on operating a very specialized, boutique type of car wash, you will undoubtedly need to hire staff. You might think that managing staff is simple. You tell them what to do, and they do it. If they don’t, you can fire them, right? Unfortunately, it is not that easy. First of all, working at a car wash is not a high-paying job, so there will most likely be a lot of turnovers. Much of your staff will be youth who might be on their first jobs, so you will have to train them in the work and how to be part of a team. 

Managing the staff at a car wash is more than just giving tasks and watching them go. You will sometimes feel like a babysitter, you will sometimes have to settle disputes, and you will have to manage time off, sick days, and all sorts of HR-related issues. Never assume that you will be able to let your staff function on their own. If you do, you might be inviting disaster. 

Take Away

Owning a car wash is a very viable way of making a good living and enjoying what you do. The key is that you can’t make certain mistakes if you want to be successful. Luckily, many entrepreneurs have come before you and owned car washes. Some have been successful, and some have not. However, you can bring in the profits you want by avoiding these common mistakes and working your tail off at the same time. 

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