The first semi-automatic car wash which used a series of pulleys was introduced in Detroit in 1914. It did require manual brushing of the vehicle though.
The first big car washing franchise was Dan Hanna’s Rub-a-Dub. Starting in Oregon, Hanna Enterprises (as it became known) in 1955 it soon had 31 car washes all other America. In the 1960s the idea of soft friction washing, roller on demand conveyor belt (also known as a tunnel) and wrap around brush was introduced. It was not until the 1970s that you they introduced the automatic wheel cleaner and polish ‘n’ wax. By 1988, Hanna Enterprises grew to 80,000 car washes in 56 countries, the second biggest franchiser of the time, after McDonald’s of course. It now trades as Colman Hanna Carwash Systems and still owns a number of patents and trademarks linked to the car wash. So if you’ve used a car wash, you’ve probably used a system created by Hanna Enterprises.
Mobile car washes are a more recent invention using plastic water tanks and pressure washers. A number of car users prefer this type of car wash to the automatic type as they believe it damages the paintwork, etc. Just because they don’t use machines doesn’t mean that this type of service can’t deal with a huge number of customers, some of them even operate a fleet cleaning service.
With an average price per basic wash of $15 it’s likely that most of the profit comes from upgraded services. 20% of car businesses charge more than $18 per customer, which doesn’t sound too unreasonable though it is not clear what the maximum amount is. If a car wash is getting enough passing trade it should be receiving at least $1,500 per month.
Looking to Start a Mobile Operation?
As with anyone starting a business you need traffic, (pun intended) which you might derive from social media. However, conventional wisdom is to generate your leads offline as well. This starts with the golden trifecta of business—location, location, location! Find somewhere which is easy to get to, especially if it is near a supermarket or freeway. There also needs enough room for you to operate, there’s no point if you can only get two or three cars on site. As with any other business look to see what the competition are doing-can you undercut them? Or maybe you should look to offering a premium service instead? It sounds obvious but still many businesses go bust in the first six months.
Here is a glossary of terms:
A car wash service which wishes to clean the inside and the outside of a vehicle with at least one automatic system is technically known as a detail shop.
A full service is a garage that both repairs, clean cars, inspects the vehicle, etc.
Exterior only is a car wash that only cleans the outside, usually an automatic system one step at a time.
Self-service is similar but it isn’t done by a machine.