Here are some key considerations for an ideal car wash location to position you for success:

Traffic Considerations

  • The property for the car wash should be visible from a distance and easily accessible, allowing drivers enough time to slow down and safely turn into the location. A deceleration lane is ideal for this. In an ideal scenario, the property is on the right-hand side of the road after a stoplight. Since car washes are often an impulse purchase, visibility is crucial for attracting customers.
  • A traffic flow of more than 25,000 cars per day in a 24-hour period is ideal for a car wash. Keep in mind that commuters, who are on their way to and from work, will likely not stop as frequently for a car wash as local residents. When evaluating a property on a divided highway or one without a nearby turning lane, only consider the traffic on the side of the street where the car wash will be located.
  • The speed of traffic is important for a successful car wash. If traffic is moving too quickly, potential customers may pass by without noticing the car wash. On the other hand, if traffic is too congested, drivers may become frustrated and not stop for a car wash. A good rule of thumb is to aim for a traffic speed of 45 mph. However, there may be exceptions to this rule, such as when there are stoplights or signs that create intermittent traffic flow that can still support a car wash even at higher speeds. These situations are rare exceptions, however.

Permitting & Building Considerations

  • Before investing money in a property for a car wash, make sure that car washing is a permitted use at the location. If it is not, you may need to spend a significant amount of money to get an exception, with no guarantee of success. While a good location may be worth pursuing even if it requires a battle, be prepared for the possibility of a costly and uncertain process.
  • It is essential to ensure that zoning rules allow you to prominently promote your brand and services at the chosen location. Do not make assumptions about this, and confirm with reasonable certainty that you will be able to effectively advertise your business to passing drivers and give them enough time to slow down and turn into your car wash. If this is not possible, it may be best to consider another piece of land for your car wash.
  • Before making an offer on a property for a car wash, make sure that the necessary utilities are available at the location. This includes a two-inch water main and a sewer connection, without excessive impact fees. The property should also have access to three-phase electricity. Do not assume that these utilities are present, as this can waste time and money.

Population Demographics

  • When considering the potential success of a car wash, the population density of 30,000 people per conveyor is not the only important factor. You should also look for markets with high occupancy rates, meaning that there are not a lot of unoccupied rental or for-sale units available. A mix of residential and apartment buildings is ideal, since apartment complexes often do not allow driveway washing, which can increase the overall volume of customers for the car wash.
  • When choosing a market for a car wash, look for one with a working population, with at least 55% of the total population falling within the age range of 25 to 55 years old. The reason for this is that employed people are more likely to have disposable income than retirees or students, and are therefore more likely to use a car wash.
  • For a successful car wash, it is ideal for about half of the potential market to have a household income of at least $50,000 per year. This is especially important for a full-service or flex-serve car wash, though the income requirement may be somewhat relaxed for an express-exterior wash. The higher the income level of the potential market, the more likely they are to use a car wash and pay for additional services. Therefore, targeting a market with a relatively high average income can help ensure the success of the car wash.
  • When choosing a market for a car wash, it is important to consider the total population and income of the area, and whether they are projected to grow over the next five years. Entering a market too early can lead to failure before it takes off, while buying into a market that is already saturated may result in a land cost that does not fit your investment objectives. To determine whether a market is a good fit, review census data to see if the population is growing and visit the city planner's office to learn about any planned retail developments. Look for opportunities to enter a market before land prices surge, and make sure there is enough traffic to support your business during the expected growth.

In Conclusion

If you find a car wash site that meets all of the key characteristics mentioned above, such as high traffic flow, good visibility, and access to utilities, you are well-positioned for success. However, it is also important to deliver a consistently high-quality product, offer good value for money, and provide a positive customer experience to ensure that your car wash performs well. By focusing on these factors, you can increase the likelihood of success for your car wash business.

KJ Callahan photo

KJ Callahan

Kevin James has over 20 years of combined experience in commercial real estate, retail, software, and machine learning. He is a data nerd -- He is passionate about turning data into actionable insights so that customers are empowered to make better decisions.