Car-Wash Construction

Fred Grauer Comments
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Building a car wash is a long, tedious, expensive project. Each type of wash carries its own set of requirements, whether it’s a self-serve, self-serve with automatic, automatic, or conveyor tunnel (exterior or full-serve). Utility, site layout, traffic and production demands play major roles in developing a successful site. Therefore, preplanning and execution are paramount to making the numbers work and managing your budget, resources and bottom line.

Your construction format will be controlled by three major factors:

  • The type of wash you want to build.
A project will require a “stick build” format or a manufactured building. The more sophisticated the business, the more it will lend itself to the former.
  • The surrounding community.
  • Every area has its own building requirements. In general, planners look for conformity to adjacent projects and how well the wash “fits” into the neighborhood’s master plan.
  • The site itself.
  • Each project is unique. The more requirements there are for site preparation, soil conditions, utility placement, driveways, street location, etc., the higher the costs of the finished facility.

    Getting Started

    Preplanning is critical. Once you have chosen a site and the type of car wash you desire, the real work begins. Assuming you will be financing the project, you’ll have to assemble an extensive business and financial plan. A key ingredient will be a list of cost estimates for the project, including everything required from conception to washing your first vehicle.

    Now you have to choose your team: an equipment manufacturer, distributor, architect and other preconstruction professionals. Complex projects will definitely require an architect, who will do a lot more than just draw the building. Depending on your skill and involvement, he will also assist you with the local planning board, city engineer, contractors, subcontractors and others to get your site approved. He can also help you manage the project once construction begins. Ask about the architect’s services and costs up front.

    If your project is a simple one, you may be able to use a pre-manufactured building product. In this case, you’ll find the building and equipment supplier will play a major role in finding suitable contractors to ready the site for your structure.

    The Right Representation

    Regardless of the scope of the project, building a car wash is an involved process requiring focus and energy. The key to a successful, low-stress experience begins with your commitment. For your own protection, you must be involved every step of the way.

    If you are fortunate enough to have construction experience, you’ll find your day-to-day dedication will be ongoing from the first shovel. If you don’t have that knowledge, the key lies in choosing a representative who will watch your dollars as if they were his own. Unfortunately, very few people in the building trades know anything about car washes. As a result, you may wind up paying for their learning curve. To minimize this risk, select the right equipment distributor.

    Most car-wash distributors have assisted with and built many facilities. Their recommendations for contractors and architects will be very helpful. Once your site design is complete, you’ll submit bid requests to at least three general contractors and subcontractors. This keeps everyone honest and allows you to evaluate their responses. Insist on references and call them.

    Interview all your candidates in front of another set of eyes and ears—your supplier, architect, partner, etc. Ask tough questions and demand answers. Pin everyone down to understand their commitment. Know where your distributor’s responsibilities end and the various installers and contractors take over.

    Finally, establish a risk-reward program for your general contractor related to time and budget goals. Your financing will be based on the project costs you submitted to the lender. Overruns resulting from misinformation or mismanagement don’t sit will with financial institutions.

    The majority of them will not provide extra funds for going over budget. As a result, you must keep everything in control or be prepared to dig into your own pockets. Building a car wash can be stressful. The best way to minimize hassle is careful planning. Do your homework, get the best team possible, and stay totally involved in the entire process.

    Fred Grauer is the vice president, distributor network, for MarkVII Equipment LLC, a car-wash equipment manufacturer in Arvada, Colo. He has made a lifelong career of designing, selling, building and operating car washes. He can be reached at fgrauer@markvii.net.

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