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Weigh the Top Considerations and Compromises When It Comes to Vital Car Wash Site Selection

By Howco Marketing

Location, location, location - that famous mantra declaring the “three” most important things in a real estate purchase - certainly holds true in the car wash site selection process. But there are numerous other factors to consider, and some of them may surprise you.

There are very few perfect pieces of property, and typically every piece of property will require some type of compromise – sometimes from the buyer and the seller, but more often from the buyer. In compromising on various aspects of the property, it’s just a matter of deciding what you can accept.

Many factors may come into play in the site selection process. Timing, for example, is critical. Property availability, restrictions, and price can change due to the economy, marketplace, motivation, and neighboring developments and attitudes. Just because a desired piece of property seems unattainable today doesn’t mean it will be in the future. You don’t have to accept a permanent “no” in property acquisitions.

Also remember that, unfortunately, not every developer, real estate broker, and anchor tenant fully understands and appreciates the car wash industry, and at times our industry has become a lesser consideration. This situation has changed with the proliferation of our industry in the last decade, along with developer education and ongoing car wash industry public relations efforts.

Signage permits; landscaping requirements; building sightlines; road access; environmental requirements or restrictions; and other city, county, developer, and neighborhood codes or rules are also definite points for research and consideration when selecting a car wash site.

At Howco, we adhere to time-tested and continually adjusted guidelines when selecting sites for car wash operators.

Top 10 Considerations

  1. Define your desired market and then narrow your focus – choose your city and neighborhood.
  2. Define traffic counts, flow, and times; and know the probable destinations and demographics of the traffic. Look for traffic flow between 25-40 MPH, as opposed to faster, congested, or stopped. Being near a traffic signal has both advantages and disadvantages depending on your position and traffic flow.
  3. Know the demographics of the neighborhoods and businesses in a 7- to-10-minute drive from your desired site.
  4. Look or plan for a big driveway for easy customer access from the road.
  5. Aim to be near other retail establishments, i.e., grocery stores, dry cleaners, fast food restaurants, big box retailers, and others that typically host a lot of customer traffic.
  6. Remember that the best site is in the middle of an upscale residential/retail/office mix.
  7. Try to place your wash on the “going home” side of the road.
  8. Identify other nearby car washes, and find your niche. For example, is the competition full-service? Consider an express exterior or in-bay automatic. 
  9. Recognize that full-service conveyor operators will typically want to be located in areas with higher income demographics.
  10. Consider all types of car washes to determine the best fit for your geographic location, wash site, and budget. 

Top 10 Don’ts

  1. Don’t pursue a piece of property just because it’s cheap or in foreclosure. There is usually a good reason for that.
  2. Don’t put a car wash on property just because you already own that property. Do your due diligence to make sure it’s a viable fit.
  3. Don’t think that because a property has high traffic, it is necessarily good for a car wash. That road could have too much traffic or the wrong traffic demographics. Ingress and egress could be blocked or less than optimal.
  4. Don’t select a property that is significantly (10 feet) above or below road grade. That can produce problems with customers seeing, finding, and using your facility.
  5. Don’t discount the difficulty of getting various permits. Zoning doesn’t necessarily equate to permits.
  6. Don’t go behind anything. Try for road frontage. Consider giving up access for visibility. If they can see you, they’ll typically find a way to get to you.
  7. However, don’t discount a “C” or “D” real estate location in an “A” neighborhood. Howco has built “C” sites in “A” neighborhoods with a great mix of upscale retail, residents, and offices, and they have performed beautifully. 
  8. Don’t be uninformed about local restrictions or requirements pursuant to building design, signage, colors, property access, and landscaping.
  9. Don’t overlook existing car wash locations that already have permits, buildings, and customers; and don’t discount existing buildings that could be converted to a car wash. Howco has converted a bank, car dealership, dollar store, and other facilities to car washes.
  10. Don’t lose patience. Finding, acquiring, zoning, and permitting a site can take many months or even years.

As with any industry, retain qualified assistance for your project. Call the car wash experts at Howco to work with you in conjunction with your savvy and well-connected real estate professional. It could be the difference between failure or success.


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