Even the newest of business owners know the most important part of real estate — location. All other factors aside, location can be crucial in determining whether your business thrives or fails. However, even though everyone knows how important location is, actually picking the perfect spot for your business can be quite a challenge.

Also, not all locations are equal for all types of businesses. Restaurants may fare better in certain parts of town than, say, dental clinics or pet shops. Similarly, many factors can help you determine the best location for your car wash business.

Location goes well beyond the physical address. For business purposes, a key location takes many other aspects into account, including traffic, demographics and visibility. Here are 12 tips for entrepreneurs to consider when choosing a location for car wash business.

  1. Traffic Numbers

As a general rule of thumb, the more traffic that moves through your location on a daily or weekly basis, the better your chances of bringing in more customers. This can certainly be true for car wash businesses. The majority of car wash customers stop in on an impulse when passing by, and higher traffic numbers will lead to more of these types of customers.

In most cases, traffic data is available from local or state government agencies. You can request data for the areas of town you’re considering and compare and contrast typical traffic flow. In the end, one key to the car wash business is to get in front of many eyeballs as possible, so high-traffic locations are typically the safest bet.

On the flip side, if you place your car wash business in an area with relatively low levels of traffic, you’re less likely to get customers stopping in while driving by. One way to combat this is to make sure you already have an existing customer base in place, but this, of course, is not possible for brand new businesses. Regular and steady traffic flow is one of the most important parts of building up that base in the first place.

  1. Demographics

There are a few different things to keep in mind when looking at demographics (age, sex, income, etc.) as they relate to the best location to build a car wash. First, while you certainly want to consider the demographics of the people that live in your desired location, it’s not the only thing you should examine. You will also want to analyze the demographics of people who work in the area or frequent it regularly. After all, the people who live near your location aren’t your only potential customers.

With that in mind, which demographics should you look at? You’ll want to try to select a location that’s frequented by not only car owners, but also car owners that are likely to stop in for a wash regularly. This may mean a slightly older or upscale slice of the population, since they’re more likely to take good care of their cars than college students, for instance.

It may seem obvious, but a car wash located in an area regularly visited by higher-income people is more likely to drive business than one in a lower-income part of town.

  1. Safety

Safety seems to be a growing concern in many pockets of the country. You don’t want to place your car wash business in a part of town known for excessive levels of crime. If you’re in a neighborhood that gets a bad rap when it comes to safety, it may be a turnoff to potential customers and could also mean lower traffic numbers.

That said, reputation and reality can be different things when it comes to neighborhood safety. A specific area of a city may be known for higher levels of crime, but the actual numbers might tell a different story.

Further, placing your car wash in an area with a poor safety reputation could be a strong play in the long run, particularly if you know the numbers paint a different picture. If a new business like your car wash can survive and thrive in that part of town, you’ll be seen as a credible example that could lead to more revitalization in that area.

  1. Competition

This is probably one of the more intuitive or obvious tips on this list, but you don’t want to place your car wash business in an area that’s near a similar business. Unless you offer vastly superior services or much lower prices, it’s hard to take away customers from a business that’s already established in that part of the city. 

Still, there could be instances where placing a car wash only a block or two from another similar business could be viable. One factor to consider is demand. If a local car wash is constantly busy with long wait times that lead to customer dissatisfaction, there might be an opportunity for you to swoop in and capitalize on some of that disgruntled business.

Similarly, if the nearby car wash is the only such business in an entire small or mid-sized city, placing your own business in the vicinity might not be the worst thing in the world. Of course, you will want to size up your competition and make sure your offerings are at least on par.

  1. Zoning

This is where consulting a legal professional can be critical. For each location you consider, you’ll need to research zoning laws and regulations to see if any operating restrictions may apply to your car wash business. A location that seems perfect for your business might be zoned for residential use, and it can be difficult (if not impossible) to get the location rezoned.

With that in mind, during your first sweep of location scouting, you’ll probably only want to consider locations and properties zoned for commercial or business use. It’s not your only option, but it certainly will save you time and headaches versus trying to get a seemingly ideal property rezoned.

Considering issues such as zoning can be tedious but are vital to ensure you abide by local and state regulations.

  1. Weather Patterns

Weather is not something you can control, but you can control the states and markets where you place your car wash business. It’s not as if people who live in perennially warm and sunny locations never wash their cars, but they most likely do so less often than those in markets where the weather is more volatile and unpredictable.

There can be a boom-versus-bust tradeoff, however. For example, in cold-weather winter markets such as Chicago or Minneapolis, car washes may see little or no business on days with constant snowfall. Very few people stop in because they know the snow will ruin the wash almost instantly.

However, car washes in these same markets see business boom in the first sunny day after a snowfall, because everyone wants to clean all of the snow, sleet and salt off their vehicles. So while business might be slow during some of the colder and snowier winter months, there will also be long lines when the weather begins to turn.

  1. Cost/Financials

Financials are a regular concern for business owners, and that’s no different in the car wash industry. When scouting locations, there are a few cost-related factors to consider, the first and most obvious being how much the property costs.

However, there are many other potential costs to consider. This includes rental or mortgage payments, property taxes, and whether the location requires you to invest money up front on building or renovations. It can all make choosing the best location from a cost perspective tricky.

For example, imagine you’re deciding between two nearly identical locations. One may cost less on its face but will require you to pay cash to build the facilities you need. Meanwhile, the other property may have a higher sticker price, but it has the bulk of the building infrastructure you need already in place. At the same time, the property taxes for each location could vary significantly based on the parts of town they’re in.

It’s often easier said than done but try to make a decision that will minimize your overhead costs while also maximizing profits.

  1. Neighborhood Attractions

When choosing the best location for your car wash, you won’t be doing so in a vacuum. You need to think above and beyond your own business and consider your potential neighbors. You want to select an area with other businesses that align with your goal of generating car wash traffic.

For example, there may be a location available in a vibrant area of town known for its variety of trendy high-end restaurants. It may sound attractive because of the constant traffic and upscale audience, but you also have to consider that not many people associate stopping at the car wash with going out to dinner or grabbing a drink after work.

Rather, the busiest car washes tend to be in locations where people can make quick stops, such as dense retail areas or neighborhoods with drive-through fast food restaurants. Locations near auto mechanics can also work well, as many folks like to get a car wash after an oil change or tire rotation.

  1. Traffic Speed

We’ve already discussed placing your business in high-traffic locations, but that traffic isn’t beneficial if it’s whizzing by at 70 miles per hour. While you do want to be in a location that delivers high volumes of traffic, you also want the traffic to be slower, so drivers have time to consider stopping in.

Also, the more lanes there are on your street, the better. You’d much rather be on a three- or four-lane road with a 35 MPH speed limit and near a stoplight than on a one-lane highway with no traffic lights or stop signs in sight.

Traffic congestion may be annoying to the everyday driver, but they’re a blessing for car wash owners. Instead of looking out the window and seeing the blur of vehicles speeding by, you’ll see an ocean of potential customers within seconds of stopping in for a wash.

  1. Growth Potential

Sometimes being a business owner requires the skills of a fortune teller. The better you are at predicting the future, the more your business will thrive down the line.

It’s not easy, of course. If it were, every business would be successful. That certainly isn’t the case, but to ensure your car wash business is, you’ll want to select a location that has strong growth potential. This can be useful in a couple of different ways.

On the one hand, a location in a high-traffic part of town could seem attractive. But perhaps you know something about the area that will change in the near future — a big business or two will close, development is in decline, etc. That will lead to lower traffic levels later on, and likely impact your bottom line.

Conversely, another location may not have ultra-high traffic right now, but you know of some big-time businesses are set to open shortly. This will boost traffic levels, and in turn, your receipts. You may also be able to get in at a lower price if you invest in the property early enough.

  1. Size/Footprint

There might be a few locations available in parts of town that you desire, but if the physical size of the lots isn’t large enough, they may not be worth the time or money.

Remember, location is an important part of a successful car wash business, but it’s not the only factor. Another thing that will determine the success of your business is the quality and quantity of the services it offers, and that means you need enough space to be able to offer your customers all of the services they want.

Bigger isn’t always better, but you do want to make sure your car wash property has enough space to offer the services that will keep the business thriving.

  1. Visibility

High traffic and strong demographics are great, but they mean nothing if people can’t see your business. As mentioned, a good chunk of car wash customers stops in on an impulse, which means they need to be able to see the business’ sign or location ahead of time.

There can be a fine line when it comes to visibility. Yes, you want your business to stand out so that everyone who passes can see it. But you also don’t want to be so over the top that you offend other nearby business owners or residents. So while you 100 percent want to make sure your car wash is visible, you also want to keep it classy.

Consider JBS Industries

Now that you know how to choose a location for a car wash, it’s time to take the next step. At JBS Industries, we have resources you need to maintain a successful car wash business. We offer top-of-the-line car wash chemicals that will deliver satisfaction to your customers and make sure they return each time they need a wash.

Our line of products includes detergents, waxes, tire cleaners and various specialty products designed specifically for automatic, self-service, and friction car washes, along with years of experience to help your business shine. Do yourself and your business a favor and contact us today to get started!

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