How Much Should You Charge for a Car Wash?
If you own a car wash business or are thinking of starting one, determining your pricing structure is a crucial aspect of your business — and your bottom line. Five key factors when building your pricing structure include your business’s characteristics, cost per car wash including materials needed, demographic and location, upsell potential, and membership offerings.
Choosing the right prices for your car wash services can make or break a business, so it’s essential to find the right balance for your pricing. If your costs are too high, customers may decide your services aren’t worth their investment, and you may lose out on business. However, setting prices too low can mean that you won’t make enough profit beyond your business expenses. But how do you figure out the right pricing structure? A few factors can guide your pricing decisions, helping you determine what’s best for your business. Consider this your guide to finding the right car wash prices for your company.
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1. Assess Your Car Wash’s Characteristics
One of the first things to consider when setting your car wash prices is your business’ characteristics. Three crucial considerations are quality, convenience and method. Let’s take a closer look at these attributes.
- Quality: Perhaps the most central factor in determining how much to charge is the overall quality of the goods and services you provide. Customers are more willing to pay top dollar for premium services and products. Compare the cleaning products and equipment you use to industry standards. You can also factor in your facility’s condition and your commitment to customer service. Do you offer a simple drive-through operation, or a full-service interior and exterior detailing package? Do you have any unique features or add-ons? These can all contribute to your services’ overall quality.
- Convenience: Another essential factor for pricing is the convenience of the services offered. Customers may also be more willing to pay more for options that save them time and money. These could include memberships, pay-ahead options, a full-service menu and other added features that make the whole car wash experience more convenient for your clients.
- Method: The methods used at your car wash business are another crucial factor in pricing. Do you primarily use brushes, touchless spray systems, mobile services or something else? Each of these may have different average price points and varying customer expectations.
2. Determine Your Cost Per Car
Calculating the cost per car is an essential component of determining your pricing. After all, you’ll need to know how much of your supplies, labor and other costs go into your services, so you can figure out how much of the final price is profit, and what you need to cover your expenses. When you’re making your cost-per-car calculations, one of the most crucial considerations is volumetrics — in other words, the exact amount of cleaning chemicals used in each car wash process.
After all, the cleaning chemicals used are among the most significant resources and expenses of running a car wash business. But you’ll likely buy these in bulk. So, how can you know how much goes into each car wash? Thankfully, the different methods for figuring out the volumetrics of your cleaning chemical usage are the graduated cylinder method, the digital scale method, and by dividing the total cost of materials.
- Graduated cylinder method: This version for determining volumetrics hearkens back to chemistry class. This technique involves filling two cylinders with cleaning fluid and attaching one to your pump. Run several cars through the system — generally, four is a good number for this. After the cars go through, pour the second cylinder to fill the first, then divide the amount left over by the number of cars used to accurately estimate the amount of chemicals used per car.
- Digital scale method: A faster and more accurate measurement involves the use of a digital scale. You place the container on a digital scale, and set the TARE so you can precisely measure product use. Again, run several cars through the system, then divide the amount used by the number of cars for the answer.
- Dividing total cost of materials: One of the oldest and easiest methods is to calculate the amount of product used in any given time by the number of cars washed in that same period. This method may not be as accurate as the others, but it still should give you a reasonable estimate for the amount of cleaning products used per car.
Whichever measurement method you choose, you can use this information to help determine your cost per car. However, remember that cleaning solutions are only one factor contributing to your cost per car. And, you’ll need to do this with each chemical used, including detergents, waxes and other specialty cleaners. You likely also have many other business expenses that affect your bottom line. Consider your rent or mortgage payments for your property, utilities like water and electricity, employee wages and marketing costs. The cars going through your car wash need to cover all your business expenses, plus leave you with enough to turn a profit. Create an accurate budget to determine if your pricing is where it needs to be.
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3. Look at Your Market
Your business’ location can also make a significant difference in setting fair prices. Car wash patrons in a more affluent, higher-income area may be willing to pay more. That is especially true if the other shopping destinations, businesses and major roads are near the car wash to add to the the convenience factor. Car wash businesses in hard-to-reach locations or lower-income neighborhoods may not be able to charge as much for their services.
Your geographic location matters, too. Costs of living and average prices for goods and services vary from city to city. Generally, large, populated metropolises will have higher costs of living than remote, rural towns, and businesses can charge more in these higher-cost areas. Do a little research into your area of the country, as well as the neighborhoods surrounding your current or future location. To get a good idea of what’s reasonable for your market, research costs of living in your city compared to other areas of the country and do your homework on what other car washes in the area are charging.
4. Don’t Be Afraid to Upsell
Upselling is incredibly useful for car wash businesses, and it’s essential to consider this when determining your pricing structure. This sales technique involves convincing customers to select add-on items or spend slightly more than they originally intended. Most car washes have several offerings — from the lowest tier to more premium services. While you can rely on some customers going for the basic wash no matter what, you’ll be more likely to upsell to them if the different price points are closer together. For example, if your basic wash is only $5, you’ll attract plenty of customers, but have a much harder time upselling them to a premium $15 wash. However, if your low-tier prices range from $10 to $15, customers may be more likely to go for a better package, knowing it’s only adding a couple of dollars to the price.
5. Build Revenue With Memberships
Car wash memberships are worth it when it comes to the bottom line. They are a great way to increase your base of returning customers and your overall revenue. They are also an in-demand option for car wash businesses. The benefits of offering memberships include return customers, guaranteed monthly revenue, introducing customers to added services, pulling business away from competitors, collecting customer information, and offering customers a unique gifting opportunity!
Let dive deeper into each to examine their benefit.
- Return customers: With your members, return business is almost a guarantee. They’ll come back again and again to use your services.
- Guaranteed monthly revenue: When you charge your customers automatically each month, you’ll have income you can plan on regularly, even for patrons who don’t use any of your services that month.
- Introduce customers to added services: With unlimited membership services, your customers will be more willing to try out premium services and add-ons that they may not have otherwise. Even if they later cancel their membership, they may be more likely to occasionally spring for the premium services they enjoyed as a member.
- Pull business away from your competition: Your members are far more likely to be loyal, and you’ll be getting more business that may have gone to your competitors otherwise.
- Collects customer information: With your members’ details on file, you can market directly to them with new offers and promotions, new services and other updates. You’ll know more about your customer base, too, so you can tailor your services to your clients’ needs.
- Memberships make great gifts: Offering memberships can help you tap into another market — gift buying. Your regular customers may want to buy a gift membership for a friend, teacher, neighbor or family member. Loyal customers can introduce your services to new people while increasing your monthly revenue.
Now, you can see how offering memberships is a smart idea for any car wash business. But knowing how to price them is a little trickier. You want to offer plenty of value for your members, and make the memberships enticing to buy, so you should price them with this in mind. You’ll also want to consider what a membership includes. Will you offer a specific number of car washes per month or unlimited services?
A good starting point is to offer an unlimited membership for about the cost of two of your highest-tier washes. Some customers may use more than two premium washes per month, and your profits on these members will be lower. However, most of your members will likely use fewer services. Having a guaranteed customer base is worth it, because it offsets any losses from customers who use your car wash more frequently.
6. Remember to Avoid Undercutting
Of course, when you’re determining your pricing strategies, you want to offer value for your customers and remain competitive in your market. However, don’t go too far and sell yourself short. Undercutting is a common practice of offering services well below competitors’ prices, and while doing so may bring in lots of business, you’ll be cutting into your profit margins, perhaps even too much. Remember, your business expenses and your cost per car are some of the most crucial factors in pricing, so don’t undercut too far.
How Much Does the Average Car Wash Cost?
If you’re still not sure how to price your car washes, or want a better understanding of average car wash company prices, here’s a closer look at some of the national averages for various car wash services. Remember, prices can vary quite a bit depending on region, services offered and other factors. So, how much does a car wash cost?
- Basic wash: The most basic automatic, drive-through car washes generally use sprays of water and soap, either in a touchless format or using a system of brushes and towels to clean the car. For a basic wash, the average prices are usually between $5 and $10. Add-ons such as a spray wax application or undercarriage wash may be an additional $1 to $2 each.
- Deluxe wash: Most automatic car wash businesses offer several tiers of services, including one or two packages that go beyond a basic wash. These services may be called premium or “the works” and cost between $10 and $20. These may have some of the same add-on options as lower-tier wash services or include them in the total price.
- Full-service wash: This level of car wash service goes beyond the most deluxe drive-through package and may offer additional services such as hand-drying, vacuuming the interior, washing the tires, cleaning the windows, doors and dashboard and even adding the customer’s choice of fresh scent. For these extra services, customers should expect to pay between $15 and $30, depending on the specific services selected.
- Detailing: Going a step beyond a standard full-service wash, detailing is a premium service usually performed by hand. A detailer will wash the car inside and out, with a higher level of care and attention. Services may include manual washing and waxing, vacuuming and complete interior cleaning, shampooing of cloth surfaces, tire cleanings, cleaning the doors, dash and console, light scratch removal, added fragrance and other services. Customers should expect to pay between $80 and $200 for premium detailing services, and prices generally increase for larger vehicles.
- Mobile car wash: A relatively new car wash offering, mobile car wash companies come to you. Levels of service and add-on options may vary wildly, but mobile detailing prices are usually anywhere from $20 to $50, and more for more detailed services.
With this car wash price list, you can easily compare your pricing to know if your services and costs are reasonable.
Car Wash Supplies From JBS Industries
We hope this answers the common question “How much is a car wash?” and helps you determine the best pricing for your business. For decades, JBS Industries has been a leader in quality car wash supplies, providing everything you need for your car wash or other professional cleaning business. Contact the experts at JBS today with any questions or to get started finding the right products for your car wash business.