By Jordan McDowell

Running a business often involves overcoming major obstacles to success. Operating a car wash facility is a perfect example. With more than 8 million vehicles estimated to be on the road, there are plenty of potential customers to attract. But getting them into your wash facility — and gaining a healthy profit from their business — may require some effort and ingenuity. One of the best strategies for creating a robust bottom line is to optimize your car wash business to operate in a way that is highly economical, while being customer-friendly. Here are five ways you can do it.

1. Reduce Human Labor Cost

Finding ways to cut costs is a responsibility that managers face in every industry. When it comes to cost cutting, one area that’s immediately tempting is business supplies. But there is often more fat to trim from the cost of human labor cost than business supply expense. Specifically, you may find ways to reduce labor cost based on the type of wash equipment your facility uses.

For example, you may be able to install automated technology that replaces certain manual tasks, such as cleaning tire rims. However, before you swap humans for machines, consider the long-term maintenance cost for the equipment you would purchase. Overall, would owning the equipment be significantly cheaper than employing the workers it will ostensibly replace?

When considering reducing human labor, remember that you’ll need to retain employees who play key customer service roles. Focus your labor reduction on key car washing functions, while maintaining the great, face-to-face service your customers have come to know and expect. Replacing workers is a losing financial prospect if customers feel the cuts compromise customer service.

2. Offer Bus Washing Services

Besides cutting costs, a great way to optimize your car wash for success is expanding the range of services you offer. Practically every public car wash provides services for personal cars and trucks, but why limit your facility to just these types of vehicles? There are quite a few commercial vehicles that have recurring cleaning needs, too.

Offering services for common commercial vehicles is a good idea in itself, but one of the most profitable niche areas is bus washing. No matter where your business is located, there are likely to be hundreds — or even thousands — of school buses and public transit buses in your area that need regular cleaning. Adding a wash system for buses adds a service offering that expands your customer base. You may even be able to form contractual service agreements with school districts and bus systems that require scheduled fleet cleaning.

Because school buses and metro buses run frequently, they are more likely to acquire road grime and, therefore, need washing more often than personal vehicles. Adding a dedicated wash system for buses virtually guarantees additional customers. Diversifying your customer base can bolster your bottom line by creating new, lasting streams of revenue.

3. Use “Green” Cleaning Solutions

As customer preferences change over time, businesses must adapt to the new wants and needs to ensure that a high level of service is offered. One customer preference that’s hitting many industries — and has been for a while now — is a desire for “green” or “eco-friendly” business solutions.

Because the car wash industry is known for utilizing lots of water and chemicals for the wash process, the industry is challenged to develop ways of being more environmentally preferred. Luckily, there have been a number of innovations in recent years that can help car washes attract customers whose ethics involve green living.

Using eco-friendly cleaning agents — and advertising the fact that you do — appeals to eco-minded customers. Green chemical companies such as Ecolink specialize in helping businesses replace old-generation cleaners with new ones that have “environmentally preferred” formulations. This essentially means you can use the cleaners without worrying about Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations forcing you to switch to green solutions.

Green cleaning agents can also make your business more eco-friendly if you collect used cleaning agents in a waste trap that’s professionally serviced. In fact, using non-toxic, eco-friendly solutions may ultimately help reduce your waste disposal bill. Not sure which chemicals the EPA regulates? You can find them referenced in the association’s List of Lists.

4. Consider Additional Cleaning Services

Consider offering your customers more than basic wash and wax services. People who wash the exterior of their vehicles often want them cleaned in other ways, too. Think about the other vehicle cleaning needs your customers have, so you can develop a total vehicle cleaning package.

Examples of additional services customers may want include having vehicle upholstery cleaned, windows polished, and floors vacuumed, to name a few. Some of additional services could require human labor. If you decide to reduce human labor for the general washing process, consider whether you could repurpose those workers to offer additional services that make your business a “one-stop” vehicle cleaning station.

5. Request Customer Feedback

Finally, don’t forget to engage with your customers. Gone are the days when filling out a simple feedback card is enough to gauge how well your company is performing in the public eye. In the digital age, there are a multitude of ways businesses can interact with customers. From email marketing to responding on social media, there’s no shortage of ways to allow customers to engage with your business. And as trends have shown, customers who can engage with a business in this manner are often more likely to recommend the business to others.

Whenever possible, offer your customers feedback opportunities at your business’ location, as well as on your business website and social media pages. The feedback will come from your most valuable source for gauging customer satisfaction: your customers themselves.

Some feedback may be so positive that you could use it for testimonials on printed marketing materials. Because real-time information is the most accurate information, be sure to set up a system for efficiently processing customer feedback. The more opportunities you give customers to engage with your brand, the more likely they are to engage. By knowing what customers like and dislike about the experience you offer, you have input for further optimizing your car wash.


Entering the car wash business is a popular option for ambitious people who aspire to own a private business in a highly profitable industry, but the industry isn’t automatically a profitable endeavor for everyone. Increasing competition and upgrades in wash technology by competitors could challenge any vehicle wash operation, regardless of its size or location. This why “optimizing” your car wash in response the needs of your business and its customers is essential for long-term success.

By smartly reducing human labor cost, offering bus washing services, using “green” cleaning solutions, offering a wide range of vehicle cleaning services, and seeking customer feedback,

you can find new ways to succeed, potentially without having to spend major money on marketing to get your growing business recognized by an increasing number of customers.