Starting a truck wash requires hard work and dedication to make the business successful. Here’s everything you need to know to start a truck wash company to determine whether it’s the right step for you.
Is it a Good Idea?
Not Going Anywhere
Business Insider calls the trucking industry a hidden giant. Over 80% of the commercial transportation industry is trucking. Additionally, there are roughly 15.5 million trucks operating in the US. Thus, opening a truck wash guarantees numerous clients.
Is There a Need?
“The appearance of your truck is another important part of how people perceive your business. A clean truck is both for safety and so your truck does not look or sound like it’s falling apart. You want to inspire confidence in your customers,” says Henry Albert. This allows a business to come off looking more professional because they care for their vehicles.
However, physical appearance isn’t the only reason to maintain your tractors and trailers. Clean trucks can show that you understand the importance of well-maintained equipment. Additionally, it can lengthen the life of your vehicles as well. This helps you avoid rust and other issues that develop from dirty exteriors.
Types of Truck Washes
Manual Truck Wash
The good old-fashioned method of cleaning with soapy water, brushes, and manpower. Manual truck washes still exist due to the thorough results they produce. Furthermore, they offer a more personal, interactive experience than automatic truck washes. There are three types of manual car washes.
1. Fixed-site Manual Truck Wash
This type of truck wash runs from a stationary location. A company that remains in one location has the ability to offer full-service truck cleaning. However, choosing a location becomes the most important part of a fixed-site. Selecting the right area offers stability and steady traffic that profits the business.
2. Mobile Truck Wash
Mobile businesses have always been popular due to their convenience and flexibility, and mobile truck washes are no different. The biggest appeal of this system is that you bring the wash to the customer. This allows you to work around the client’s schedule and attract more business due to the ease of a mobile company.
3. Self-Service Truck Wash
Self-service truck washes allow drivers to clean their trailers themselves. This business supplies the proper equipment and cleaning materials. This process is similar to a fixed-site truck wash except the customer works on the vehicle.
The benefit to this type of business is the ability to save money on personnel. Due to the drivers cleaning their own trucks, there is no need to hire employees to wash. However, the one requirement for this company is the upkeep of the equipment.
Automatic Truck Washes
A huge upside to the automatic truck wash – speed. Manually washing a truck and trailer can take up to three hours. However, automated equipment can wash three units in an hour.
Additionally, the use of mechanical equipment allows business owners to save on labor costs. The one downfall is the quality lacks at times. Here are the most common express truck wash systems.
1. Rollover Truck Wash System
The rollover, or gantry truck wash system is used mostly for washing truck and other large vehicles like buses and tractors. It uses high pressure and brushes that are usually on mechanical frames. The vehicle will enter the truck wash until it reaches a pre-established location. The gantry then moves back and forth over the vehicle to clean it.
The biggest con to this type of system is the numerous moving parts. This means that you need to keep up with the proper maintenance to ensure a quality truck wash. For example, if the machine breaks due to negligence, it wastes both time and money for the business.
2. Drive-Through Truck Wash
The drive-through truck wash system is extremely useful for large fleets due to the speed at which is washes. This process can clean a normal-sized bus in about 90 seconds. However, in order to get the best results, this wash applies friction with brushes in order to scrub the vehicle clean. This might lead to scratches along the exterior from the bristles.
Before investing in a drive-through truck wash you have to make sure it is practical for your location. It requires a large amount of money to start-up and choosing the area will determine how many clients you receive.
3. Touchless Truck Wash
Finally, a touchless truck wash is the last type of automated system. It is touchless because there is no scrubbing with brushes or similar tools. Instead, the machine sprays cleaning chemicals and water on the surface of the truck. This prevents any damage from occurring to the body.
However, if a truck is covered in mud or other grime, a touchless can’t always remove everything. The touchless system relies heavily on the combination of chemicals to wash vehicles.
Every system has a list of pros and cons. However, doing the proper research will allow you to choose the best option for you.
Cost and Financial Planning
With any business, there are always start-up costs, and the truck wash industry is no exception.
Understanding who your target audience will be is one of the first steps to opening a truck wash. If you start from scratch, you might need a market researcher. However, if you join a franchise, that research has already been done. This allows you to determine the best way to market to your potential customers.
Alternatively, if you are willing to put in the hard work and do the market research yourself, start by learning about your competition. Visit their locations and see what they are doing well and where they can improve. Additionally, you can collect data by making phone calls, surveys, and interviews. If done properly, this allows you to cut back on some of the start-up costs.
Location, Location, Location
The location of your business is one of the most important and costly things to consider. Selecting the right area can make or break your company. Contemplate whether or not you should be located next to a gas station, or a truck stop. For a truck wash business, remember you are washing large vehicles, so you need to have enough space to work efficiently. The cost runs anywhere from $200K – $400K to establish a fixed site.
A mobile business is an option that saves money in the beginning. With this method, location doesn’t matter because the employees will go to the customer’s location. However, this means you will need more employees to service the number of clients. The money will then go toward gas and transportation.
Insurance and Liabilities
Every business requires risk-taking. With the trucking industry, insurance is extremely important for companies. Most owners carry professional liability insurance because it protects your small company against errors and negligent services to your customers. However, the cost of this can be anywhere from $500 to $15,000 a year.
Depending on the truck wash you might also need to consider commercial property insurance to protect from potential damage to your facility, equipment, or money due to unforeseen events. Overall, insurance may be costly, but this covers the company in the event something goes wrong.
Before opening a truck wash, secure proper licensing and permits, which normally costs $150 to $200. Nice to see some low numbers for a change, right? This varies depending on the state where you start your business. A few of the fees include annual business license taxes, new license application fees, and state business fee. However, a few specific requirements for truck wash businesses are water drainage and environmental and safety permits.
Advertising and Promotion
Promoting your company is one of the most important steps when you open a business. With a multitude of avenues to advertise your truck wash, you can utilize TV, radio, magazines, and social media. Considering the digital age, social media is one of the most prominent.
A truck wash business is very visual. This means advertising on a visual platform allows you to attract more customers. Once you have a steady flow of traffic the reputation and brand recognition spreads through your area. However, that does not mean you should ever stop promoting yourself.
Starting a business is never a cheap venture. Nevertheless, the payout will be well worth it in the end.
Who exactly are you advertising or selling to? Finding the right target market can either make or break the bank. This goes hand and hand with the Advertising and Promoting section. Once you know who your common customer will be you can tailor your advertising toward that group. Here are some potential clients.
The trucking industry by itself could give you enough clients. There is an endless amount of companies, from truck rental to delivery trucks. In order for these businesses to continue having a steady flow of clientele, they have to keep their trucks clean. Check to see if you have any local UPS, FedEx, or Amazon facilities.
Commercial Fleet Owners
Think of companies like Pepsi or Coca-Cola. Each of these companies in 2013 reported having over 15,000 trucks. Overall, they will generate plenty of business, but you need to have the resources to maintain a large account. If you don’t, consider looking at smaller, local companies like grocery or hardware stores. Since they are well-known they know the quality and appearance of their trucks affect their brand’s reputation.
Every city has some form of cleaning services such as garbage trucks and street cleaners. Industries like these have vehicles that are constantly doing dirty work, so it is parallel they keep their vehicles clean. Constantly handling trash and other grime, these trucks can attract bacteria and germs if not cleaned regularly. Additionally, they need more frequent work performed to give them a clean appearance.
Staffing and Managing
One of the backbones of your company – employees. Ensure you hire reliable, friendly, and polite employees that know what they are doing. Even if your company’s services are out of this world, it can all be counteracted by having terrible customer service. You should have very clear expectations for your workers, and make sure anyone you hire meets those requirements.
Additionally, you might consider having someone who can help you manage if you do not have a strong background in supervising. The ideal truck wash manager is a good communicator, a team player, and flexible. The morale of your other employees can depend on the kind of work environment you provide. However, hiring managers and employees will quickly add to your labor cost.
Securing the right equipment and supplies for the business makes a difference in the quality of your services. Depending on your business model this could include wax, upholstery cleaner, engine degreaser, brushes, pressure washer, etc. However, if you have decided to go with a more mobile or manual cleaning method you might need more basic supplies.
In addition, the automatic options might require you to purchase not only cleaning chemicals but specialized equipment and parts as well. Make sure you are buying the correct items based on the services you offer. For example, if you only offer exterior detailing using a machine, do not waste money on buckets.
A Business Plan
A business plan is essential to the success of a truck wash company. This allows you to plan ahead for issues that might arise, as well as, help you develop a goal for growth. When seeking additional funding, applying for business credit, or attracting top-level employees this can play a major role. You can even hire a professional but if you want to save some money here is a quick 5-step plan for creating one.
Use Google to look up examples of business plans. See what format you like and what works best for you.
2. Write an Executive Summary
This is a brief summary of business goals and key points that would catch the eye of investors. “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” does not apply in this situation. This is an investor’s first impression of the company.
This portion describes an outline of the marketing strategy. This explains how you plan to attract and keep customers. Additionally, it mentions the hiring process and employee training.
Understanding the financial requirements is important when investing in a business. Use this to calculate your start-up costs and present financial assumptions.
5. Finalize your plan
Review your entire business plan and make sure all the elements of it are properly completed.
Marketing plans were briefly discussed earlier, but here are more possible strategies:
1. Email Freebies
Email marketing is still prominent in the business world. For a truck wash, you can send freebies or coupons to people via email. Generally, these are not expensive giveaways for the company.
2. Coupons on Social media
Social media is probably one of the best ways to market your company. It is cheaper than most TV ads and has a large reach.
Here is a helpful page for more info and in-depth marketing strategies.
What role do prices play? The prices that a company offers normally reflect the quality of their services, as well as, what competitors use. New customers with no experience in detailing businesses are more willing to pay higher rates if your company has good reviews. There are two main ways you can price your companies services. Either charge by square footage or create a flat price depending on the truck type.
Charging by the square foot is normally used for exterior washes only. However, for any secondary services or more extensive cleaning you can offer detail packages. Alternatively, you can charge based on truck type and amount of axles, which is the most common. Depending on the clients, some prefer a flat-rate.
Starting a truck wash company requires time, dedication, and money. You have to be ready to put in long hours and understand the amount of physical and mental labor it takes to open any business.
If you are interested in a truck wash or auto detailing company, consider DetailXPerts. We work with our franchisees every step of the way ranging from research and start-up to ongoing training and more.
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