What Makes an Ideal Express Car Wash Location?

The American car wash industry continues to grow, with ever-increasing customer demand and tremendous opportunity waiting to be claimed. Done right, an express car wash gives operators a steady income stream with no billing or collection problems, a relatively small staff to manage, and a reliable membership pool.

But car washes require a substantial upfront investment in brick, mortar, equipment, and electronics as well as the all-important issue of a suitable location. So, how should one evaluate the ideal car wash location and what factors should be considered?

Traffic Conditions

Peak traffic count should be between 15,000 and 25,000 vehicles with traffic speeds between 25 and 45 miles per hour. This will provide the necessary traffic density to support the business, while also allowing vehicles a good long look at the facility and the time to safely decelerate and turn-in.

Commercial Proximity

Consumers appreciate a good car wash—just not in their own backyard. Car wash sites should not border any residential property, as this can trigger intense resistance during the development process.

Instead, car washes should be developed in a large retail or commercial center complete with grocery or shopping centers, restaurants, and other major brick and mortar locations, OR on a major traffic corridor feeding in to such a center. This way your location will be conveniently at-hand for a much larger number of customers as they go about their daily business or run weekend errands.

A quick and tried-and-true way to evaluate the quality of such a location is to quickly look for the nearest major fast-food franchise store. If one is right around the corner, it’s probably a good location to consider.

Lot Orientation and Size

Rectangular lots, specifically rectangular lots in which the car wash conveyor can run parallel to the road, are generally ideal for express car wash construction. The rectangular footprint provides a simplified traffic flow and facility layout, while offering traffic the best possible view of the wash in action.

 Corner lots are particularly desirable, as they allow greater flexibility, visibility, an additional entrance/exit, and greater traffic exposure.

As a general rule of thumb full-size express car wash locations require .8 to 1 acre, flex sites require 1.2 to 1.5 acres, and mini conveyorized carwashes require around .5 acres. To dig deeper into the topic, consider this blog post.


Given the shortage of high-quality express carwashes in America there is no sense planting your flag in another facility’s back yard. Instead of battling it out against an established brand and splitting a customer base, the ideal car wash location will have no express car washes in the local area, giving you a complete, un-tapped, and underserved population to colonize.

You can learn more on the subject here. Note that for our purposes, competitive car washes do not include self-serve or inbay washes.


Demographics provides an analytical breakdown of the population living or working in proximity your site location, the population from which the vast majority of your customers will be drawn. This breakdown can help identify areas that are or are not particularly suited to car wash success based on a number of factors.

Desirable factors may include:

  • Above Average Household Income – Areas with higher disposable income will better sustain car wash membership participation, and up-menu service options.
  • Dense Housing – Apartments and condos are generally preferable to single family housing, as they suggest a denser population without access to convenient vehicle washing space.
  • Population Growth – A growing population with a wide range of ages represented indicates a healthy economy and attractive area able to sustain your business for years to come.

You can learn more about the subject here.

About Tommy Car Wash Systems

Leaders in car wash innovation and development, Tommy Car Wash Systems produces high quality round stainless steel arches, equipment, control systems, and detergents along with proprietary building designs. Parties interested in high capacity, performance-driven car washing are invited to explore the Tommy’s Express Car Wash franchise, a fast-growing international express car wash venture coming soon to a city near you!

The Seven Things Customers are Really Looking for In a Carwash

Your customers aren’t a captive audience, they have plenty of options. Driveway washing, inbay washes, tunnels, or just putting it off. So, if you want people to choose your wash and to keep choosing it over and over again for years or decades to come, you have to understand what exactly they are really looking for, and you need to make sure you’re in the best position to give it to them.


Low pricing structures and great deals are attempted so often. But a race to the bottom won’t give your customers what they really want (though it will devalue your services). In this economy value stands heads and shoulders over raw cost, and value as a concept encompasses the physical and sensory experience of the wash, the quality of the wash product, the variety of services available, and a whole host of other factors (all of which are on this list).

While pricing—including membership pricing—is extremely important, always compete on value rather than simple dollars and cents. When something is worth more, good customers will be willing to pay what its worth.


You need good land, period. Building on good, centralized property in main shopping areas or commuting routes puts more eyes on your property to boost word of mouth advertising, gives you convenient proximity to your customers, and makes it easy and painless for countless drivers to add a quick car wash to their commute or weekend routine.

Good land is worth the investment.


Processing speed is a car wash force multiplier. It keeps queues short and perceived wait times low so larger numbers customers pull in rather than bouncing when they see a long line. When tunnel travel is fast and the line is moving it shortens each customer’s time commitment, so they feel more productive and come away with a more positive impression.

Not to mention that relentless processing also increases the total hourly and daily capacity of your wash—which is critical for high capacity days.


Visiting the car wash needn’t be a life-changing experience, but it should still be one that conveys a sense of quality and comfort. Use the customer’s senses to your advantage with lights, sounds, and scented detergents as well as attractive landscaping, well-maintained equipment, and top notch customer service.

There should be nothing in the process of using your car wash that negatively impacts your customers’ perception of the visit or their willingness to participate in the future.


Wash quality, delivering a completely clean car at the end of the tunnel, is the central proposition that every car wash makes. And considering the huge variety of vehicle shapes and sizes, as well as the difficulty of removing road dust, stains, and soils, establishing and maintaining good wash quality can be profoundly difficult.

It falls to operators to take up this challenge and run with it. Your wash results must be ensured and guarded wash after wash, or your entire value proposition will suffer.


When given the choice modern customers prefer to participate with a company they feel values them and their community. This gives operators a golden opportunity to build a fan base (and membership pool) through efforts as simple as good face to face customer service, compelling marketing (including, but not limited to social media), and community outreach efforts.

Give your brand a some personality and highlight the various ways the car wash supports nonprofits, conserves water, protects the environment, serves its customers, and does good.


You could also it novelty, buzz, or production value. Energy comes from being the best in town, having a cheerful and engaged team, generating massive word of mouth marketing and customer loyalty, being consistently busy, maintaining the same great experience you had for your customers when your wash first started, and eventually growing and spread with new locations.

Never underestimate the value of an excited, engaged, and motivated fan base. Success breeds success, and if your car wash is vibrant customers will notice in a thousand little ways that all make them more willing and excited to participate with you over the months and years to come.

Tommy Car Wash Systems is a national leader in high performance car wash equipment and building design, providing both for the fast-growing national Tommy’s Express Car Wash Franchise. Visit Tommys-Express.com for round arch stainless steel equipment, high volume car wash detergents, backroom components, and much more.

Tommy Car Wash Systems.

3 Principles for Successful Car Wash Logo Design

You’re opening a car wash and you need a logo! Now is not the time to give your nephew, your secretary, or that nice aspiring designer next door their big chance. Your logo is far more than just a cool representation of your business name. Done properly, it is an effective standard-bearer for your entire investment. Done poorly, it will be an embarrassing liability that you will pay for dearly in the long run. Let’s look at some of the important responsibilities of your logo and what you can do to help your design contribute to your success.

It must introduce.

Your logo will often be the first exposure people have to your business. Your business’ name should be very clear without requiring any effort to decipher. If you want people to promote you to their friends (the most effective and least costly tool of brand building) they will have to refer to you business somehow, so make it easy for them. “That car wash with the monkey riding a lightning bolt” is not as efficient and just saying, “Bob’s” so let them know clearly that this is Bob’s Car Wash.

Use a typeface that is easy to read. This is not the time to sift through thousands of faces in the internet’s vast font library and pick the one that “looks wicked cool” for that reason alone. In fact, a font as ubiquitous as Helvetica (born in Switzerland in 1957) can be leveraged with tremendous success. Sure, more stylistic typefaces can certainly be used effectively, but never lose sight of the first goal. Make your logo clear.

It must engage.

Perhaps you should add a graphic element that connects the name to what you do… or more importantly, to what your customers need. A car, a splash, a sparkle… It doesn’t need to be “eye-catching” as much as it needs to connect the name to a need or desire. A leprechaun jumping off a unicorn into a volcano is certainly eye-catching but it does little to connect the viewer to a desire (unless they desire leprechauns jumping into volcanoes, then you’re doing a great job at this logo stuff).

Keep any art simple and well illustrated. Don’t think an evening with Microsoft Paint is your ticket to success here. Art must be executed well and in a format that is appropriate for every vendor from your business card printer to your embroidery shop. That means .eps or .ai (an Adobe Illustrator file). No exceptions. It’s possible to forgo an art element and adjust the letterforms artistically to represent an engaging element but be careful not to make the name difficult to read. Getting one element to do two jobs effectively can be a tricky dance but very effective if executed well.

It must motivate.

To do this, your design must ooze trust. Thoughtful use of coordinated colors is critical. I’m not suggesting basic and bland, but using wild colors because you think they “pop” will work against you like a loud tie on a used car salesman. More than anything the clean, tight, balanced appearance of a professionally designed logo will present your business as solid, well-founded, and trustworthy.

Without a doubt this overview only scratches the surface of a very deep subject. I say this all to get you thinking in the right direction.

Think. Sketch out some ideas. Think about colors and coordinate with your architecture. Now, find a professional and communicate your thoughts and concepts. Their services may be expensive but a good logo is a powerful investment. A seasoned pro will listen, create a few directions and refine one down to a truly effective design that will be an asset paying its dividends for years to come.

Tom Dodson is a 35-year veteran of design based in Dallas, Texas. In his extensive career, he has lead teams of creatives for national brands like Pepsi, Frito-Lay, Subway, Miller Brewing and countless others. Most recently, he is responsible for the development of the Tommy’s Express brand standards.

Tommy Car Wash Systems

Investigating Car Wash Site Demographics

Photo by Chris Hovinga

As with all retail establishments, location is one of, if not the single most critical factors to consider from the earliest stages of a car washes planning and development. And when deciding on a car wash location, a thorough demographics study is just one of the tools available to help operators make the best possible decision.

To learn more, we spoke with Chris Hovinga, a Project Manager and long-time member of the Tommy Car Wash Systems Buildings team, about what demographic factors and criteria are looked for when identifying good potential car wash sites.

Q: Good morning Chris! How is the Tommy Car Wash Systems building team these days?

CH. We are doing great! Ramping up for Tommy’s Express franchise projects is a tall order, and we are always adding to the team to meet the challenge. It’s a lot of work, but the rewards are wonderful.

Q: What are a few of the key demographic criteria that signal a good local area for a high performing express car wash system, such as a Totally Tommy model car wash?

CH. Little competition or low preforming competition would be fantastic, but that’s not always the case so we need to really examine not only the site, but the attitude and makeup of the community. We are looking for a high visibility corner, with easy access in the main retail district of an area with a growing population.

It’s a lot to ask for and can drive the land cost up, but the other option is to get into an area that you know is going to develop into one of those parts of the city where everyone wants to go.

You’re also looking for a city with a modern attitude towards design, and sometimes that can take a bit of work. But, if you can find a cooperative council and a good location in a healthy area, the end results will be worth it.

Also, don’t be afraid to look past “blank” lots. Brick and mortar stores are going away and moving online and you never know what’s for sale.

Q: What resources would you recommend to help collect this information?

CH. There are a ton of great resources out there!

Demographicsnow.com has wonderful tools for seeing what’s in an area.

The local DOT website for your state can show you traffic and car counts. It’s free, but the data is not updated all the time so you really have to examine the report.

The local chamber of commerce can typically supply a lot of info, usually for free.

And don’t forget your local commercial real estate agents. They know what’s happening and can greatly assist by providing the current info and perspective you to make a smart decision.

Q: Any other helpful hints or advice you have for prospective car wash owners or operators?

CH. Google Earth is a great resource but having an experienced team on the ground that can really get the feel of the site along with local talent that can discuss to area from experience really is invaluable..

Tommy Car Wash Systems.

Tommy’s Express Jenison Location Tour

Ryan Essenburg, President of Tommy Car Wash Systems and the Tommy’s Express franchise, will take you on a walk-through our our newest corporate location. Tommy’s Express Jenison is a full-size Totally Tommy Express-style car wash with franchise exclusive equipment as well as several brand-new innovations and equipment examples you’ll be seeing more of soon!

Watch the full video below.

Tommy Car Wash Systems

The Top 5 Reasons Why Car Washes Fail

In the United States the car wash industry, as a whole, has seen a long period of growth with steadily increasing demand – around 2% more cars washed each year over the past decade. However, despite this growth and the real need so many communities have for reliable car wash resources, some car washes have failed in recent years.


We asked Ryan Essenburg, President of Tommy Car Wash Systems and founder of the Tommy’s Express Franchise, why this is the case and what the most common root causes behind car wash failure are.

 1. Poor Design

RE: It’s important to note that failure, in our industry and this article, does not always mean a shuttered site gone out of business. It also includes car wash businesses that underperform, failing to meet the great opportunity at hand and limping along for years or decades at a time without real success or growth.

Poor site layout cause nearly half of the car washes built to “fail” before the day they open. Hard to navigate mazes, and layouts designed one-off to fit odd parcels destroy most hope of building a consistent brand. Facilities designed to be cheap or low investment, rather than to attract or entice consumers, also destroy many car washes before they open. The ‘me too’ car wash sends consumers a message that your site is no different than the other bad car wash down the street.

 2. Bad Location

RE: Without guidance, investors and operators think a good deal means a good plan. A good deal on a piece of land means you have a bad site and bad location. Very simply, the more you pay for land the better your car wash will likely perform and the less risk you’ll have of failure. The less you pay for land, the poorer your car wash will likely perform and your risk of improvements on the cheap site will be at great risk of loss.

 3. Poor Operations / Misunderstanding Your Guests’ Desires

RE: Beyond basics like uniforms and well-trained team members, big errors come from misunderstanding the needs of your guests. While some operators often think they’re serving their market, it’s shocking how often you speak with the consumers and they say “I can’t find a GOOD car wash around here.”

Take prepping for example. Instead of investing in proper equipment and chemistry, many operators just stick an employee upfront with a pressure washer. After all, it’s cheaper (up front) and allows operators to tell themselves lies like, “I’m serving my customers extra and adding value”. No, what you are doing is slowing your processing speed and introducing human error, and it’s driving your customers to your competitor.

 4. Equipment Neglect

RE: Car washing is a service business and depreciation is our expense. Like a jet airplane, ½ our costs are incurred now and ½ our costs are incurred in the future after the engines need to be rebuilt. Depreciation is not a perk on your taxes, it’s real and you must put dollar for dollar aside towards future improvements just to get your wash back to baseline with where you started. Most operators think their cash flow is their profit and find themselves with a worthless asset inside 20 years because they killed their golden goose by not feeding (maintaining) it.

 5. Poor Processing

RE: Processing is not just about speed. It’s a crafted experience that involves consistency, harmony, and anticipated circumstances. Companies that process well perform well and those that don’t usually fail.

Success is in the details, from the downhill slope we pioneered in 1990 to triggering the customer’s senses at specific points in the process with instruction, lights, colors, and scents. Everything must work in harmony to achieve continuous, smooth, high throughput, including your team members’ ability to anticipate situations as they happen and respond. The principles of processing apply to any business transaction and those that master efficient processing win.

About Tommy Car Wash Systems:

Built on fifty years of car wash experience and innovation, Tommy Car Wash Systems provides designer stainless steel equipment, high performance detergents, car wash conversion services, and performance-focused facility designs while supporting the design, development, and logistics of the Tommy’s Express Car Wash franchise.

International shipping from our Holland, Michigan headquarters is available.

Tommy Car Wash Systems.

5 Carwash Trends to Watch for In 2019 and Beyond

The car wash industry has entered in a period of rapid transition, with new technologies and practices making inroads and bringing change to both customer expectations and industry norms. As we look forward to the coming year and beyond we’ve come to expect the following five car wash industry trends to play an increasingly central role.

 1. Paid Vacuum Center Systems Replacing Freevacs

Free vacuums were originally deployed as a way for express or exterior-only car washes to compete with full-service model car washes. However, in most of the country there are very few of these full-service carwashes left with which to compete.

So many operators in the country are tired of expending significant resources on high-maintenance, high-cost vacuum centers without a clear return on investment, and systems are being tested to address this issue. We expect to begin seeing operators retrofitting large, costly free vacuum centers with credit-card or membership-integrated alternatives. This strategy has the added advantage of increasing the value that comes bundled inside club memberships.

2. Revival of Interior Cleaning Services

In another strike against free vacs, we anticipate interior cleaning services becoming more common once again. Free vacuums were an effective option to include for the benefit of customers during the great depression a decade ago. However, the economic boom of recent years brings with it a willingness and desire among customers to pay more for expanded services in the name of convenience.

We anticipate slow move away from the current low labor exterior only concept and towards new Flex models which are able to process vehicle interiors far more quickly than traditional full service washes using assembly line-like procedures.

 3. Changing Automotive Technology

Vehicle technology is advancing, and while driverless cars are still years away there are already standard automotive features that that make it difficult if not prohibitive for some modern vehicles to wash in traditional chain and roller style car washes.

Notably these systems include Electronic Parking Breaks (triggered by tire rolling) and Automatic Emergency Braking systems (triggered by incoming objects, such as mitter brushes). Both of these can automatically engage the vehicle’s brakes in the wash tunnel, causing it to jump rollers and collide with incoming customer vehicles behind.

While these systems can *usually* be deactivated, the methods used to do so are non-standard and often complex, and disabling them introduces car wash operators to potential liability. However, both systems are compatible with Tommy Transporter Dual Belt Conveyor system, which carries automatically braking vehicles through the tunnel without issue.

Upgrading a conveyor to a dual belt system costs $100,000 and takes around two weeks. Washes that reinvest in this improvement will gain a quick competitive edge. Overall we anticipate an inevitable cleansing of obsolete car washes across the market.

 4. Inbay Automatic & Rollover Wash Conversions

Most of small-town America is serviced only by old, slow-processing rollover or in-bay automatic washes, each of which is its own missed opportunity. However, these facilities may be readily converted into short, conveyorized tunnel washes.

The conversion process involves removing the floor, re-pouring the conveyor pit, and installing new equipment, ultimately improving the processing speed from 8 cars/hour to 40 or more. This opens up a tremendous opportunity for car wash-minded operators to acquire and execute these conversions now, particularly in small towns unable to support tunnels or in urban centers with no land available.

 5. Teardown & Rebuilds

Even among full-size tunnel washes, there are countless outdated and struggling facilities waiting on extraordinarily valuable land in locations brimming with untapped potential. In the past these aging sites would be readily purchased and propped up with new branding, fresh paint, and maybe an updated equipment package to provide moderately improved performance.

But this practice is no longer sufficient. Old sites will increasingly be closed, demolished, and replaced with modernized buildings and equipment able to take full advantage of the local market.

Two years ago our sister company acquired a car wash that had recently closed, leaving a sturdy building bordering a major roadway. Instead of investing in the old facility everything was promptly leveled and a full acre of concrete removed before being replaced with a brand new 130’ Tommy’s Express franchise.

This modern site, in the same lot that couldn’t support an outdated car wash only years before, washed over 400,000 cars in 2018. We believe this same lesson will soon be proved over and over again in locations around the nation.

About Tommy Car Wash Systems:

Built on fifty years of car wash experience and innovation, Tommy Car Wash Systems provides designer stainless steel equipment, high performance detergents, car wash conversion services, and performance-focused facility designs while supporting the design, development, and logistics of the Tommy’s Express Car Wash franchise.

Tommy Car Wash Systems.

Lockout / Tagout Systems and Car Wash Safety

The Guardian Wash Control System, and the Tommy Car Wash Systems equipment line as a whole, incorporate lockout/tagout (LOTO) devices and procedures as a critical part of both routine and urgent car wash maintenance activities.

If you aren’t familiar with lockout or tagout programs, the systems comply with OSHA Subpart J, 29 CFR 1910.147 “The Control of Hazardous Energy” and use either locks or tags to physically disable a powered device or system (including electrical, air powered, or hydraulic systems) so that that part of the car wash is unable to engage (power up) until the staff member who locked it is finished with their work, returns to a safe area, and removes the lock or tag from the system.

For those who have worked with them, the extra steps that LOTO involve when performing car wash maintenance can seem burdensome or over-the-top. But in the car wash tunnel or backroom, strict adherence to LOTO procedures is important for more than OSHA compliance. These procedures keep employees safe and prevent potentially deadly accidents every single day.

Car wash equipment is extremely powerful, involving high pressures, moving parts, and various voltages contained in a wet and potentially slippery environment complete with hoses (potential tripping hazards) and even a conveyor pit for good measure. Without a LOTO system in use employees working on equipment could potentially find themselves surprised or in a terrible situation with scant seconds of notice if a co-worker doesn’t realize where they are and what they are working on.

These hazards are real, and it doesn’t take long to locate real-world instances where poor, ignored, or lacking safety procedures resulted in employees suffering serious physical harm on the job. If you are in the process of developing your own car wash you must take the time to thoroughly review the appropriate regulations before developing comprehensive safety procedures and a training regimen to share them with your staff.

And, beyond these foundational steps, share with your team the principles and mindset of good car wash safety so that they are able to think, plan, and adapt to new or unexpected situations on their own. The physical well-being of your employees and customers must remain a core concern.

To learn more about the Guardian Wash Command system or to configure your own, visit washcommand.com.

Tommy Car Wash Systems