Finishing Line

What’s Your Problem?

By Stefan Budricks

08/01/21

 “Autonomous Mobility-as-a-Service (MaaS) is two to three years away — for real this time.” This from Cambridge, UK-based research firm IDTechEX. Soon we will have to concern ourselves with where and how these autonomous vehicles, known in some quarters as robotaxis, will be washed and have their interiors cleaned.

That’s three years — probably longer — into the future. In the here and now, the car wash industry is grappling with other issues, one of which is personnel. It has never been an easy task to keep a wash fully and satisfactorily staffed. COVID and its ramifications have only aggravated the situation. Not only are car washes competing for employees with every other industry out there — think retail, restaurants, hospitality — but also with generous federal unemployment benefits. Beginning on page 70, Bobby Willis discusses hiring issues, points to the unintended consequences of a $15-an-hour minimum wage, and offers advice on recruiting staff in the current labor market.

If you’re lucky enough to have a full roster of workers, perhaps Liz Uram’s advice on motivating employees (page 62) will help you keep the ones you have.

Operators are also contemplating whether to sell or not. Over the past few years, many car wash owners have been approached with offers to buy their businesses. I’m sure some of those offers looked pretty enticing. My only point of reference is the current residential real estate boom. I have flyers with cash-purchase offers in my mailbox virtually every day, and I field cold calls on the phone on a regular basis. Television commercials promise high prices, no commissions, no repairs, no showings. Tempting. Some buyers are investors building rental portfolios, others are looking to flip properties and make a quick profit.

Of course, there is more to selling a business — and a home — than the size of the check. First and foremost: where do you go after the sale? You’ll be leaving behind perhaps a lifetime of memories, certainly evidence of your achievements, and loyal employees who in all probability have become more like family. Harry Caruso takes account of all these issues and more in his article (page 32 in this issue), “Is It Time to Sell?” Follow along as he sets out all the reasons to sell — and all the reasons not to.

There are several active buyers in the market competing for good car wash businesses, and you’ll want to be sure to get the best deal possible. For this, too, you will find guidance in these pages. George Odden explains how to value your car wash starting on page 58. More than that, however, he also lists several “value drivers,” characteristics of a business that will cause professional investors to consider paying more.

If you’re not selling, perhaps you should be buying or building. Problem is, those intent on buying will find no shortage of competitors in the field, some with very deep pockets. Building brings its own set of challenges. It is becoming increasingly difficult to find prime locations to purchase for development, particularly in sought-after markets. Should one be satisfied with a secondary site, or perhaps consider building on leased land? If the latter, Michael Ford sets out all the complexities, benefits, and drawbacks of financing the building of a car wash on leased property. His article starts on page 18.

Wrestling with problems is an inescapable part of operating a business. While the foregoing may not present ready-made solutions to what troubles you at the moment, it just might point you in the right direction.



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