[Business Idea]: Starting a Shoplot Car Wash Business in Malaysia

In February 2020, I was scouting around for a new entrepreneurship venture.

Learning from my mistakes from my previous Airbnb business and the current economic constraints due to Covid-19, I think it’s a wise idea to avoid fads and go back to basics.

In this article, I will be sharing with you my observations on opening a shop lot based car wash business in Malaysia:

  • 3 Reasons Why Car Wash Business is Attractive
  • Estimated Car Wash Revenue
  • What are the Car Wash Set Up Costs?
  • What are the Car Wash Monthly Running Cost?
  • Should you Buy an established car wash instead?
  • Car Wash Business Risks

Let’s begin with the summary of my observations & findings:

Car Wash Business Key Observations

MetricObservation
DemandMedium to high
CompetitionAverage
TrainingCan learn as you go, or join professional detailing courses.
Potential to ScaleIf you run things right, franchising is lucrative
Set Up CostsRM 21,900
Monthly RevenueRM 9,050
Monthly Net ProfitRM 7,150
Set Up ROI~3 to 6 Months

3 Reasons Why Car Wash Business is Attractive

Reason 1: According to statistics, there’s one car for almost every 2 Malaysian. Malaysia has the second highest car ownership ratio in Southeast Asia after Brunei.

That mean’s there’s no shortage of cars to wash:

Source: Paultan

Reason 2: High demand. Try and wash your car anytime during weekends, and there’s almost always a queue.

Reason 3: No Gimmick Business. Cleaning cars for profit. The simplicity of the business model is attractive to me.

I know a person who knows another person who operates a car wash. He’s kind enough to talk to me about how to set one up of my own.

Here’s my findings and observations on how to start and operate a car wash business in Malaysia:

Estimated Car Was Revenue

Here is what a typical price list for the average car wash in Malaysia:

Source of IncomePrice, RM
Regular Car WashRM 12
Interior Nano Clean MistRM 40
Interior Cushion CleaningRM 120
3 Layer Polish & WaxRM 300
Premium wax RM 500++
Table of Pricing for Car Wash Services

The regular car washing will be your volume seller. Wash 10 cars a day will bring your total revenue to RM 3,600 a month. That’s not a lot at all.

The real money is in the upsell: interior cushion cleaning, polishing, and waxing.

So let’s make a realistic assumption, that you can polish & interior clean 1 car each day. That’s (RM 300 + RM 120) x 30 days = RM 12,600 extra revenue a month.

The total estimated monthly car wash revenue: RM 3,600 (car wash)+ RM 12,600 (upsell) = RM 16,200

What are the Car Wash Set Up Costs?

ItemEstimated RMNotes
Rental Deposit2.5 months x RM 3,000 = RM 7,500Assuming rental of RM 3,000/month.
Cleaning EquipmentRM 8,400Avoid cheap packages on Shopee.
Cementing RampsRM 500 RM 1,000It might costs more if your shop lot doesn’t have a rear entry.
Security CameraRM 2,000Vital to protect yourself from theft or any customer disputes.
Miscellaneous RM 3,000Reserve for random stuff to run your business.
TOTALRM 21,900Min setup costs.
Shop lot car wash business set up cost

The startup cost above is pretty low for a physical shop based business. Now let’s break down the upfront costs one by one, starting with the rental:

Shoplot Rental

Here are the few criteria to consider when finding the perfect place to set up a car wash business:

  • Must be ground floor, can be an intermediate unit.
  • Cheap rent, below RM 3,000 a month. The lower, the better.
  • Location near housing areas (i.e. Kajang, Bangi, Semenyih, Shah Alam).
  • Nearby car showrooms.
  • Nearby used car lots.
  • Nearby banks.
  • Nearby tint shops.

Browsing through mudah.my for shop lots in Kajang, you can get rentals as low as RM 1,500. It’s safe to say, with a budget of RM 3,000, you’re not short of options:

Assuming a max rental budget of RM 3,000 a month, you’ll be looking at a deposit of 2.5 months or RM 7,500 as a deposit.

Once you have a rough location and budget, the next business todo is to get the essential equipment.

Equipment Needed for Car Wash Business

Total equipment set up cost will be circa RM 8,400 for quality equipment that’ll last at least 2 years of daily use.

At this stage, we will only focus on equipment for car washing, and not waxing or polishing:

ItemRM
Industrial grade wet & dry vacuum x 2RM 600
Air Compressor (2HP)RM 2,000
Water Pump/ power sprayerRM 1,000
Water Drum or tankRM 400
Cement ramp RM 500
Sponges & car towelsRM 100
Carpet cleanerRM 1,800
Miscellaneous & BackupRM 2,000
Total Equipment CostsRM 8,400
Up Front Equipment Costs

Avoid Cheap Online Starter Kits

I was advised to avoid starter kits that are sold on Lazada or Shopee for around RM 1k+:

Don’t be fooled with internet starter packs

He said that these are usually cheap no-brand inferior products from China that will conk out in a couple of months if used on a daily business setting.

The best is to buy quality products individually:

Industrial Grade Wet & Dry Vacuum

Different than what you have at home, a wet & dry vacuum can suck in water without any problems and doesn’t need vacuum bag replacements.

Criteria to look out for when selecting one:

  • Reputable, international brands:
    • Karcher
    • Bosch
    • Black & Decker
  • Must be wet & dry capable
  • Tank capacity around 15 L
  • Lightweight (less than 5kg) as you’ll be moving the vacuum around

Below are 2 examples of what you can buy online:

Air Compressor

The air compressor is used to power the air gun. Which is used for car detailing work:

  • Blowing dust out of cracks and crevices.
  • Blow drying hard to reach places.

The compressor power must be at least 2hp. Brands are subjective, but the one that my friend used for years without any issues is Swan. It cost around RM 1,800:

Swan, 2hp air compressor

Water Pump

The water pump is what builds up the pressure to suck water from the tank and spray the car with pressurized water. Making cleaning an easy task.

Criteria to look for:

  • Electrically operated (engine power might be unnecessary).
  • A min of 3hp or 40 bar pressure.
  • Costs around RM 1,000.
EuroX Water Pump

Water Tank

The bigger, the better to make sure you have enough water for continuous operations on a busy day. You’ll be looking at a min 200-gallon tank around RM 400, including shipping:

200 Gallon water tank

Cement Ramp

You’ll need some sort of ramp at the front and rear of your shop for your customer’s drive into and out.

You can purchase metal ramps, or hire a contractor to construct a concrete ramp.

My friend got a good deal with a close friend contractor, at around RM 200. But if you’re not that lucky, prepare a higher budget of RM 500 to RM 1,000.

Carpet Cleaner

A professional grade carpet cleaner is a must if you want to be taken seriously. I was recommended this particular brand that is used by a lot of cleaning companies:

If you’re starting out, you can skip this item first and get it later once you have acquired a steady stream of customers.

Possible new stream of income: You can also use this equipment to clean home carpets and sofas.

What are the Car Wash Monthly Running Cost

Monthly CostsRM
Shop Rent2,500
Staff (RM 1,300 per worker, 3 staffs in rotation)RM 3,900
Staff housingRM 1,500
Staff Commissions for upselling (5-10%) depending on sale
Water & electricity billsRM 1,000
SoapRM 150
Total Monthly CostsRM 9,050
Estimated Car Wash Monthly Cost

Staff

You’ll need a minimum total of 3 staff, 2 working in rotation. These people are often foreign workers, and possibly UN cardholder refugees from Myanmar.

You’ll most likely have to deal with their accommodation as well. Assume you are able to rent a place near your shop, or oftentimes, above the car wash itself for around RM 1,500 a month.

Cleaning Detergent (Soap & Shampoo)

Car washes typically buy the detergent in bulk, and you can get the 20kg barrel of soap from Lazada for around RM 75:

Should You Buy an Established Car Wash Instead?

Alternatively, you can find out good deals on existing car washes that are advertised on sale on Mudah.my:

Most of these business are sold lock-stock-and-barrel. All in, with their workers, deposits, tenancy agreements, equipment and existing client base.

Although some of these look like a really good deal, I can’t help to wonder why are these businesses for sale. Like, is there anything wrong with it? Will you be inheriting a nightmare?

Pros:
Everything is set up for you, including SOP & staff. All you need to do is to take over the management.

Cons (risk):

  • The best-case scenario is if the last owner genuinely wants to sell the business because he/she needs the money to do something else.
  • Which makes me wonder if the business is profitable, why would they want to sell it?
  • You could be inheriting a nightmare.

Car Wash Business Risks & Solutions

RisksPossible Solution
Foreign workers running awayPrepare a comfortable working and living condition for them
Workers stealing & pocketing the moneyGet a POS system & make sure accounting is in check. Install CCTV
In certain areas, you might be dealing with ‘protection’ moneyDue diligence is needed. Ask your potential neighbors
Damaging a customer’s carNeed proper SOP to train staff & prepare for the worst-case scenario
Customer accusing us of stealing car contents or damaging carInstall CCTV

Key TakeAway

The car wash business is an honest, down to earth business.

The best is if you can set up shop near a housing area and get contract work with car dealerships & workshops.

Formula for success:

  1. Setup 1 shop and refine your working SOP.
  2. Achieve ROI as soon as possible, then save up 6 months of business running costs. According to my estimate earlier, this could take up to a year.
  3. With additional profit beyond the ROI & savings in step #2, consider opening up another branch or franchising it.
  4. Profit $$$

Helmi Hasan

Hi, I'm Helmi Hasan, the founder, and writer for the personal finance blog, Balkoni Hijau. Read more in the 'About Me' page or follow me on Twitter.

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