Looking to start a commercial truck wash business? Thousands of companies rely on millions of semi trucks and delivery vehicles to transport their products and every one of those vehicles need to be cleaned. Not only does cleaning enhance their brand image but it also helps reduce their maintenance. Now just might be the best time to consider starting your own truck wash business. 

According to a Technavio report, the car and truck wash market is set to grow by $5.82 billion from 2021 to 2025. That might be because the vast majority of organizations don’t wash their vehicles on their own and prefer to outsource their truck washing needs.

There is a lot of work that goes into setting up a new truck washing business. Every business needs a plan, and a truck wash operation is no different. A truck wash business plan will help you map out everything you need to run a successful truck wash and avoid common mistakes that small business owners make. 

How to Start a Commercial Truck Wash Business

When you’re looking to start a truck wash business there are eight essential steps you need to consider: 

  1. Picking your target market
  2. Choosing between a fixed-site commercial wash and a mobile wash business
  3. List your competitive advantages
  4. Describe the legal structure of your business
  5. Organizing funding and finances
  6. Setting up your base of operations
  7. Buying your truck washing equipment
  8. Building your marketing strategy

1. Picking your target market

The first thing you should do before starting your truck wash business is to figure out what type of vehicles you are going to be cleaning. This will help you figure out the location of your business, where you market, and what equipment you will need to get the job done. 

Maybe you want to target large manufacturing companies that deliver nationally and tend to use a large fleet of 18-wheelers to do that. Perhaps you’re hoping to grab owner-operators on a specific route. Maybe you’re near many RV parks or storage areas, and want to target that audience. Are the end users going to want a perfect clean, or do they just want "good enough"?

Once you have your ideal target market picked out, study them. What kind of vehicles do they have? How many do they employ in their fleet? Do they drive where there is a lot of mud or where there is a lot of snow and ice? 


2. Do you want a fixed-site commercial truck wash that is open to the public or a mobile truck wash? 

Once you know who your target market is, you need to decide what type of truck wash you’re going to build. 

A fixed-site commercial truck wash can be a very profitable business, especially if it’s placed in a good location. But you will need to make sure you have the space for multiple large vehicles to navigate the lot, and decide if you’re interested in a manual wash bay, an automated wash bay, or perhaps both.

A mobile truck wash allows you to take your service to your customers, but the ceiling for growth is much lower, and you may be dependent on their utilities to get the job done. However, there is a much lower barrier to enter this market; you can start a simple mobile washing service with just a pressure washer and chemicals!  

If you have a fixed-site truck wash, you also have the option of building an automated wash to not only speed up the process significantly and have the capacity to wash more trucks, but you require less labor. This can have more long-term benefits but a much higher barrier of entry due to much higher cost, including land, construction, employees, and much more.


3. List your competitive alternatives

This is the most overlooked part of starting a business but can be one of the biggest reasons your truck wash is successful. Listing your competitive alternatives will help you understand what the competition is doing while allowing you to differentiate yourself in the market and stand out.

Here’s the secret: Don’t just think of who your competitors are. Ask yourself — what would my ideal customer do if I didn’t exist? It could be that they would wash their fleet by themselves or have their drivers do it. How can you help them understand that you are a better solution?

Now it’s time to think of all the things those alternative solutions do well and things they don’t do well. This will help you figure out exactly what kind of business you want to be, how to avoid common mistakes and think of ways you can be different. 

Finally, focus internally on your own business. Do you know experienced fleet washers you could hire? Do you have a truck wash soap partner which you can source your products from and offer your customers a better wash? Think of ways you could make your truck wash business stand out more.


4. Decide the legal structure of your business

Now that you know what kind of business you want to be and what kind of businesses you want to attract, you need to consider the legal structure of your business. There are benefits to each one whether you choose to be listed as a C or an S corporation, or a limited liability company (LLC). But we highly encourage you to consider getting professional legal counsel before you choose what type of corporation you become. 

And once you choose one, you should think through the organization of your company. If you’re just starting out, it’s best to keep a small and lean team, possibly starting with a mobile fleet washing business, and then expand it as your business grows. Create a decision tree of everyone you would hire or ask to help you run your truck wash business. 


5. Organizing funding and finances

Before you start looking for outside funding or a loan from a bank, you should list your potential expenses, including how much the land is to set up your base of operations and any equipment you are looking to purchase. 

Other things to consider include:

  • Any employees you want to hire
  • Renovation plans
  • Your utilities
  • Any other debt you have
  • Plan to potentially sell your business at some point

Then look at your financial projections. How can you convince someone who is lending you money that your business will not only be stable but will be successful?


6. Setting up your base of operations

Setting up the base of operations for your commercial truck wash business isn’t as easy as finding the most affordable property or the best location. You need to make sure it is: 

  • Easily accessible
  • Located where utilities such as water, sewer, and electricity are not a problem
  • Spacious enough lot for multiple vehicles to navigate and wait
  • Large enough to build and install all the washing equipment, detergents, and other items needed to be successful
  • And possibly most importantly, it must able to get the necessary permits and legal permissions

Another tip, even though it’s not as important as the others, is to find a location reasonably close to your target market so you can be seen as the “easy button” when they need their vehicles cleaned.


7. Buying or leasing equipment

This is when it can be helpful to partner with a fleet washing manufacturer who can assess your business goals and help you plan for all the equipment you will need to run your truck wash. This will largely depend on if you choose an automated system or opt to use individual pressure washers to manually wash

But generally, you will want to consider:

  • Equipment - an automated Wash system, or pressure washers, or both. 
  • Access to good water, whether it’s fairly soft water directly from the city or the ability to make it using an DI or RO system, and tanks to store the softened water.
  • A water heater to increase the cleaning ability of the detergents.
  • Any drying equipment, particularly in the cold northern states, or if you have poor water quality.
  • Chemicals and truck wash soaps
  • Any special regulations requiring additional tools or equipment for drainage

If you want to learn more about automated truck wash features and equipment, you can read more here.


8. Marketing Plan

The marketing plan should be the last step in setting up your commercial truck wash business because without first assessing the type of business you are going to run and who you want to sell to, you will probably end up wasting a lot of money on your marketing. 

There’s no “correct” way to do your marketing, it differs from business to business. However, if you know what you’re offering, who you are targeting, and why you are a better option than your competitors, your marketing should focus on telling as many people as possible.

Some common marketing channels include:

  • Direct traffic to your website
  • Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
  • Organic social media
  • Local directories and listings
  • Google My Business
  • Digital Ads

Getting Started

Starting your commercial truck wash business may seem like a lot of work, but it can be very rewarding, especially with an automated system. 

There are a lot of fleet directors and fleet managers that don't have the capacity or resources to wash their own vehicles. They are more concerned with running an efficient delivery or transportation business than they are with keeping their vehicles clean, that's where a commercial wash can offer a solution. 

This guide should help you get started but if you ever need help, feel free to contact us at Hydro-Chem Systems and we’ll be happy to answer any questions you have. 

Suggested reading:

  1. Building an Automated Truck Wash: A Comprehensive Guide
  2. How Much Money an Automatic Truck Wash Saves You
  3. Automated Fleet Wash Equipment Features & Why They Matter
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