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A car wash renovation journey

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Photo by Brandon Gray

Charanjit Singh is a busy man. Not only does he own and operate a car wash in northeastern Toronto, he is building two others, one of them a major development of a one-acre piece of land in the northwest part of the city into a car wash destination for area residents and businesses.

Last August, Singh purchased a former Shell gas, convenience store and car wash site on busy Finch Ave. between highways 27 and 427, and began a multi-phase renovation he hopes in a few years will make Nanak Car Wash a one-stop destination including the wash, an indoor detailing centre, vacuuming stations, a small convenience store and fast food restaurant.

“There’s a big population around here,” says Singh. “I’m on a very busy street near two major highways that get a lot of passing traffic, I’ve got a great piece of land with plenty of room for expansion, and there isn’t another good wash in the area. The potential for this site is great.”

Singh spent the first six weeks repairing a lot of the pavement and concrete on the site that had been damaged when the gasoline pumps and other equipment and material from the old business were pulled up, dismantled and removed.

Then he turned his sights to the old touchless car wash, which he completely revamped with new electrical, mechanical and computer software systems and Belanger equipment. He covered the loading area and installed a new, 115-foot rear-wheel push conveyor belt system, a state-of-the-art wash package system consisting of a top wheel washer, driver and passenger side quick fire side and low-side washers, all equipped with soft foam brushes, soap, rinse and wax arches, and one set of side-to-side cleaning curtains.

Singh has also installed eight vacuum stations on one of the outside walls of the wash, which he offers to customers free of charge, has set up a temporary interior cleaning and detailing centre under the canopy where the old gas pumps used to be, and has converted the old convenience store into a customer waiting room and a small office for himself.

In the early days of the business, Singh’s strategy was to use the free vacuuming stations and low car wash prices to attract customers to the site, then offer other services such as interior cleaning, full detailing and later the convenience store and restaurant. His wash prices are $5 for a basic wash, $7 for the works (basic plus wax) and $9 for the premium package (a basic wash plus wax, shine and protector), $21 for an interior cleaning and vacuuming, and $140 for a complete detailing, which takes about three or four hours to complete.

Singh estimates the wash will be able to process between 700 and 900 cars a day and will be the main driver of revenue and profit for the business. “There’s more money in the wash than in detailing because it is much more labour intensive, but I want people to be able to come here and get the whole package,” he says.

Singh’s future plans include moving the eight free vacuuming stations across the lot and building a permanent detailing centre for eight cars, attached to the wash where the vacuums are currently located, and then adding a small convenience store and his own restaurant that would serve hamburgers, hot dogs, fries and other fast food. “I’ve got a friend who owns a Burger Hut restaurant a couple of blocks away and it’s busy all the time,” he says. “People could come in, have a wash, vacuum the inside of their cars themselves or get a quick or full detailing, pick up things they need from the convenience store and even grab something to eat. It would all be right here.”

Singh hopes to get the necessary permits from the city this year and start working on the detailing centre, store and restaurant next year. He’s already spent about $500,000 on the initial renovations, $2 million to purchase the land, and he anticipates the remainder of the renovations and additions could cost another $1 million, bringing his total investment to $3.5 million.

It’s a lot of money, which he expects won’t start producing a return for nine or 10 years. But he’s well aware of what it takes to create a successful, high-quality wash operation, and he’s in the business for the long haul. “Offering a package of quality products and services in a nice environment at a convenient location is a pretty good formula for success,” he says.