Seated in your car along the Apapa-Oshodi Expressway in Lagos, Nigeria, at any point of the work day, you might as well make yourself comfortable. There on this road that acts as a gateway to Nigeria’s two busiest seaports, a journey of a mere 40 miles could last the better part of 12 hours.
Millions of cars, 6 lanes, making up perhaps the worst gridlock in the entire world.
But far from drawing up scenes of despair, this picture describes one that offers hope to savvy investors, many of whom are to be found on the very streets that flank this never-ending stream of cars.
Deep within this frustrating mix–characterized by the pungent scents of broken exhaust pipes, loud honks, and curses from irate drivers–lies opportunity that many fail to recognize: there are millions of cars in Nigeria, and this could be the basis of a thriving car wash business.
Any number of these can be found in several major cities around the country, but the majority of them are traditional hand washes that impede traffic, are time costly, and most often ineffective.
Imagine having to step out of your car in the middle of the humid atmosphere of the midday sun in Lagos or Abuja, enduring the punishing heat as well as the exhaust fumes from nearby traffic for 45 minutes or mores.
And having to pay a very high price for the experience.
Unsavoury as it sounds, this is the only option available for many car owners in Nigeria, thanks to the present condition of the car wash industry there, and almost all of Africa actually.
By and large, the car wash is a labour intensive business, one that is not only difficult to set up but offering very small profit margins at the end of the day. The locals pay for the service and endure because there are no better options.
But this situation is quickly changing in the West African nation. Savvy entrepreneurs are taking advantage of this sluggish situation to get innovative, introducing automatic car washes and drive-thru car washes.
While the number of these automatic car washes is on the rise they are yet a long way from satisfying the urgent demand that truly urban centres like Lagos, Abuja, and the other great African cities represent.
Different from their traditional hand wash counterparts, these automatic car washes have a lot going for them:
- They are faster, cutting the wash time to a mere 1 to 5 minutes. Thus owners are able to leverage and provide service to dozens of more cars than hand washes normally would.
- They are almost completely automated. Thus owners have less need for hiring workers. Medium sized hand washes usually need 15-20 hires to operate fully, but an automatic car wash of the same size can usually make due with 2-4 hires, and still get more done.
- Drivers don’t have to leave their cars to get their cars clean if they don’t want to–this is a better scenario than the hot, humid alternative that hand washes offer.
- They are cheaper in the long run. Most of the costs are tackled in the beginning during acquisition and set up of arches. After these initial stages, the low cost of running the business allows owners to supply efficient services at lower prices–something that is not lost on the car driving crowd.
- These automated or roll-in car washes are long-lasting, requiring little to maintain. This longevity offers the sort of stability every business needs if it must grow to meet the sort of demand that urban centres represent.
Africans are ready to embrace these new strides in the car wash industry, as the few who have responded to this need will attest. Nonetheless, there remains a huge gap between the demand on the ground and supply that is available that remains to be filled.