Throw Southern California’s car culture and its water restrictions into a bucket, swish them around, and you get an environment brimming with opportunity for car washes and detailers with a mobile, eco-friendly business model.
That’s why Bertrand Patriarca launched WashOS with co-founders Benjamin Guez, Francois Pradel and Kevin Guez in 2015. WashOS offers mobile car-washing and detailing using a proprietary, nearly waterless process. After booking on the WashOS app, customers are promised a technician will arrive within 90 minutes at the location of their choice in Los Angeles and Orange County. Nothing more than a typical parking space is required for WashOS to clean a car, sparing customers the hassle of driving to a car wash and waiting while the work is done.
It’s estimated that a 10-minute car wash with a standard garden hose in a driveway uses more than 100 gallons of water, which is why the Los Angeles Department of Water prohibits washing cars with hoses that don’t have automatic shutoff nozzles. Even so, runoff tinged with detergents that drains into storm sewers often empties directly into lakes, creeks and oceans, potentially harming wildlife. Properly designed car washes carry the water to a treatment plant, but they still use roughly 30 gallons of it per customer.
By contrast, “We wash a complete car with less than 1 gallon of water, using eco-friendly solutions and microfiber cloths,” Patriarca said.
The technicians first must train for three days at WashOS Academy and invest $200 to $300 into the equipment required to provide the first three service packages, another $200 or so to be able to provide the highest-level package. Not all who enroll graduate.
However, in a sector rife with labor abuses, WashOS directs 65 to 75 percent of fees back to the technicians.
The business model is a logical extension of Uber and the broader gig economy, which explains why WashOS isn’t the only company to seize the opportunity. But WashOS’ combination of environmental and labor consciousness distinguish it from other mobile car wash companies such as Spiffy, Washe and Envi, Patriarca said.
“We wanted to create a fair business where the price is affordable for the customer, but it’s also giving a fair share to the technicians,” Patriarca said. “The average payment to technicians is around $3,000 a month. We create careers and help our staff to thrive and grow.”
Octavio Gomez, 30, who lives in Culver City, has been working with WashOS for a year and a half full time.
“One of the things I like the most is I don’t have a direct boss who’s always behind me,” Gomez said. “I manage my own time and my own schedule. You can make as much as you want, work as many hours as you want.”
Workers must have their own functional car, be able to work legally in the U.S. and present IDs and proof of insurance, as well as submit to a background check. About 10 to 15 percent of applicants are women.
Gomez said his average income is $150 a day, and he typically works within a 10-mile radius.
“And then obviously you have to learn how to manage your money because you have to pay for gas and your own products, and there are seasons like any other business and days you can’t work because it’s raining,” Gomez said. “It’s like your own business where you have to invest and manage it.”
Detailing has become more serious business, in part because of Uber, where a clean vehicle can influence ratings and earnings, and also because of the rise of water restrictions in drought-vulnerable states such as California and Nevada, said Rob Schruefer, past president of the International Detailing Association.
“You’re seeing less and less of the bucket brigade guys; the professional side of it is stepping up,” Schruefer said. “Manufacturers are adapting to water restrictions and coming up with waterless and rinseless washes that you don’t need to carry water for. The chemical encapsulates the dirt and you can wipe it away without risk of scratching the vehicle.”
WashOS has picked up regular business clients such as car dealerships and rental car companies, including Sixt at Los Angeles International Airport, that are not allowed to wash cars on their lots if they can’t guarantee water reclamation.
For individual customers, WashOS’ service starts at $21 for a 30-minute exterior wash, $29 for inside and out. (The technicians bring a vacuum and a generator so no electrical outlet access is needed.)
Detailing inside and out, including a hand wax on exterior and leather or cloth treatment inside, about a two-hour service, costs $89. The top-of-the-line detailing package, about a three-hour service, is $189. WashOS offers discounts to Uber drivers.
WashOS is planning to expand, first to San Diego and San Francisco, then to Las Vegas, possibly in the second half of 2017. Those cities might not match Greater Los Angeles’ demand, but that’s OK, Patriarca said.
“There are 17 million cars on the road in Los Angeles County, Orange County and the San Fernando Valley,” he said. “So the potential here is quite unlimited for us.”