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Why are there so many car wash centres in Nairobi?

By XN Iraki | February 12th 2021
Going by the number of cars registered in Kenya, it’s possible that the demand for car wash centres has gone up.

In Nairobi and its outskirts, the number of car washes has lately gone up. Are Kenyans more hygiene conscious than ever before or is car washing a profitable business? Car washers differentiate their services from body wash to engine wash, interior vacuuming, waxing and even buffing. Each with a different price. The size of the car matters too. This market segmentation probably makes the business profitable. The increase in the number of car washes is by itself a clear indicator that it’s profitable. The input costs are low; an open ground, water and some soap. The water pressure machine is also not that expensive. Petrol stations have not been left behind in making extra cash from car washes. The business has low barriers to entry and attracts lots of starters.

Going by the number of cars registered in Kenya, it’s possible that the demand for car wash centres has gone up. Add the fact that most drivers go through either a dusty or muddy stretch every day, and cleanliness becomes necessary. Ask Kenyans in USA or UK how often they clean their cars.

The other attraction to car washes is that Kenyans have become more conscious of their image. And the car is more of a status symbol than a means of transport. It should be clean. Street children have also realised this, as they now target traffic jams and will dust your car in exchange for some payment. I first saw that in South Africa.

The more significant driver to car wash centres is outsourcing. The car owners could be doing something else more productive as they get their car washed. Never mind that taking the car for cleaning is often an afternoon break for the owners, mostly over the weekend.  Our disdain for any manual work is also driving their proliferation. While cleaning a car could be a good exercise, many see it as taxing and degrading. We love being served at home and in the work place, it feels good and it’s a mark of status. Do it yourself (DIY) is not very popular in Kenya because labour is cheap. 

Once labour costs go up, if the population growth slows, outsourcing will reduce and technology will take over. Seen the new automatic car washers? You will clean your car, house, clothes, and perform other chores. Covid -19 lockdown gave us a glimpse into that not-so-distant future. For now, enjoy the car wash while it lasts...


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