Car Wash Business Saves Youth from Street Life

Three hopeful and inspired boys in Dereje & his Friends Car Wash, all wearing sandals, are engaged in cleaning a couple of cars in the morning. One is mixing Omo detergent with water; the others are brushing and adding water and then scrubbing. The vacuum cleaner hums and washing materials lie around.

Dereje & his Friends Car Wash , is one of the known car washing associations formed by ten unemployed youths who were organised in microenterprise in front of Yohannes Tsebel, around the Sebara Babur area, in Gullele District.

They went into business 10 years ago with a 5,000 Br loan from Addis Credit & Saving Institution and are among the several car wash enterprises established as Micro & Small Scale Enterprises in Addis Abeba. The young men forming these enterprises were previously either unemployed or doing similar work individually. The MSE formation has enabled them to find locations in which they could engage in the car washing activity, even if those spots are hardly convenient, particularly considering the management of waste water.

Another such enterprise, Behailu & His Friends Car Wash, was established in 2010 around Afincho Ber, after the completion of Senegal St. They borrowed 20,000 Br from the Wereda MSE Bureau to start the business.

While Dereje & His Friends use powder and liquid soap, foam cleaner, body and inner polish, car shampoo and tire spray from retailers and other youths organised under SME, which shows the complexity of the service they offer. At Afincho Ber, Behailu & His Friends use only soap and water. Ten years ago, Dereje & his Friends could wash three to five cars a day. Now, when Fortune visited their site there was a long line of vehicles waiting for the cleaning service. Saturdays mean big business at these enterprises, with many clients wanting to a have a clean car for Sunday. They also offer the service on a door-to-door basis.

These microenterprises have a special arrangement by which each member of the association has his own clients. Each keeps the money from his respective clients, contributing a small share of it to the enterprise. A similar approach to profit-sharing is used by other enterprises as well, building the sense of ownership by the washers.

They charge 100 Br for simple body wash, or 400 Br to 600 Br, if the vehicle is cleaned inside out, including the motor.

“A thousand litres of water could wash five cars in the normal service and two cars using the special service,” said Tomass Bezu, one of the members. The bill could be big as when their water supply is finished they have to fetch it from elsewhere.

Customers here are happy that they can trust the washers enough to leave their cars and keys with them for the whole day. Among their important clients are car importers, for whom they do the washing using steel wool.

An impending road construction might cost them their working place.  This could be a relief to the neighbourhood, which is grumbling because of the free release of the waste water into the environment making it inconvenient for other road users. Behailu & His Friends, claim to have “no problem”, as the waste water directly flows in to the nearby river. However, they could run afoul of the authorities charged cleaning up the city’s rivers to make Addis one of the 15 cleanest cities in Africa by 2020.

Meanwhile, business is booming.   Some members of Behailu & His Friends Car Wash to work individually for 10 Br to 20 Br a car and have carried over their old clients when they transformed into an enterprise. At Behailu’s they have employed 15 additional workers, who are paid 10 Br to 15 Br per car. They could use 50lt of water for a normal wash and 150lt for special wash. Their monthly water bill goes up to 3,000 Br to 4,000 Br.

“The profits are now good,” said Behailu.

The enterprise now claims capital of 100,000 Br. Their business could boom if their proposal to TOTAL is accepted. This would enable them to establish a modern automatic car wash facility, Behailu explained.

At both enterprises, they cite as an indicator of their success that every member now holds a driver’s licences.

The business has created opportunities and employment for youth migrating to Addis Abeba. Founders of Selelo, Deresse & Their Friends Car Wash Enterprise was established by young people who came to Addis Abeba from Wolayta in the Southern Regional State looking for work. Their early days in Addis were characterized by occasional labour work. Now they wash 25 to 30 cars a day at their facility near Kirkos District’s Youth Centre in Wereda 2, where they employ nine people. Selelo Tantu, manager, had just completed 10th grade when he and his friends decided to come to the city in search of a better life.

One of the members, Andee Arba, was only 12 years old when he came and started working as shoe shine boy. He did not hesitate to shift to car washing, a simple job which required only soap, water and a brush, he said, but with a better return than that which could be made from shining shoes.

Their service is not as complex and expensive as others. They get water from the neighbourhood, use up to 40lt for a car, and charge only 20 Br for smaller cars and 30 Br for larger cars. They deliver a clean car in 15 to 20 minutes.

Each member now has savings of 20,000 Br to 40,000 Br, Andee told Fortune, adding that some have driver’s licences and some have bought motor cycles; they have also bought land and built houses back home.

One of their clients that Fortune met on the site said he goes to them because they do a quick service and he wants to help their business. It is also cheaper here.

“We have to wait long and pay 100 to 400 Br at other places,” said this client.

Now, Dereje & His Friends have resolved the waste water management issues by digging a drain connecting to the bigger ditch by the roadside.

These car washers aspire to have bigger and more modern service enterprises like Crystal Auto Group, a 24-hour professional car wash and auto detailing service, which provides pressure and steam wash services, as well as shampooing, ant protection, buffing and waxing. Crystal also supplies auto care products and automotive refinish systems, as well as brand new and used cars, spare parts, accessories and various automotive equipment and machinery.

It is the kind of dream youth have when they organise to form microenterprise.






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