How to start a car detailing business – shop OR mobile service (with little or no money!)
I interviewed 3 people who run very profitable car detailing businesses, and asked them what you need to know about starting a car detailing business.
Updated August 6, 2021
I spoke with the founders and owners of three very successful car detailing businesses – two operate a mobile service, and one is based in a drive through location. They’re all earning good money, and I wanted to understand how easy (or difficult?) it is to get started in the car detailing or auto detailing business.
Can you do it quickly? Do you need special training? Is the equipment expensive?
I asked my successful operators for a little bit of background first – I wanted to know how they got into the business.
How do you get started in the car detailing business?
How did you get started in the car detailing business?
Do you have experience? or did you just get started?
Like so many business owners that I talk to, this trio seems to have mostly gotten into business accidentally. That's often the way it happens – a chance meeting with someone, or spotting an opportunity in an area that doesn’t have a service. Or maybe there’s just room to do better.
But what about experience? Sometimes you can’t just get started without years worth of training in a particular industry or business. How does car detailing compare to that?
I asked the three successful founders the second most common question.
Do you need to be an experienced detailer to start a car detailing business?
Can you learn as you go? Or do you need to take a training course? Can you learn online?
So the general idea seems to be – you can get started without any formal training or qualifications, but you won’t make much money until you start to get efficient, and that efficiency just comes with a little practice. So the sooner you get started, the sooner you’ll be making money. There are thousands of videos on YouTube showing the ins and outs and tricks to car detailing, so a few evenings worth of study will put you well ahead of everyone else who needs to figure things out the hard way! I wanted to know what equipment is needed to get started, and what the bare minimum is for someone starting with little or no money. I asked the experts.
How much money and what equipment is needed to start a car detailing business?
What are the must-have things, and what can wait until later? What is the minimum amount of money you’ll need?
It seems the three founders were all saying the same thing. They said you can get started for just a few hundred dollars, but, if you don’t eventually buy some equipment and build out a van or trailer, you’re going to be working slower than you could. I’ve learned – from talking with hundreds of business owners in many different businesses – that sometimes, people are happy to go slow and steady. Some operators don’t want to rush around and make $1000 or $2000 a day – some of them are perfectly happy to go slow and relax, and take home maybe half that. Which made me wonder – how much is a car detailer going to earn? Is it a super profitable business? I asked the three successful owners.
How much does a car detailing business earn?
Can you expect to earn a good income? Is it crazy hours, or a good lifestyle?
Very small startup expenses, and the lowest number I heard back from the three business owners was $3,000 a month, ranging to over $100,000 a year. It’s one of those businesses where it really just depends on how you operate it as to how much you’ll earn. Some car detailers go high-end, charge a lot, and only do a small number of jobs. Others are running a high volume hand-washing business. Decide what you want to do (low volume, high price sounds appealing!), and then start doing it. I asked the trio of successful car detailing business owners how they got their customers.
How do you get customers for a new car detailing business?
Can you just rely on Facebook? Do you need to spend money on advertising?
Spending money, time, and effort to attract new customers is fine as long as you can actually turn them into real customers, who book over and over again, well into the future. I wondered what things customers actually care about when they’re thinking about a car detailing service. I assumed it was price, and scheduling, mostly – but were there some other hidden things that my three founders had learned about customers? Is there another piece of the puzzle?
I asked them:
What do customers care about when they’re choosing their car detailer?
What should a new car detailing business do to get as many customers as they want?
If the majority of customers in a particular area only care about price, and that’s your main work area, it might be a mistake to spend tens of thousands of dollars on equipment. Maybe just cheap and fast car washing is the right service for that area. I often speak to business owners who have made an investment, or made a purchase, at the start of their business that they have come to regret in the future. Maybe they discovered they don’t really need to spend that money on that thing, or, their customers don’t care about it the way they expect them to.
I asked my founding trio an important question:
What is the biggest waste of money for a new car detailing business?
What are a some things that look like they might be a good idea, but are actually a waste of money?
A very low startup cost, and very good earning potential makes the car detailing business attractive to most people. But what about lifestyle? Sometimes you’ll start a business, and instead of you owning the business, the business owns you – and you can never really turn off. I asked the founding trio what their typical work day is now, and whether it suits them.
What is the typical work day for a profitable car detailer?
Is it a good lifestyle, or is it work from sunrise to sunset?
With the freedom to choose their working hours, people who run a car detailing business seem to enjoy a pretty good lifestyle. It’s one of those businesses where – the more effort you put in, and the more hours you put in, the more you get out of it. It is exactly what you want it to be – if you want a part time side-hustle, it can do that for you. If you want to replace or exceed a full time income, it can do that for you too. Not all car detailers think the same way. Some do things that just don’t make sense. I asked my three experts what they’ve seen that doesn’t make sense…
What things do some car detailers do wrong?
What are the ways a detailer can mess up? What can cause problems?
So the story is the same from all three of them – just take your time, do your research, and test new products carefully before using them for customer jobs. Even then – you’re sometimes going to have customers who are complaining for no good reason. You could do the best job in the world, but the customer is going to complain.
I asked my three car detailing founders if they had developed any tricks or methods for avoiding bad customers.
How can a car detailing business avoid bad customers?
Is there a way to know who is going to complain and be unreasonable?
You can work the hours you want to work in the car detailing business, and by asking the right questions like our experts above have suggested, you can avoid the troublesome customers and have an enjoyable time at work.
But what about other car detailers in your area? Should you be worried about competing with them? Should you lower your prices?
I asked my successful car detailers.
How should a car detailer compete against other detailers in his area?
Should you offer lower rates? Or do more for the same price? Or just ignore them and do your own thing?
Often times a small business – like a car detailing business – can make more money selling additional services or products than they do from their core business. I asked my three experts whether they sell additional products, or services, or upgrades to customers, to help increase their total income.
What other services can a car detailing business offer?
Are there premium upgrades you can charge more for? Are there products you can sell?
At this point, the three experts have given me just about all I need to know. Anyone can take this information, and start their business. But I wanted to close it out with a few bullet points that are simple and easy. So, I asked my car detailing experts what advice they would give to friends and family who were planning to start a car detailing business. Here’s what they told me.
Three Keys to Success in a Car Detailing Business
Are there premium upgrades you can charge more for? Are there products you can sell?
With minimal equipment, anyone can start a car detailing business. The biggest thing that the three car detailing experts kept repeating to me over and over again was that you need to do your research! I have spent over 100 hours learning everything there is to know about the car detailing business, by talking to industry experts and car detailers. I have compiled it into the worlds most useful guide, How to Start a Car Detailing Business. You can check it out here.
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