With a low barrier to entry and equally low overhead costs, auto detailing can be highly profitable. Over 90% of US households have access to at least one vehicle. So, services catering to automobile owners aren’t going anywhere!
As we’ll explain, owning a car detailing business isn’t complicated or expensive.
We gathered expert advice from Attention 2 Detail founder and owner Notto Jensen. His business provides auto and boat detailing services in and around Portland, OR.
And the good news is that Notto shared the intricacies of his successful detailing business in an interview with us.
In this article, I’ll explain the step-by-step process of how to start a car detailing business.
It’s an industry with an $11bn market size, over 50,000 companies in operation, and employing around 200,000 people in the US, according to IBISWorld statistics.
Attention 2 Detail brings in an impressive $29k a month. And to think, Notto started his mobile car detailing business with only $500 in his pocket. Let’s get into the “details” about starting a car detailing service.
Step 1: Learn more about car detailing
The good news is that starting an auto detailing business doesn’t require a ton of experience.
Notto recommends starting with your vehicle. You can even offer to detail a friend or family member’s ride. Experience working for an auto detailer or car wash helps, but it’s not necessary.
As he puts it:
So what are the skills you’ll need? Hard skills for starting a detailing business include:
- air compressor operation
- car washing and drying by hand
- leather conditioning
- pressure washing
- upholstery cleaning
- wet/dry vacuuming
Learn and practice these skills, and you’re on your way through the wash bay!
Notto says an eye for detail is what sets you apart from others in the industry.
His crew always puts the gear shifter in drive and cleans that crumb-collecting spot. It’s the kind of attention to detail customers appreciate. Check out more tips and recommendations from Notto here:
The key to Notto’s success is incredible customer service. He adds value to his mobile detailing service by:
- being personable
- learning names
- sharing detailing tricks with customers
The common denominator of successful businesses, especially startups, is excellent customer service.
Don’t neglect these soft skills:
The International Detailing Association (IDA) published a code of ethics to help you out. Please give it a go, and let us know what you think in the comments below.
Here’s the formula
The formula for gaining skills and experience for starting a car wash business is:
- Learn the technical skills.
- Practice paying close attention to detail.
- Nurture those soft skills.
There are also lots of automobile detailing tips available to help you learn more. There’s even a Detail University!
It’s that simple. Now shake that up and spray it over any areas of doubt you had about starting your car detail shop.
Step 2: Write a car detailing business plan
I know what you’re thinking: I can learn how to start a car detailing business from home and watch the profits shine. Well, there’s more to it than that. The deal is that a car wash business plan is your roadmap to long-term success.
Business plan sections are pretty standard, but within each, get into particulars, like:
- auto detailing insurance
- competitive analysis of car detailing in my area
- detailing supplies
- financial projections
- ideal physical location
- licenses and permits
- marketing plan
- strategies to make money
Step 3: Decide what type of detailing business is right for you
Attention 2 Detail focuses on mobile residential auto detailing, but there are many types of detailing businesses. For example, your small business can concentrate on:
- at-home car detailing
- commercial fleet inventories, such as a car dealership
- recreational vehicles (RVs)
- shop, garage, or car wash-based operation
Stationary or mobile?
Notto and his crew show up at the customer’s house to get the job done. Convenient, right? Keep reading to decide what works for you.
Stationary car detailing businesses need to have a garage, lobby, office, adequate plumbing, parking lot, and other infrastructure. It’s easy to realize that this is the more expensive option. Nevertheless, it can be very profitable. Read more about costs and garage setup.
There are generally two types: high-volume and boutique.
High-volume caters to customers seeking value and efficiency while boutiques attract patrons with luxury vehicles who appreciate the first-class treatment and advanced services, such as paint corrections.
Two types of stationary detailing shops
If you want to go the stationary route, then use the following lists to decide which one might be best for you.
A high-volume shop offers:
- fast service
- high volume (of course)
- large staff
- low prices
- A mix of automation and manual service
A boutique shop provides:
- high prices
- low volume
- services for high-end vehicles
- small, well-trained staff
- specialized services, including ceramic coatings
In essence, consider your options and make the best choice for you.
Make it mobile
Mobile might be more appealing to small business owners with less capital and experience.
Notto attributes much of his success to this decision:
People were blown away by the idea that he would come to their home to detail their car.
Here’s the magic: All you need is a van and some supplies. Notto estimates startup costs for supplies are around $1,000, and he never spent more than $4,000 on a reliable used van.
Take the next step by researching how to accept payments. Start by reading this: “Invoices & Receipts 101 for Auto Detailers.” There’s good stuff there.
The competitive advantage of a mobile car wash business
Notto realized that starting small, being mobile, and not being able to afford overhead initially benefited him. He says:
Think about that for a minute.
We also interviewed Isaiah Barhoum of Big’s Mobile Detailing. Learn how he plans to double his revenue in 2021.
Step 4: Choose a name
Now it’s time for some fun.
Choosing a name is an exciting part of the entrepreneurial process. Enjoy being creative, but consider the following points.
Add your details
Include what your service provides in the name as Notto did with Attention 2 Detail, but don’t be overly specific because your service might expand, and you’ll want some flexibility. Dealing with a name change takes time and money.
Easy and clear
Potential customers may be put off by a name they struggle to spell or pronounce, leaving them frustrated or unable to refer you via word of mouth. Keep it simple.
Ask yourself if you can easily incorporate your name into branding elements, such as logos and graphics. For inspiration, read the histories behind famous car logos.
Consider including your location. After all, you’ll want to attract customers in your area and establish yourself within the local region.
Set up a dot com
Using a dot com in your website address looks very official. Run your name through this domain name search to see what’s available. Also, it’s worth your time to read UpFlip’s guide on creating a website.
Lock it all in
Step 5: Meet the legal requirements
Establishing a legal structure is vital and legally necessary, and it might require professional help. Don’t hesitate to reach out to an attorney, accountant, or tax specialist.
Step 6: Hire employees
As with any business, determine if you can start alone or need to hire employees. After the wheels start turning, you’ll have a better idea of the number of cars you’ll be detailing and the staff required.
Initially, Notto Jensen and his brother were Attention 2 Detail’s only employees. Staying small and mobile in the beginning is what Notto attributes to their success.
Hire the right people
According to Notto:
Carefully selecting staff is equally important. Notto’s team is a mix of employees and independent contractors. Learn more about pay schemes.
Some of the qualities in a good employee include:
- on time
- team player
It also helps if they possess technical skills, but these can be taught and learned.
Step 7: Get equipment and supplies
Equipment and supplies for a detailing business vary for mobile or stationary, with items in common. Let’s open the door and hop in.
Car detailing businesses need the same essential items, such as brushes, polishers, and a vacuum. Learn more by reading IDA’s list of essential equipment for detailers. It’s worth your time to check it out. You’ll also need to get some software to run your business.
Zippity, Software for Mobile Detailing
Zippity is software built for the mobile detailer. Zippity’s CRM has features built-in to increase customer satisfaction, transparency, and communication, while simplifying your employees jobs. Employees are able to get instant work-authorizations, share GPS with the business owners, and communicate directly with the customer through your Zippity app. You’ll also have better job routing, more revenue and get up to 3x more Google reviews with Zippity for mobile detailers.
Don’t buff out the importance of a polisher
As Notto puts it, your “main muscle” is your buffer, which you can purchase easily from retailers. There’s also a ton of options for wax. Notto suggests finding two or three that work for you. There’s no need to buy them all.
Some detailers collect and dispose of greywater with a water reclamation system. Detail King offers guidance, but that’s only part of the story because certain states regulate greywater. So, be sure you comply with applicable laws.
At the time of writing this article, costs for important detailing equipment you’ll need are as follows:
|Absorber (Notto’s favorite towel)||$20 for two|
|Hoses and nozzles||$75 – 100|
|Leather cleaner and shoe brush||$15-|
|Small tools, such as grout brushes||$13|
Back it up
Imagine running out of drying towels at a customer’s house. Instead of watching water droplets form white spots on the great wash you just performed, plan with backup supplies and equipment.
Acquire what you can at first, but heed Notto’s advice that not having them can “stop you dead in your tracks.” Don’t let this be you.
Mobile detailing business
A mobile detailing setup requires a heavy-duty vehicle, such as a van, SUV, or trailer. Be sure it’s reliable, presentable, and has plenty of space for supplies and equipment. Jensen stresses vehicle reliability as the key to success.
Are you wondering where the water comes from to wash all these vehicles?
Some mobile car detailing businesses utilize the customer’s residential water supply, while other mobile car wash businesses have a water tank. There’s “waterless” detailing supplies and equipment as well.
Attention 2 Detail
Years later, Notto’s company runs three vans, collectively bringing in about $29k a month, projecting $250k-$350k for the year.
He doesn’t buy brand new vehicles, and he says $1k is enough to get everything you need to supply your van.
Stationary car washing
A stationary detailing business operates at a physical location where customers drive their vehicles for exterior and interior detailing. Many detailers perform detailing services only or offer them at a regular car wash facility.
Since stationary detail establishments generally fall into two categories—high-volume or boutique-style shops—these establishments will have special equipment to service their target clientele.
Carwash.com maintains a comprehensive buyer’s guide to help you in your research of supplies and equipment. It’s worth your time to review it.
Step 8: Establish safety protocols
Training and adhering to safety guidelines, such as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) guidelines, are essential in this business. Take them seriously to keep all parties safe from injury, fines, and legal action.
Know your stuff
Be familiar with detailing chemicals and equipment operations, and investigate locations before performing a mobile detail. Here’s the truth: good practices mitigate risk and prevent fines over violations.
It’s advisable to take out an insurance policy for your business. General liability insurance covers basic needs.
Keep in mind that if you’re working with commercial accounts, insurance is required. Read more about different types of insurance on IDA’s website.
Wondering if another framed piece of paper on your wall is worth it? Visit IDA’s website to learn more about earning a detailing industry certification.
Step 9: Set up the finances of a car detailing business
Let’s talk numbers.
Business bank account
Accounting and taxes are easier to handle when you keep all your business transactions in one location. Set up a business bank account and even consider opening a separate account for payroll, if applicable.
A detailed budget is crucial, even if you start small, like Notto. Check out Udemy or Coursera for inexpensive budgeting courses. Keep track of it with an application like Xero.
The auto detailing industry’s barrier to entry is low, but funding is an important step. Try business financing through one of our partners. Other sources provide a boost, such as:
- angel investor
- business partner(s)
- credit cards
- government programs
- home equity loan
- friends or family
- personal funding
- rollover for business startups (ROBS)
Each method has its pros and cons. For example, personal funds help you possess full ownership and avoid interest, but they might place you in a risky position financially.
Rather than charging per hour, Notto set prices for standard vehicles and charges per foot for boat detailing. Customers appreciate his transparency.
Charge extra on the initial detailing, especially if the vehicle has never received one or it’s been several months, to account for the extra grime. Explain to customers that the following detail will cost less.
Once you’ve got a price locked in for a customer, put it in writing. If needed, create a contract with crystal clear terms. It makes sense, right?
Revenue and profit
He runs three vans with three crews of two guys each, bringing in revenue of around $29,000 per month. For more information on how to profit from detailing services, take Detail King’s advice for a spin.
Step 10: Develop a sales and marketing strategy
Marketing is super important, and sales bring in revenue. So, don’t skimp on your sales and marketing budget.
According to Carfax.com, an excellent selling point is that a regularly cleaned car increases its resale value and promotes pride in ownership. Keep reading.
Identify your customer
Create an ideal customer persona to help you pinpoint your ideal demographic. Narrowing down the characteristics of your ideal customer will help you build your customer base.
Do some research to figure out who is willing to pay for the services you provide. Once you’ve narrowed it down, go out and find some customers!
In the digital age, your online presence is how customers find you. A website, social media, email newsletter, and digital advertising are all practical marketing tools. Check out Upflip’s helpful guide on creating a website.
Search engine optimization (SEO)
Check out what Entrepreneur.com has to say about finding a reputable SEO company. And once you have your website, don’t forget to explore the following opportunities to improve SEO:
- featured snippets
- Google My Business
- optimization of your site for speed
Digital business card
Try a digital business card service, like Popl, that allows you to link your contacts, websites, social pages, payment apps, and promotional material all from one page.
Instead of spending too much time scrolling through social media, make it work for your business! Facebook and Instagram provide free insights on business accounts, with opportunities to run paid ads.
Take your ad dollars one step further with broader digital marketing efforts. Consider pay-per-click (PPC), marketing automation, and other avenues.
Consider creating mailers, brochures, business cards, car magnets, flyers, t-shirts, and other promotional swag as a way of getting your name out there. Use an application like Canva to help.
Like the vehicles you clean, everything about your appearance should sparkle. Be a rolling advertisement by ensuring your crew, equipment, and fleet vehicles look polished.
Get reviews to feed the crews
His motto is, “Reviews feed the crews.”
Don’t forget reviews! They’re a cost-effective way to appeal to customers online. Excellent service with a friendly approach will result in good reviews.
Good feedback leads to new customers and encourages repeat business. It’s a car detailing shop, so you know customers will need recurring service. Simple, right?
Step 11: Document business processes
Establish good processes that scale easily and that others can follow. You won’t let go of the wheel completely, but it will help you smooth bumps in the road. Use Lucidchart to document them in a process map.
Here’s a basic “process” for working through your processes:
- Set a goal for your process mapping session.
- Include all roles involved in the workflow.
- Identify the issue you hope to solve with the map.
- List all activities.
- Determine the triggers, inputs, and outputs.
- Flow out the steps and decisions because you can’t always depend on the “ideal” path.
- Make the final draft, get all roles to agree, and sign off on the process map.
Now it’s your turn!
The internet won’t replace the service industry. Making cars clean and shiny isn’t going anywhere soon. Before starting your auto detailing business, ask yourself two fundamental questions:
- What do I need to research?
- Am I capable of providing a great experience through top-level customer service?
It might seem like a lot, but don’t overcomplicate it. In truth, you can start a car detailing business quickly.
Have the vision to provide outstanding service, have fun, make money, and make people happy. That’s all you need to succeed. Now buckle in and drive through the wash bay to come out as a clean, mean detailing machine.
And don’t forget to check out our interview with Notto on YouTube.