If you want to escape from the hum-drum of office life, be your own boss, operate your own business and earn good money all at the same time, then one of the most interesting lines of work you can get into is auto detailing. You might be thinking, “isn’t that just a fancy word for washing cars?” In one very rudimentary and simplistic sense of the word, yes it is, but there’s actually a lot more to the world of auto detailing than just “washing cars.”
The act of quitting an existing job and setting yourself up as an auto detailer is the easy part. Almost anyone can write a letter of resignation, buy some detailing supplies and set up a free page for themselves on Facebook, Instagram or similar social media channel. What we are thinking about today is how to make that auto detailing business viable and profitable in the long term.
How Much Money Can an Auto Detailing Business Make?
Detailing website guidetodetailing.com makes what they call a conservative estimate as to the income potential of a one-man-band auto detailing operation. They say that you could pull in $90,000 a year if you work 5 days a week, complete 3 jobs in a day and charge $120 per job.
When you consider that you could potentially charge more than $120 since the average cost of detailing in the US is about $160 according to Yelp.com. In Hawaii, the average cost is about $90.50 per job, but in Kansas it’s as high as $232. In fact, the data from Yelp shows that auto detailers in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Kentucky and Maryland can all charge more than $175 on average. Taking $175 as a high-end average, that could mean you take in around $135,000 a year.
Even when you factor in your startup and monthly expenses, which would come to about $15,000-20,000 for startup costs and about $1,000-1,300 expenses per month at the very most. If you already happen to have a van that you can use, then your startup costs go down dramatically to $5,000-10,000 because all you need in reality is the equipment to get started, and perhaps an advertising wrap on your van so people know about your services.
So, we can easily establish that setting up an auto detailing business is fairly straightforward and the potential for profit is very high indeed. But, is it really as easy as all that? If so, we predict a lot more people would be doing it. The question remains, then, what can you do to ensure that your auto detailing business will be as or more profitable than you we speculate in the numbers above?
Strategies for Making an Auto Detailing Business Profitable
To be clear, today’s blog is not about how to set up an auto detailing business. We will start from the point that you have all the equipment and other gear you need, including a van. We will also assume that you have met your home city’s requirements with regards to licensing and other regulations. Finally, we are assuming that you have opted to go for a mobile auto detailing business, since that is how the majority of them operate.
If you have a bricks-and-mortar location, then you will have far more expenses in a year since running a physical location is more costly than operating the service as a mobile one. Let’s get into the various strategies you can use to make your auto detailing business more profitable.
1. Train and Re-Train
The world of auto detailing is not a static one. New products emerge that can change your game, make your life easier and/or allow you to get better results. There may be new tricks, techniques and other styles of working that other detailers develop that will benefit you directly if you take the time to learn them.
If a new kind of paint sealant emerges, for example, that better protects paint while giving the warm glossy color enhancement that you get from carnauba wax, then it would be a good thing to invest in such a product. Some face a more binary choice of looks versus protection when it comes to these products, so if something were to emerge that offered the best of both worlds, then you should adopt it.
Furthermore, if a detailer working in another state shares YouTube videos about new ways to use existing products in more effective ways, you serve yourself well by keeping up to date with these developments. Small innovations that save time without compromising results are incredibly valuable to you as a small business owner.
Ultimately, one of the keys to becoming a successful and profitable auto detailing business is through continua learning and professional development. When you think you know it all already, you set yourself on an inevitable course to fall behind your competition.
2. Create a Culture of Marketing
Marketing activities as a detailer are so important, but also much simpler than you imagine. There’s no need for any kind of gimmick, fancy slogans or expensive advertising. In the world of auto detailing, you can let the work you are doing speak for itself. Having said that, you do have to find ways to share that work with people, and that’s where your marketing culture comes in.
First, try to do your work in a location that makes you visible to other residents of the neighborhood. You’ll have your van parked there with your contact information, of course, but you can also make a point of working in driveways and street locations that passing foot traffic will see you at work and see how well you work.
Next, on select jobs, make videos as you work to showcase your services and what you do. Some detailers are worried about doing this because they feel clients may be irritated if time is being used for marketing during their job. You could always offer a 10-percent discount to a client who lets you film a “how-to” video or a “what we do” video during their job. It’s not a big deal for most people. Detailing takes time anyway, so it’s not likely that anyone will be in a huge hurry to take their car somewhere.
Try to share examples of your work every single day on social media like Facebook and Instagram. Use popular hashtags to gain attention from others in your local area, and encourage your friends and family to share the images across their own circles. This kind of activity will generate natural growth. It may start in friend and family circles, but sooner or later you will step out as strangers start to notice you and inquire after your services.
Auto detailing is a very visually impacting kind of job. The scope for “before and after” photos, videos showing how you detail individual parts of a car, and then the final finished shot of the fully detailed car are very effective in getting eyeballs onto what you are doing. People can see the results, and that means you don’t need to spend time writing or explaining much about what you do. Your marketing can be simple, punchy and focused entirely on your services. Build up this marketing culture for a more profitable enterprise.
3. Don’t Grow too Fast
While the majority of detailers will find growth moves slow and steady, it is also quite possible that things will happen faster than you first anticipate. In this situation, it is easy for matters to get a little out of control, for example:
- You accept more jobs in a day or week than you can realistically handle
- You start to lose track of your costs and income
- You start offering discounts and other concessions to apologize for getting to jobs later than you promised
- The quality of your work starts to slip so that you can finish all your work in the same time period
This is a dangerous trap to fall into, and we strongly suggest that you do everything you can to avoid it. It seems intuitive in the early days of your business to take all the work that comes your way. In doing so, you can maximize your income and ensure that your business becomes profitable sooner. The danger, however, is that you bite off more than you chew and end up creating negative feedback on your work.
In a business such as auto detailing where your entire success is dependent on your personal and professional reputation — people are trusting you with their cars, after all — you can’t afford to have people bad-mouthing you on social media, claiming that your service is no good and/or that you are not to be trusted. This would be like the moment the Titanic struck the iceberg.
Only take on as much as you can realistically do without compromising on quality. This will help you maintain the overall momentum of success until you reach great profitability.
4. Create Service Packages
Another good way to maximize profit is to offer your services in flexible packages. A service package often equates to savings for the customer, but also more profits for yourself. Since the price of a detailing job to the customer represents quite a lot of profitability to you when you factor in costs, the savings that customers make through purchasing packages are usually very attractive to them, but not so detrimental to your own bottom line.
The one risk with offering service packages, however, is accidentally offering too much additional service for not much additional profit. For example, waxing and paint protection is often a fairly time-consuming activity, and is therefore one that should come at a more premium cost to the customer. Imagine a detailer that offers a free wax or paint sealant coating on all SUV detailing package. The detailer is giving away the most profitable part of the day!
They will now spend more time on the same job without making any additional money. What they could do instead is to offer a discount that equates to something like the vacuuming or interior polishing being free. These are not as time consuming, will be liked by the customer, and can still ensure that you’re making enough money for the time you put into each job.
Therefore, when it comes to creating innovative service packages that the customers think are great value, the key is to offer enticing savings, but not ones that will result in you having to sacrifice more time to earn the same amount of money. You have to strike this balance.
5. Keep Track of All Costs
If you want to be profitable, then you have to keep costs down. This is true of any business. There will of course always be some level of cost that you have to bear, but when you keep detailed track of your expenses, you can better ensure to avoid waste. That’s the key to a more profitable enterprise.
Have you ever asked any of your friends or acquaintances in business about their outgoings? Many people are quick to talk about how much money they bring in every month, but they don’t talk about how much they spend. The reason usually isn’t any kind of embarrassment, but rather that they genuinely don’t know how much they spend in a given month. Most business owners grossly underestimate their own costs.
As a detailer, for example, you might find that you’re spending too much money on needless things like Facebook advertising, car wax, clay bars or other equipment. Do you automatically re-order things every month and end up with a stockpile of something sitting in your garage? Do you use too much water on each job? These are wasteful habits that need to be pruned away.
Keeping track of income is the fun part of business, but it’s very important that you also take time to understand where your money is going when you spend it, too. Do so and you will find that it benefits your bottom line in the long term.
6. Cut Out Low Value Services
Are there services in your selection that only a very small handful of people order but they also take up a disproportionate amount of your time overall? It’s quite common for small businesses to perhaps offer a particular service or price package early on in their development and the continue offering it because there is one customer in particular who uses it.
An entrepreneur has to be bold enough to know when a certain product or service is no longer an effective or profitable one for their business. It’s better to try and convince that customer to take you up on one of your other services rather than continuing in an inefficient manner just to suit their purposes. In the end, you might have to take the brave step of saying goodbye to one customer if it means you have a better chance of serving and retaining your other customers more effectively.
Services that eat into your time and don’t offer enough of a return should be anathema to you as a small business owner. Your time is precious and the more time you have, the more profits you can potentially generate.
7. Work On Keeping Existing Customers
Retaining an existing customer base and expanding the range of services they accept is a better road to profitability than constantly being on the lookout for new customers. You have an existing relationship with your current customers, and can communicate with them more confidently. They are more likely to be receptive to your upselling methods since they already know how good your work is.
For example, let’s say you’ve detailed one customer’s car for the third time, and typically they just take the basic detailing package. You could quite confidently pitch to that customer to upgrade their package and accept paint protection as a part of their detailing package. You might explain how it costs more, but offers more lasting results, and can help prevent expensive damage to the paint down the line. Highlighting the benefits of a service is always a good way to sell it.
If that customer accepts, then you can make their contract with you more profitable. If they say no, then you’ve made no real loss because you still have the money you make offering them the basic package. The same can’t be said when trying constantly to pitch to new customers that don’t know you. They are less receptive to your message as it is, and if they turn you down then you’ve spent valuable time for no return.
Keeping and upselling to existing customers is always the preferable strategy. Let new customers come to you organically.
8. Don’t Be Afraid to Stop Things That Don’t Work
Finally, it’s a critical point that detailers not be afraid to shed services that no longer serve the cause of profitability in the business. You are there to provide a service and to make customers happy, but you are also still running a business. Running an enterprise is about making money, and that has to remain at the heart of everything you are doing. If you are not making money, then you are not doing it right.
If you discover that any aspect of your business is impacting the bottom line, be it acquiring detailing supplies, running costs, spending too much time on one customer for little return each time, then you have to be bold enough to take action. The ability to adapt to changing circumstances is a huge part of what will make your auto detailing business profitable in the end.
Conclusion: Grow Your Auto Detailing Business One Step at a Time
The fact is that you won’t turn your auto detailing business into a big profitable success overnight. It can happen faster than growing businesses decades ago, but that doesn’t mean it’s instant. With auto detailing, it’s completing one job after another, being consistent in quality, and doing everything you can to ensure that as many people as possible find out about what you’re doing and how you’re doing it so well.
With each success you have comes the potential for new custom, and with that new custom comes growth and the potential for further new custom. It’s a marathon rather than a sprint, but it can get to a point where the business is growing faster than an operator can handle. Therefore, one final piece of advice that we can offer is to not be afraid of investing some of your money in hiring people to help you complete various tasks within your business. Spending some money in order to free up your own time to do other things is always a good deal. Good luck to all of the auto detailing entrepreneurs out there!