How to Start a Mobile Detailing Business: Zero to $6k a Month


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Josh Belk

Josh Belk is a full-time college student, he works full-time in web design, and in what little spare time, he’s started a $6,000 a month mobile detailing business with his younger brother.

This idea came about when Josh connected the dots between obsession and opportunity.

On the obsession side, Josh would always see his brother out in the driveway cleaning his car.

On the opportunity side, he received an email about business ideas anyone could start, and mobile car washing was one of them.

He asked his brother if he wanted to team up to see if they could make some money cleaning cars — and with that, Belk Mobile Detailing was born.

Tune in to hear to the full podcast episode to hear how the pair:

  • landed their first mobile detailing customers
  • price their service
  • stand out from the competition

how to start a mobile detailing business

How to Get Your First Mobile Detailing Customers

“Friends and family is key,” Josh told me when talking about starting out.

Their mom was very supportive and involved when they first started their business. She sent out text messages to her friends and family, and posted on Facebook about their new venture.

This resulted in a few paying customers, which was what the brothers needed to begin reaching more people.

“We used those people for great marketing materials, like before and after pictures, and to help establish some good first reviews,” Josh explained. “Reviews are everything in this business.”

Mobile Detailing Startup Costs

While mobile detailing is a relatively low startup cost business, there are a few things that are really important to have.

Equipment

  • Bucket and wash mitt – You can pick up a regular bucket for around $5. Josh paid $30 for one that helps separate the shampoo and water.
  • Pressure washer – Josh started out without a pressure washer, but it made his job so much easier when he invested in one. He spent about $170, and it’s battery-powered in case he can’t plug it on on site.
  • Towels and brushes – You’ll need plenty of these while cleaning cars.
  • Cleaning products – The main products Josh uses is a degreaser, spray wax, and tire shine. All are key products to get a vehicle looking its best.
  • Extractor – Josh said an extractor is a critical part of the interior detailing. He spent about $120 for the one he uses.
  • Steamer – This helps to get into the tight spots in the console area, door panels, leather seats, and so on.
  • Vacuum – Josh uses a Shop Vac that cost about $40.

All totaled up, Josh estimated spending $400-600 on equipment. 

You may not need to incorporate your business, but it might make sense to get a business credit card to keep business expenses separate from your personal expenses.

Insurance

You’ll also want some sort of general liability insurance to protect yourself against accidentally damaging a customer’s vehicle. Check out CoverWallet for competitive business insurance quotes.

Growth in Mobile Detailing Demand

“Most of the time, for our customers, it’s their first time having a detail done,” Josh told me.

Even though people are driving less today, they’re keeping their vehicles longer, which translates into more spending on care and maintenance.

Car wash and detailing is a highly localized industry. According to IBISWorld, it’s a $10 billion industry where no single company commands more than 5% market share nationally.

Suggested Playlist: Local Business Ideas

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Who Buys Detailing Service?

Individual Customers

Josh said most of their individual first-time customers find them either through:

  • seeing their Facebook ads
  • Googling “detailing services” or “mobile car washing” near them
  • word-of-mouth

Business Clients

Josh also gets ongoing work from a local dealership. He likes this as it’s consistent, ongoing work, and they typically call him 3-4 times a week.

Pricing a Mobile Detailing Service

At first, Belk Mobile Detailing priced very low. Josh recalled charging their first customers $30 for a full interior and exterior detail, which took about two hours.

(They listed their price as $50, but discounted it by $20 for the first few jobs.)

At that low rate, they actually questioned if it was even worth it. But Josh explained that it was only temporary since they needed to get some experience under their belts, reviews, and marketing photos.

Once they started seeing regular customers, Josh steadily raised their prices from $50 to $70, then $100, $120, and now their pricing looks like this:

  • $90 for an interior detail
  • $50 for an exterior detail
  • $140 for a full detail

These are in line with national averages, but Josh also explained those are starting rates. He tells every customer that they need to inspect their vehicle to provide an accurate quote.

Since some vehicles require a lot more time and work than others, the quote process also gives them the opportunity to talk to the customer through all their options.

At the end of the day, Josh said he aims for an effective rate of $40-50 an hour — not a bad way to make money in college!

How To Encourage Customer Reviews

Despite his young age, mobile detailing wasn’t actually Josh’s first side hustle attempt. He’d previously dabbled in e-commerce with Amazon FBA.

While he called that business a failure, having lost around $3,000, the silver lining was he learned some important business lessons.

Among those was the importance of customer reviews, and making it as easy as possible for them to leave a review.

Before they even did their first job, Josh had links ready to go that would send the customer directly to a review page on either Facebook or Google.

Once the work is complete, he sends the customer the link and asks if they would take the time to leave a review.

Josh said he’s noticed the number of positive reviews on Google impacting their organic exposure. They currently get around 5-7 calls a week from organic Google traffic. A couple months ago, that number was zero.

Evaluating the Local Mobile Detailing Competition

I asked Josh if he was concerned about local competition before entering the mobile detailing market.

“There are a ton of other detailers,” Josh told me. But most car wash competitors either charged a lot more, or weren’t mobile.

A huge selling point for Belk is that they’ll come out and detail their customer’s cars at their home, place of work, or wherever else they are.

He also noticed a lot of businesses had negative reviews. Josh knew by offering an awesome service and getting positive reviews he could position his business ahead of his competitors.

If they do receive feedback from a customer that the job wasn’t up to par, Josh said they go back out at no extra charge and make it right.

“We’ve never had a bad review because of that. We always make it right,” Josh told me.

Marketing a Mobile Detailing Service with Facebook Ads

Giveaways

The first Facebook ads campaign Josh ran was a New Year’s contest, where the winner would get a free car wash every month for a year. All people had to do to enter was submit their email.

This captured about 50 leads, but the randomly-selected winner didn’t actually want the prize! Still looking to leverage these new leads, Josh emailed those 50 people who’d entered and offered them 50% off mobile detailing service.

Only one person took him up on the offer, but they were able to use the vehicle for some marketing pictures, and got another referral job for their work.

Looking back, “that was an unsuccessful Facebook ad campaign,” Josh told me.

Special Occasion Gift Cards

Undeterred, Josh then ran a Valentine’s Day special for a $59.99 gift card — good for an interior detail and exterior wash.

This time, he spent about $80 but sold about $600 worth of gift cards sales. The exposure earned Belk some indirect business too.

In May, they ran another gift card sale, this time for Mother’s Day. Josh said this was their most successful campaign yet.

Between the 3rd-9th of May, Josh spent $67 on Facebook ads to drive $2,200 in gift card sales.

And those gift cards? He designed a template in Canva and emailed a printable version to the buyers.

Other Marketing Channels

Josh has dabbled with Google ads targeting “Automotive detailing” in his area. This hasn’t done much for him, so he’s focusing more on building up organic traffic.

NextDoor

He also spent $50 running a campaign on the NextDoor app. He didn’t have anyone reach out from that effort, but he sees potential in this app and will try again in the future.

Cold Calling

Josh and his brother have also knocked on doors and handed out fliers. It as good for the experience, he explained, but didn’t generate any leads.

Delegating Detailing Work

Josh and his brother have had a few friends help out with the detailing labor, but admitted it’s been a challenge.

Since the volume of work isn’t always consistent, many helpers went on to find full-time work elsewhere.

Managing Mobile Detailing Bookings and Payments

Josh told me he’s been using Square to manage his appointments, tax stuff, and payments.

He’s been really happy with the software, and they even sent him a free credit card reader.

What’s Next?

“With this business model, the sky’s the limit,” Josh told me.

Josh said there’s so much room for growth down the road. They could start offering auto repairs, tire changes, just about anything auto-related.

With that said, he started this business with his brother in mind, and plans to hand the business over to his brother at some point in the future. Josh is about to graduate and plans to start a career as a full-time financial advisor.

He also wants to start a community for other student entrepreneurs and help other young entrepreneurs get started.

Josh’s #1 Tip for Side Hustle Nation

“Consistency always wins.”

Links and Resources from this Episode

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