Starting an Automobile Detailing Business
A lot of the email we get and a constant topic on the Auto Detailing: Secrets of the Experts message board has to do with Auto Detailing as a business.
There is a lot to be said for starting an Auto Detailing business. There is the pride and satisfaction of being your own boss and owning your own business. It's a feeling of being in control and succeeding under your terms that is the source of pride of the small business owner.
Detailing cars as a profession is hard work. If that appeals to you, then Auto Detailing can be very rewarding. There is a lot of elbow grease involved and the work is demanding if you succeed. The rewards include the chance to practice skill, pride and craftsmanship in your daily routine. The hard work has a side benefit: it keeps you physically in shape.
If you start by detailing your own cars and your friends and then move into it as a career, you will soon discover some fundamental differences between amateur and professional auto detailing. When thought of as a business, the circumstances will change and so will your techniques. The equipment that sufficed for occasional detailing jobs might not last long under the stress of full time professional use. You'll use up supplies and materials at a much faster rate, so proper selection and purchasing is important. Also, since in business time is money, how you do things and what you do becomes part of the mix. You do not have to sacrifice quality, but as a professional you will want to practice techniques and procedures that enable you to offer a good job at a competitive price.
Starting out is relatively easy and does not require large outlays of cash.
This is a common way to start a automobile detailing business. You can start with just a truck and go to customers homes and work places and detail at their location. The water supply can be local, but that limits you. Some detailers carry their own water supply. A portable tarp is a good idea as detailing in the hot sun is not the way to go.
Whether you are operating from a truck or a fixed address, one thing is for sure: it is necessary to look good. Asking people to believe that you can make their cars gorgeous is a hard sell if your own place of business has problems. It doesn't have to be new; in fact an older classic is an excellent way to go.
Selling your services is a large part of your job as a detailer. If you have worked in sales and you enjoyed it and were successful at it, then your chances of succeeding as a detailer are that much better.
- Plan on spending a lot of time selling yourself and your services. When you first see a customers car, walk around it with them. Point out any problems in the condition of the paint and tell them what you can do for them to correct it. If the paint can use some touch-up or a panel would benefit from a fix-a-dent expert, offer to do that even if it means you farm the work out. Also point out stains or other problem areas in the interior and offer to take care of them. Your customers will respond with repeat business and by referring their friends.
- Your promotional work can consist of the usual small business tricks. Prepare some fliers for posting wherever appropriate. It's a good idea to have your promotional material professionally done and also have them critiqued by someone qualified to do so.
- Consider offering maintenance contracts. With a maintenance program you will wash their car once a week and wax it twice a month along with other tasks for a set price, including a discount, up front. Several things will happen:
- You get a nice check up front.
- You will have a steady customer who won't be visiting your competition.
- If you are a mobile detailer, you will be seen often in an area which is good for business.
- When it rains you still have work.
- Here's a promotional angle that we've seen work well. Invite a local car club over for a detailing seminar. Go over your techniques while demonstrating them on a car. A sales pitch will be an implied part of your message as many in your audience will see the work and skill involved and turn the task over to you rather than do it themselves. Serve coffee and sodas along with donuts or bagels if it is a morning event. An afternoon schedule might feature sodas, chips and dip, maybe even a few pizzas. This is a good opportunity to pass around some coupons and special discounts. Car club members can be excellent customers. If you attend one of their functions you'll notice that almost all of their cars look great. It's a peer pressure thing; nobody wants to show up at a club gathering with a less than stellar automobile.
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- When they asked bank robber Willie Sutton: 'Why do you rob banks?' he replied "That's where the money is". The money, in the case of auto detailing, is with high end cars and neighborhoods. If you can, focus on Lexus, Mercedes, Lincoln etc. The logic is simple. It is easier to sell your services if the $$$ you are asking is a very small fraction of the cars value. The exotics are a good market, although their owners can be fussy and problematic.
- You can take in work from used car dealers. This is a bit controversial amongst auto detailers as used car dealers do not pay well. They also have different needs; in their case, they only want the car to look good enough to sell. Also the cars they send you are often in tough shape. But they can keep you busy on rainy days and they do offer large amounts of work.
- As an amateur detailer you are most likely familiar with products applied by hand or with an orbital buffer. As a pro however, you will want to buy a quality rotary buffer. Be aware that they are not easy to use and can damage the paint if you are not careful. You will need training on the subject, either from a kind hearted experienced detailer or through a formal school. Get a lot of practice using junk cars before you attempt to work on a surface that you care about. Your return for the investment: improved efficiency.
- Have a simple price list for customers to choose from. Do not overwhelm them with choices as you could scare them away even if your intent was to give them more control over what they get.
- Look up the SBA (Small Business Administration, online at http://sba.gov/) office in your area. They have a program called SCORE (Service Corps of Retired Executives) which is an excellent benefit. It consists of retired business owners and operators who volunteer their time helping those new to the operation of a small business. They'll go over your plans (or your current operation if applicable) and respond with recommendations and suggestions based on their experience.
The WebCars! Auto Detailing: Secrets of the Experts message board has a number of professional as well as amateur detailers as participants. They are very good to newcomers and generously share their "this works for me" tips and ideas amongst themselves. Give it a try!
We've condensed some of the discussions regarding auto detailing as a profession. Click here to see what the experts recommend.