What is a Mobile Detailing Business?

This article is for you to learn more about mobile detailing and how to start a mobile detailing business. A mobile detailing business brings the service of detailing directly to customers. Unlike a detailing business that’s run out of a brick and mortar shop, you can run a mobile detailing business out of your car.

Mobile Detailing Business vs Permanent Detailing Business

How do you choose between a mobile business and a permanent business to offer your detailing services? There are a few things you should consider. 

  1. Level of investment
    One of the biggest perks of a mobile detailing business is that the startup cost and initial investment is low.  Many times, buying or leasing a building can be the most expensive part of starting a business. When you decide to go mobile, you don’t need to have a lot of cash to start a mobile business.
  2. Location
    Consider your area and potential customers. What type of detailing business would be more convenient for them? A permanent brick-and-mortar shop might be easy for someone to find driving through a city or on a freeway. A mobile business might be more convenient for customers who don’t live close to a city center or for people busy throughout the day.
  3. Short-term and Long-term goals
    What are you hoping to get out of your detailing business? If you want your detailing business to be something that makes money in the short-term, a mobile business is a smart option. Once you decide (if ever) to move on and do something else, it will be easier to do without owning a building or being on a lease.

    Starting and growing a business that has increasing value can be accomplished with both mobile and temporary businesses. If you do have enough cash to buy or lease a space, maybe a shop makes sense. 

    You can always start a mobile business then decide to open a permanent shop later down the road. However, it will be much harder to downsize if you start with a permanent shop. It’s always smarter to start out small then grow over time.

What’s Needed for a Mobile Car Detailing Business?

The most important thing you need to start a mobile detailing business is a vehicle to help you get around to your customers. Most business owners choose a sedan, SUV, or a van because they are large enough to store enough equipment for you to provide your services. You can buy a used vehicle starting at around $5,000.

If you will provide water car washes, you will need to supply the water yourself at the site. A water reclamation system is also needed, because most states don’t allow you to dump water. You should have the capacity to use 80 to 100 gallons of water. You can also offer waterless car detailing which doesn’t require a water supply tank or reclamation system. 

A power supply is also important. You will need enough power to operate a power washer, buffer,  vacuum, and/or steamer. Most mobile detailers use portable generators. 

Here’s a list of products you should consider investing in for your new mobile detailing business:

  • Pressure washer 
  • Rotary buffer
  • Polishers 
  • Waxes 
  • Detergents 
  • Tire and rim cleaners
  • Carpet and upholstery shampoo
  • Deodorizers
  • Chemical storage
  • Vapor steamer
  • Brushes
  • Buckets
  • Sponges
  • Vacuums
  • Chamois cloths
  • Microfiber Towels

If you’ve washed your own car or have been doing a little bit of detailing on the side, you might already have some of the equipment and products listed. Make a list of what you already have. Then think about the services you will offer your customers and what additional equipment you will need to buy. 

Pro Tip #1: Buy in bulk where you can. Larger quantities of product are generally much cheaper than single amounts. 

Pro Tip #2: If you invest in high-quality tools and products, they will perform better and last longer. Think about quality and price together.

What’s the Start Up Cost?

According to multiple sources, the average cost for starting a mobile detailing business takes an initial investment of around $5,000 to $25,000 with the median investment being $9,000. The startup costs will vary depending on what you need to provide your services and what you already have. 

Once you calculate your start up costs, you should also consider your ongoing expenses to keep operating your mobile detailing business. Here’s what you should include in your monthly budget:

  • Gas
  • Vehicle maintenance
  • Tool and equipment maintenance
  • Product/supply replenishment
  • Insurance
  • Marketing/advertising

Licenses, Permits and Requirements for Mobile Detailing Businesses

Before you start operating your business, you need to make sure you meet all legal requirements of your state and city. In most states, you will need a car detailing license, and that includes a mobile detailing business license. The U.S. Small Business Administration has a comprehensive guide to licensing here. You may also need to get local licenses and permits based on where you are located. Contact the town, city or county clerk’s office in the area where you will operate your business.

You will probably be required to collect sales tax on the services you provide, as most businesses are required by law. If you want to learn more about sales tax and your business, this is a helpful article to read: Sales Tax for Small Businesses.

How Much Can You Make with a Mobile Detailing Business?

According to Simply Hired, the average salary for a mobile car detailer is $67,852 per year. The top 10% of mobile detailers are making over $147,000 per year. The mid-range of salaries for mobile detailers falls from $45,000 to just over $100,000 per year. You can compare these numbers with our numbers on general (not mobile) detailing salaries in our guide: In Depth Analysis: Car Detailer Industry Salaries in the United States.

Is Mobile Detailing a Good Business?

It can be! Since mobile detailing is a low-expense business, it is easier to turn a profit. If you can build up a customer base that comes back to you for repeat services, you are already off to a great start. After you master how to start a mobile detailing business, you can start thinking about how to run a successful business. The key to a successful mobile detailing business is having enough customers, charging the right price, and keeping your expenses low.

Tips for a Successful Mobile Detailing Business

  1. Create a budget to manage your expenses and spending. Think about what it will cost per month for your supplies, maintenance, marketing/advertising and other expenses. (Remember you need to build your own salary into the budget!)
  2. Create a name and logo for your business. You want people in your area to be able to recognize your business and know what services you provide. It’s a good idea to create company shirts and put the company name and logo on your vehicle to help you to look professional and to provide contact information. 
  3. Advertise and market creatively. Advertising your business doesn’t have to be expensive! You should start by claiming your business on Google and Yelp (which is free), adding photos, and asking for reviews for your page. Building and launching a professional website is also inexpensive and a must! You can also distribute flyers on cars with your contact information. Keep marketing materials and/or a business card on hand to be ready at all times!
  4. Commit to professionalism. Come up with a price list or a pricing model to build trust with your customers and let them know what to expect. Keep organized and comprehensive records of your business operations, including jobs, contracts, purchasing, expenditures and all other business records. Many professional detailers and auto reconditioning technicians use a business management software like Mobile Tech RX that helps them create professional estimates and invoices, schedule customers, etc.

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