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How to Start a Mobile Car Wash Business

Are you interested in starting a mobile car wash business? If YES, here is a complete guide to starting a mobile car wash business with little money and no experience plus a sample mobile car wash business plan template and mobile car wash marketing plan.

Setting up a mobile car wash business could be a fun, profitable and an interesting business for someone with business perseverance and smartness. With the right location, top-notch service and good marketing, you can serve large customers who require their cars to be washed quickly and efficiently, for an affordable price.

However, starting up a mobile car wash business also needs a significant investment capital, solid planning, and concentration to detail in order to keep your business profitable. A mobile car wash is where the business owner travels in a specially equipped vehicle to the auto’s location.

Steps to Starting a Mobile Car Wash Business

1. Understand the Industry

Operators in this industry clean, wash and wax automotive vehicles, such as passenger cars, trucks, vans and trailers. This industry also includes self-service car wash establishments. The Mobile Car Wash and Auto Detailing industry does not include companies that predominantly change motor oil or provide automotive repair and maintenance services.

Interesting Statistics About Industry

Worldwide, there are more than 150,000 retail car wash locations, according to the International Carwash Association. Germany is home to a particularly high number of commercial car washes. Global sales of new cars, a key industry growth driver, have recently increased significantly in Spain, China, and the uk, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers.

The US car wash industry includes about 15,000 establishments (single-location companies and units of multi-location companies) with combined annual revenue of about $7 billion. The industry includes full- and self-service car wash facilities, as well as truck and bus washes and vehicle detailing services.

During the five years to 2015, steadily improving per capita disposable income has enabled consumers to spend more on discretionary services, such as car washes. In the five years to 2022, industry operators will continue to benefit from rising per capita disposable income, aiding industry revenue.

Furthermore, local regulations prohibiting residential car washing are expected to become more common, generating a larger client base for industry operators. Moreover, the number of vehicles in use in the united states is projected to rise steadily over the next five years, further expanding the industry’s customer base…

2. Conduct Market Research and Feasibility Studies

  • Demographics and Psychographics

The first reason why it is encouraged that you start your own mobile car wash business today is because of the rapid rise in the number of car owners. As the economy recovers and booms, more people will become car owners and they will need to get their car washed.

Household customers account for the largest share of car wash & detailing industry revenue at approximately 76%. Car Wash & Detailing household customers are broadly defined as consumers that have a driver’s license, own a car, and are older than 16 years of age.

This demographic is further segmented by income brackets, with households in the highest division representing the greatest demand for car wash & detailing services. Business customers contribute 22% of industry revenue. Revenue from this segment is largely derived from servicing delivery vans and taxi cabs.

This segment includes businesses that depend on motor vehicles for the daily running of the company, as well as taxi and rental car companies, and truck businesses — many of whom cannot afford in-house repair and maintenance shops.

“Particularly independent companies that do not have the option of in-house repairs, Slower economic activity during the recession led to fewer businesses using vehicles to conduct trade, however a resumption of economic growth since 2010, has seen this segment strengthen.

Government customers comprise approximately 2% of the car wash & detailing industry revenue. This segment includes federal, state, and local government organizations.

3. Decide Which Niche to Concentrate On

The automobile aftermarket is a vast and diversified industry globally. Car care businesses will continue to grow at a faster rate than the overall economy.

Forward-looking indicators suggest there is plenty of opportunity for additional growth in the future. The reason is the increasing population of vehicle. Another reason is the increasing number of average miles driven by an individual vehicle owner.

The mobile car wash business industry on its own is a niche in the automobile business and has no known niche, but their other niches one or a zealous individual can combine the mobile car wash business with. They include

  • Mobile Oil Change Service Business
  • Automobile service station
  • Tyre Store Retail Business
  • Battery reconditioning business
  • Vehicle towing business
  • Spare Parts Distribution
  • Driving school
  • Automobile magazine
  • Headlight Restoration Business
  • Mobile windshield repairing
  • Mobile mechanic business
  • Window Tinting Business
  • Break Replacement & Repair Service
  • Multi-Storied Parking Lot
The Level of Competition in the Industry

Demand is driven by new car sales and growth in consumer spending. The profitability of individual firms depends on favourable location, marketing strategies and efficient operations. There are few economies of scale. Chains have advantages in advertising and customer recognition.

Small firms can compete successfully by having good locations. The industry is highly fragmented: the 50 largest US companies hold less than 20 percent of the market.

4. Know Your Major Competitors in the Industry

As long as there are cars on the road, there will be a need for car wash businesses. Depending on factors, such as location and weather, a car wash can be a lucrative business for a budding entrepreneur. Well known car wash businesses in the United States include;

  • Mister Car Wash
  • Autobell Car Wash
  • Wash depot
  • Goo Goo Express Wash
  • Boomerang carwash
  • Delta sonic
  • Crew carwash
  • The wash tub
  • Brown Bear Car Wash
  • Kaadey car wash
  • Waterway Gas & Wash Company
  • Car Wash USA Express
Economic analysis

The mobile Car Wash industry relies heavily on discretionary spending and the driving habits of consumers. As such, the industry is vulnerable to slower economic conditions and has faced reduced revenue over the last five years. Recent improvements in consumers’ disposable income will help the industry rebound in the coming years, with anticipated revenue growth of 3.3% annually to $7.7 billion by 2018.

The total number of Car Wash Businesses has declined in recent years to approximately 13, 177 and have forced remaining establishments to expand or diversify their services. With continued economic growth, car sales will quicken and increase the number of motor vehicle registrations in the United States.

Through 2018, motor vehicle registrations are expected to increase 1.3% annually. This will result in increased consumer demand for aftermarket services such as car washes.

Rising utility costs, combined with increased competition from larger retailers, has pinched Car Wash & Detailing businesses’ profitability. To offset these factors, smaller establishments have focused their efforts on refreshing or expanding their product and service lines, developing customer loyalty programs, and investing in wait room amenities.

5. Decide Whether to Buy a Franchise or Start from Scratch

According to our extensive research, the mobile car wash business is better started from the scratch than buying a franchise. A car wash can be a good business for an entrepreneur with little previous business experience. Starting from the scratch offers you benefits that are more useful than what a franchise can offer.

  • Lower cost
  • Clean slate
  • Making your own rules
  • Implementing your own unique idea
  • Location

6. Know the Possible Threats and Challenges You Will Face

As the number of cars on the road continues to increase, the need for car wash businesses should also increase. A car wash can also be a good business for someone who enjoys working with his hands and enjoys working with the public.

You need to consider a number of factors when starting your own car wash business, particularly the type of car wash itself. Self-service, hand wash, automatic, mobile or a combination must be carefully researched and priced for economic viability, profitability and return on investment.

Mobile and hand wash car washes require a smaller upfront investment in equipment, but ongoing labour costs must be considered. Self-service and automatic car washes require less labour, but upfront machinery and real estate costs can be high.

  • Conducting a local market research to ascertain competition
  • Getting equipment and car wash requirements
  • writing a business plan
  • Designing a business structure
  • Choosing a location
  • Applying for financing sufficient for the purchase, lease or rental of your building, vehicle, start up expenses, equipment, supplies and operating capital through your bank or the SBA
  • Obtaining all necessary local business permits, zoning variances, environmental and safety inspections (where applicable), state tax registration certificate, federal tax identification number and Employer Identification Number from the Internal Revenue Service if hiring employees

7. Choose the Most Suitable Legal Entity (LLC, C Corp, S Corp)

Starting your mobile car wash will require a business structure choice. The business structure is basically how the business is organized and whether it is held personally or as a separate legal entity. Each one has its own strengths and weakness but for sake of this well researched article the LLC remains the best legal entity for your mobile car wash.

The LLC is generally considered advantageous because it combines the limited personal liability feature of a corporation with the tax advantages of a partnership and sole proprietorship. Profits and losses can be passed through the company to its members or the LLC can elect to be taxed like a corporation.

LLCs do not have stock and are not required to observe corporate formalities. Owners are called members, and the LLC is managed by these members or by appointed managers. Each state will have its own set of LLC statutes so be sure to review them against the corporation to see which one is best for you.

Keep in mind that all of the different car wash business structures have their individual pros and cons. Regardless of which one you choose, you get to write off all of your expenses (just like a sole proprietorship or partnership) and are not likely to save any more money on taxes by choosing one over the other. (There are occasions but not typically until you are making mid six-figures).

8. Discuss with an Agent to Know the Best Insurance Policies for You

It goes without saying that if you’re planning to open an auto business with a stationary location or start up your own mobile auto detailing business; you’re going to need insurance to protect your business and your personal assets.

The good news is this type of insurance isn’t really all that expensive. Especially when you consider the alternative if you’re not properly insured. If an unforeseen event occurs, it could put you out of business and you could very quickly lose your personal assets.

The most popular insurance for these types of businesses is called Garage Keeper’s Liability. For your own mobile detailing business, this is the type of policy you want to have. You want to be covered while you are working on a vehicle and while the vehicle is in your possession.

And as you hire employees; be sure to have your insurance carrier check their driving record before you put them behind the wheel of a customer’s vehicle. If they have a poor driving history you may not be able to extend an employment offer to them or not allow them to move any of your customer’s vehicles…

9. Protect your Intellectual Property With Trademark, Copyrights, Patents

Intellectual property is the area of law that deals with protecting the rights of those who create original works. It covers everything from original plays and novels to inventions and company identification marks. The purposes of intellectual property laws are to encourage new technologies, artistic expressions and inventions while promoting economic growth.

When individuals know that their creative work will be protected and that they can benefit from their labour, they are more likely to continue to produce things that create jobs, develop new technology, make processes more efficient, and create beauty in the world around us.

10. Get the Necessary Professional Certification

Professional certification is a process in which a person proves that he or she has the knowledge, experience, and skills to perform a specific job. The proof comes in the form of a certificate earned by passing an exam that is accredited by an organization or association that monitors and upholds prescribed standards for the particular industry involved.

In the car washing industry, having professional certification gives your intending customers the fulfilment that they are protected and that your worthy of their patronage- hereby giving you an edge in Business. Listed below are few professional certifications in the moving business

  • International Car Wash Association
  • State Car Wash Associations
  • International Detailing Association

11. Get the Necessary Legal Documents You Need to Operate

Virtually every business needs some form of license or permit to operate legally. However, licensing and permit requirements vary depending on the type of business you are operating, where it’s located, and what government rules apply. Legal documents needed for your mobile car wash business includes

  • Articles of incorporation
  • Intellectual property assignment agreement
  • Bylaws
  • Tax
  • Drivers’ license
  • Non-disclosure agreement
  • Operating agreement
  • Employee contracts/offer letters
  • Insurance

12. Write a Business Plan

Promoting ones business with the right strategies does take loads of research and consultation and that is very expedient because of the results that these exercises brings about. Yet another very important factor that must be taken seriously when starting a mobile car wash business is the need to write a business plan.

Without a shadow of doubt, writing a business plan for your business is one of the best steps you would be glad you took. In your business plan you will be able to put down calculations and projections, as well as goals and aspirations for your business that will help you now and in the future. That is why you have got to decide you want to do this, so that you can start out on the right footing.

Writing a business might not come easy, as it is nothing like writing an essay. In a business plan you have got to pay attention to the least of details that will help your brand in the long run. This is why business consultants who are versed in this area make loads of money. However, truth is that you too can write your own business plan without great hassle.

13. Prepare a Detailed Cost Analysis

No matter what kind of business you want to launch, no matter how big or small your budget, there are some things you must know. You’ll need an estimate of start-up costs, of potential earnings, and of the qualifications and equipment necessary to make your enterprise a success.

A mobile service has very little start up costs compared to a set location. If you have a home based location such as a garage or pole barn you can detail out of, then your start up cost would be very cheap.

  • Clipboards, Stationary, Tee-Shirts $ 600.00
  • Personal Organizer System $140.00
  • Supplies Inventory $493.00
  • Water System $150.00
  • Carpet Extractor $350.00
  • Vacuum/Air Freshener $1,000.00
  • Steam Cleaner  $6,000.00
  • Lights, Tank         $400.00
  • Credit Card Machine $1,695.00
  • Computer, Printer, Etc. $3,200.00
  • Signage $112.00
  • Truck Bed $6,895.00
  • Truck     $18,455.00

Now that there are things left out, such as liability and garage keepers insurance, pressure washer, air compressor, etc., but there are things that you should have but do not need to have. There also might be some variance in the amount due to whether or not you can catch sales, talk people down, and take advantage of discounts. Every penny counts and you should act that way, be aggressive in watching your money.

14. Raise the Needed Startup Capital

While poor management is cited most frequently as the reason businesses fail, inadequate or ill-timed financing is a close second or third.

Whether you’re starting a business or expanding one, sufficient ready capital is essential. How “sufficient” your capital is and how “ready” you are to part with it are all part of preparing yourself to get funding. Possible ways of financing your mobile car wash business includes;

  • Traditional bank financing
  • SBA Loan
  • Personal savings
  • Other People’s Money

15. Choose a Suitable Location for your Business

The most important factor in planning a car wash is location. In order to get the type of location you’re looking for, consider the circumstances which cause people to wash their cars. Some people, of course, set out solely to wash their cars. These people will go on to an inconvenient location or perhaps drive a little further because that is the sole purpose of the trip.

Most car wash customers, however, stop to wash their cars while they are on the way to do other shopping and when they have time to spare. Commuters infrequently stop on the way to work, but some will stop on the way home, especially if it is convenient. Travellers rarely leave a highway to wash their cars.

Traffic count is important but as mentioned above, the type and speed of traffic is also important. The best car washes tend to be located on streets with 15,000 to 25,000 daily traffic counts. That is not to say, that a modest car wash in a small town, would not be successful with a far less count. What is a poor location for a large car wash can be a good location for a smaller one.

16. Hire Employees for your Technical and Manpower Needs

Car wash owners are discovering the reliability, affordability and effectiveness of electric radiant heat systems. Easy to install and surprisingly affordable, electric radiant heat has proven to be the ideal technology to complement the self-service car wash industry.

Radiant heat solutions providers can provide both hydronic and electric radiant snow melting solutions. Hydronic snowmelt systems can be very efficient for heating large areas, but for small, custom areas such as car wash bay aprons, electric radiant heat has proven to be the best answer.

Electric snow melting systems can be easily customized, so heating small strips of pavement at the entrance and exit is simple and affordable.

There’s no need for a control room and electric systems feature rapid response times so the pavement is heated quickly and efficiently. Snow melting systems are also maintenance free and fully automated, but can also be controlled manually when needed.

The Service Delivery Process of the Business

Assuming you already have a vehicle, this is a real shoestring start-up. All you need is a wet/dry vacuum; mini carpet shampooer; buffer/polisher; brushes; rags; soap; window cleaner; wax; leather, upholstery and tire cleaners; a bucket; a hose; and a truck or van to cart them around in, plus access to an electric outlet and an outdoor water spigot.

Since you’ll be dealing with people’s automotive babies, you may want to carry liability insurance–check with your agent for prices and terms.

The problem is that in our hectic, workaholic society, nobody has the time–or the inclination–to keep looking her best. But if you love cars and keeping them beautiful, you can provide the solution as an auto detailer. You’ll travel to clients’ homes or offices to wash, wax and pamper the family wheels. Besides the usual bath and wax, you’ll shampoo carpets, clean upholstery, polish chrome and shine tires.

The advantages to this business are that you can start on a shoestring, part-time if you like, you’re out in the fresh air all day, and you get the glow of accomplishment that comes from putting in a good day’s physical labour. You’ll need some experience with washing, waxing and detailing vehicles.

You must know which products are safe for which finishes and which give the best results. You’ll also need the physical stamina to work outdoors all day doing fairly intensive labour and the drive to keep at it even when it’s hot and sticky.

You actually don’t need a lot. As long as you have car detailing or car wash experience and a valid driver’s license, you can start your activity. You just need the proper equipment, tools, and supplies.

  • A functional vehicle that can cover long distance (you are a mobile service so be prepared to hit the road a lot).
  • A generator to power your equipment: you can find some good ones at Home Depot for less than $150.
  • A vacuum for the interior. Don’t use a cheap one. Some are specially designed to do mobile detailing for less than $80.
  • A set a microfiber towels: don’t go with old rags or else. Shoot for quality!
  • Cleaning supplies for the bodywork, the interior, the tires, the fabrics & leather.
  • Some wax (like Carnauba Wax), an applicator or buffer machine.

With all this stuff, you can launch your activity properly. You don’t need to invest in very high-end equipment like a steam machine when you start. Also, we advise you to go waterless.

17. Write a Marketing Plan Packed with ideas & Strategies

In the beginning; look into low-cost and creative ways of promoting your mobile detailing business. Business cards, vehicle lettering and design decals, and promotional merchandise like shirts, pens and key chains are some of the materials you might consider using.

Creating an online presence through a company website and social media accounts is an additional low-cost marketing method, and you may want to consult with a tech-savvy friend or professional in order to accomplish this. Distributing coupons to new area residents through a local chamber of commerce is another possible advertising technique. Other strategies might include;

  1. Online Directories

Consumers today can quickly lookup any company to see what others are saying about it. Great reviews can drive up business.

2. Social Media

Another integral part of your marketing strategy is to establish a page for your company on social platforms such as Facebook, Google and Twitter.

3. Chamber of Commerce

Be sure to visit your local chamber of commerce to let them know you’re now up and running. Many chambers have monthly social gatherings where you can meet other business owners who may want to get their (or their employees) vehicles detailed.

4. Charity Car Washes

Donating your time and skills as a professional to a local organization is a great way to raise awareness for your business. You may find an upcoming event through Craigslist and reach out to the organizer.

18. Work Out a Reasonable Pricing for your Services & Products

Mobile car detailing is becoming popular. As the name implies, the detailing work will be performed while you are on the go. Mobile car detailing services will come to your place of work or your home to get the job done. Mobile services can include some or all of the following, depending on what you need and what you’re willing to spend.

The average annual income or profit for a mobile detail unit owner was $50,000 as of 2013, according to the job site Simply Hired.

These entrepreneurs don’t need any special educational requirements to run one of these businesses, but it may behove owners to have one or more years of experience washing and detailing cars. Mobile detail unit owners may also get certified as car washers and polishers in some states, which can enhance their credentials.

The income potential for mobile detail unit owners will vary depending on whether they operate their businesses part- or full time. Full-time owners can earn as much as $75,000 in profits, according to the mobile detail franchise seller Car buffs, while those who operate businesses part-time can make as much as $50,000.

This is assuming they detail five to seven cars per day during a five-day workweek. Weather can also impact these owners’ incomes, as customers don’t detail their cars when it rains or snows. Another factor affecting income is how hard an owner is willing to work to generate business.

Average Mobile Car Detailing Prices
  • Standard car wash: $25 for cars and small SUVs to $50 for oversized vehicles
  • Hand wash and auto wax: $63 for cars and small SUVs to $100 for oversized vehicles
  • Detail (standard): $85 for cars, $100 for midsize (small trucks and SUVs), $150 large vehicles
  • Detail (deluxe): $150 for cars, $175 for midsize (small trucks and SUVs), $200 large vehicles
  • Show car ready paint maintenance detailing: $350 cars, $375 for midsize, $400 for large vehicles

19. Develop Iron-clad Competitive Strategies to Help You Win

One overlooked tool in small business owners’ arsenals is a smart and consistent marketing strategy. Today’s consumers see thousands of advertisements each day. In order to run a successful carwash business, a consistent marketing strategy is crucial to setting yourself apart from your competitors.

Marketing companies with decades of experience in the direct marketing industry help businesses reach consumers through hyper-local direct mail and digital media campaigns. Here are some tips to keep in mind for a mobile car wash business

  • Direct mail advertising
  • Mobile and online integration
  • Leveraging social networking sites
  • The power of sms

20. Brainstorm Possible Ways to Retain Clients & Customers

Whether it’s a restaurant buying better meat to improve quality, or a car wash purchasing top-of-the-line equipment to improve satisfaction — every business decision is motivated by making customers more loyal. Ways of increasing customer retention in your mobile car wash business includes;

  • Train your staff about the importance of getting more loyal customers
  • Embed sign-up calls to action prominently on your website
  • Send consistent email announcements about the benefits of your loyalty program
  • Incentivize your managers to get more customers with specific sign-up goals
  • Run limited time campaigns to deliver explosive growth spikes

21. Develop Strategies to Boost Brand Awareness and Create a Corporate Identity

As the sole owner or designated operator of a small business, pushing your operation to be the best it can be is you’re most important duty.

While financial profit is of huge importance, pride in your business can further drive results and customer service, and this pride should be contagious. Owners, managers and employees should stand ready to share successes and positive examples with both regular visitors and potential customers.

As an owner, you have sunk years of experience — not to mention a tidy investment — into a car care business, and you want customers to be as excited about the operation as you are.

To this end, successful marketing programs that attract new customers and keep existing customers loyal are massively important. Further, consider the boost of morale and positivity that successful marketing can provide employees as another crucial factor.

  • Boost your building
  • Go state of the art.
  • Become truck friendly
  • Partner up with an established brand
  • Choose fun signage with a local influence
  • Add unique architecture or a hallmark
  • Create a theme
  • Invite a classic car club

22. Create a Suppliers/Distribution Network 

First, it’s important to know that the busiest and most profitable time for the mobile car wash industry is during the winter.

Thirty-two percent of the annual earnings are realized during the cold weather months while spring and summer seasons each account for 25% of yearly revenue and fall income dips to 18%. With winter being the peak earning season for the car wash business, downtime during the cold season must be avoided at all costs.

Your clients can be anybody who has a vehicle and the discretionary income to pay for your services. Place fliers on car windshields in office complex parking lots and distribute them inside the offices, too. Introducing yourself to denizens of small companies and the human resources staff of large corporations can go a long way toward gaining business, especially if you invest in a polo or good-quality T-shirt with your company name on it.

Solicit business from car dealers by selling those ‘free’ coupons they can give to people who buy their vehicles. Go after homeowner and home based businesses by placing your fliers under doormats or as door hangers, or by running ads in direct-mail coupon books.

23. Tips for Running a Mobile Car Wash Business successfully

The birth of your new mobile auto detailing business is an exciting time. You see opportunity everywhere – at the mall, in business parks, at in the neighbourhoods you drive by. However, in other to run your mobile car wash business successfully you must consider the tips listed below

  • Check Water Discharge Laws of Your Local Municipality
  • Get sufficient insurance
  • Define your target market
  • Be prepared to say no