2023 new business idea #6: Start a vehicle detailing business

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By Michelle van Schouwen

Some business opportunities just call your name. For car-enthusiast, would-be entrepreneurs, vehicle detailing is one of those opportunities.

The barriers to entry are reasonable: Workspace, if you are going to work from a base location; and equipment including steam cleaners, vacuums, cleaning supplies, and more; insurance and business structure and licensing fees, and marketing. The workday appeal for anyone who loves making cars, trucks, and vans look great is clear. Plus, the nearly $38 billion U.S. market is growing at an estimated 5.5% a year and profits can run in the 15 to 35 percent range – more, in some cases.

Research your market

Before you jump in, consider your own local market. Do people have enough disposable income to pay someone to spiff up their vehicles? Do people drive a lot, and have multiple or reasonably new vehicles that they may want to maintain in tip-top shape? Are there many established competitors in the immediate area?

Once you examine your selected region and decide it can work for you, learn all you can about the intricacies of vehicle detailing, both interior and exterior. Fortunately, you’ll find plenty of videos and articles on the internet, as well as online (and sometimes in-person) classes. Certification in detailing isn’t a requirement, but you may want to obtain it to give yourself added credibility.

In some larger markets, you may benefit from selecting a niche. Luxury cars or pickup trucks are just a few of the options. For example, you can specialize in mobile detailing services, in which you travel to the customer’s home or business parking lot.

If you won’t specialize in mobile services, what about a service location? You can rent or buy a commercially zoned space in a high-traffic area, such as a garage or warehouse. And of course you will need business insurance and any local and state business certifications. Plus, you should probably establish a business structure, such as an LLC, to separate your personal assets from your business.

Marketing tips

As with nearly any business, your marketing will be important to assure your success. First, choose a name worth remembering, ideally one that defines your niche. Then, begin building your presence on social media, solicit referrals (perhaps with a percentage off coupon for any successful referral), add signage to your own vehicle if appropriate, and conduct local advertising to build your customer base. Finally, make sure your detailing operation encourages repeat customers. Monthly or quarterly incentive programs can help keep your best customers coming back for more.

Eventually (once and assuming you have more work than you can handle yourself, you can add staff, whom you can train “from the wheels up.”

A final plus to the vehicle detailing business is that most of the critical work will, for the foreseeable future, be done by humans. You won’t be displaced by a robot anytime soon. That’s security not everyone has in 2023.


Michelle van Schouwen is principal of Q5 Analytics, providing advocacy and communications for climate change mitigation and adaptation. For 32 years, Michelle was president of van Schouwen Associates, LLC (vSA), a B2B marketing company. In 2017, she sold vSA. Michelle is available for speaking engagements on topics including her work on climate crisis mitigation and Florida coastal water issues. She speaks to business and student groups about marketing launches and entrepreneurship and works with start-ups to support their development.

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