If you want to learn how to start a mobile detailing business from scratch, Josh Belk's story is one you'll want to read.
In this interview, Josh breaks down exactly how he and his brother got started in the mobile detailing space. He shares the exact services they started out providing, the equipment they were using, how they acquired their first customers, and more.
Follow along to learn what worked for him (and what didn't) and how you can start your own auto detailing business quickly and inexpensively.
Business Overview 👀
- Founder: Josh Belk.
- Name: Belk Mobile Detailing.
- Location: Springfield, Missouri.
- Description: Mobile car detailing business offering interior and exterior detailing directly to customer’s homes.
- Founded: November 2019.
- Launched: December 2019.
- # of founders: 1.
- # of contractors: 2.
- Startup costs: $500.
- Avg. monthly revenue (as of December 2020): $3,500/month.
- Time commitment: Side hustle.
- Socials: Facebook | Instagram | Youtube
Hey! Please introduce yourself and your business.
My name is Josh Belk, and my business is Belk Mobile Detailing. It's a mobile detailing business that I founded with my brother, Austin.
We currently operate in Springfield, Missouri areas offering interior and exterior automotive detailing directly to customers' homes or work.
We started this business in November of 2019 (I was 19 years old at the time, my brother was 17), and as of December 2020, we’ve done over $40,000 in sales, earning as much as $6,427 in one month.
How’d you get the idea to start a mobile detailing business?
It all started when I noticed my brother cleaning his own car.
I tell a story to a lot of our customers to show how dedicated Austin was to his car because he drove 30,000 miles in the first six months of owning it, which is just absurd. He drove it around town all the time. It was just something that he enjoyed doing.
With him driving his vehicle as much as he did, he had to keep it clean, so whenever I'd come home from school or work, I'd see him a lot of the time cleaning his vehicle in the driveway.
I had always told him — being someone who I believe was born as a natural entrepreneur and always focusing on trying to make money on the side of a traditional job throughout high school — I told him that he should monetize this.
And he was like, well, yeah, yeah. And I knew he would never do it on his own, so what really pushed me to help him start was an email I got from Tai Lopez about ways to make money that anyone can start up tomorrow.
One of those ways was by starting a mobile car wash.
Reading more about the idea triggered in my head the thought of, okay, we actually need to make this something because it's super simple and it doesn't require a lot of startup.
Also, I loved the idea of being able to help my brother start some kind of business while he was in high school. I thought it'd be a great opportunity to get him some connections, to meet new people, and to be able to make some good money — as well as be able to put some money in my pocket.
Long story short: When I saw someone like my brother who was in a perfect position to take advantage of his car detailing skills and passion for cars, I thought if I could supply him with the startup capital, the website and internet presence, and the customers, then he could do a great job of detailing their vehicles.
Did you have any past experience with websites and marketing?
I didn’t have much, but I’m the kind of guy who loves watching YouTube videos about businesses and unique ways to make money online.
Actually, one of the first things I tried to do, and this was a massive failure, was sell on Amazon FBA. I lost $3,000, went in with a partner 50/50, so we lost a total of $6,000 trying to start an Amazon FBA business.
Through that process though, I learned a few ways to run Facebook ads, which helped later on with the mobile detailing business. Most of what I learned came from a FB ads class I took from Tai Lopez, along with just watching videos on Youtube.
As far as the website goes, again, a lot of what I learned came from watching YouTube videos and experimenting with different site builders.
After settling on the idea, what came next?
Next, we figured out the name of the business. Me and my brother both agreed on ‘Belk Mobile Detailing' which was super simple.
Then, we paid someone to do a logo, which isn't our current logo, but it was like $5 or $7 on Fiverr, and it turned out pretty good:
We didn't really worry about any of the legal parts of the business at this point as we were more focused on getting up and running and making our first sales.
After my previous business in Amazon FBA, which again was a massive failure, I figured out that doing all the legal stuff beforehand is stupid, because if the business doesn't work out, then you just wasted a ton of time and energy for nothing.
Instead, it's better to first focus on creating a system and getting your first clients in the door. Then, once you know that you've got something going, you can go back and start making it a little bit more legitimate.
After coming up with a name and logo, I looked up and tested a few different appointment booking systems. We ended up going with Square for its ease of use and website builder (which costs us around $16/month).
How’d you land your first client?
To find our first client, we reached out to a few friends and family and, pretty much just giving it away, we were charging them $20 for a full detail.
The goal here (and reason for the low prices) was to get pictures and videos of us doing the cars as well as some real-world experience to help figure out our future prices. We were also trying to build up an initial review base to help us land more clients down the line.
Also, the photos and videos we got from our first clients helped us get our first social media posts up, and we used them for ads later on, so that was huge.
In my mind, friends and family are the best to start with because a lot of the time, they just really want to support you and help you get your business up and running. And even if they're not willing to pay for something, a 5-star review and some photos/videos can be just as valuable as cash.
What did a full detail include at this point? What equipment did you have?
A full detail when we first began included a full wipe, vacuuming, power washing the floor mats, shampooing the seats and carpets (if needed), steam cleaning, windows and mirrors cleaned, UV protective coating on the dashboard, exterior wash, wheels and tires shined, and a spray wax.
This is very similar to our current package, but unlike today, we included carpet and seat shampooing for free. We also use a higher quality hand applied wax now.
As far as tools go, we have a lot more products we use now, but these are the basics that anyone starting will need:
- Extractor – $120
- Steamer – $140
- Shop Vac – $50
- Worx pressure washer – $186 – Lighter pressure. Used for when the customer doesn’t have electricity or water available. This is battery-powered.
- Electric Pressure Washer – $130
- Bucket – $35
- Drill Brush – $17
- Degreaser – $9 – Main cleaning solution when doing interiors. Aimed to clean everything from plastics, doors, door jambs, leather seats, headliner, or even carpet
- Silk n Shine – $9 – Used for applying a shine/protection to plastics at the end of the service. Helps darker colored plastics pop
- Stain Remover – $13 – Used to clean stains on carpets and seats mainly
- Exterior Soap – $7
- Wash Mitt – $7
- Exterior Drying Towel – $7
- Brush Set – $20
- Microfiber towels – $17
- Tire Shine – $15
- Spray Wax – $15
- Clay Bar – $19 – Usually one of these clay bars can get through multiple cars
- Total cost: ~$816 before taxes.
(Some of the Amazon links aren’t the exact product we use, but they will still work great for anyone starting out.)
Tip: You can also check Facebook marketplace or Craigslist in your area to save on equipment.
After your first few friends and family clients, how’d you branch out?
After a few friends and family clients, we started experimenting with the idea of selling our services to dealerships. We figured if we could get a dealership to pay us every single week or every other week to detail all the cars on their lot, we’d be set up pretty good.
To start, I would walk by myself into these small dealerships with anywhere from 10 to 30 vehicles, and I'd ask them if they had anyone that detailed their cars. This was all unscripted and really quick.
What I found out was a lot of the dealerships wanted to pay me $3 a vehicle.
Also, I realized pretty quickly that this wasn't a detail, this was like a car wash, which is a pretty big difference. They were looking for someone to pretty much spray water on and dry it off.
With one of these dealerships, we actually told them that we would do their cars for $3 each, and in order to convince them to hire us, we offered to do the first 10 cars for free.
It ended up taking me and my brother several hours just to clean those first 10 cars because all we had were these little spray cans and a few towels. The cars are pretty dirty too, so without a pressure washer, we weren't able to get a lot of the dirt off.
To make things worse, the next day the lady at the dealership calls to tell us there's a bunch of streaks on the cars. What a nightmare. I did not think it would take that long, we didn't get paid anything, and we just ruined some of the cars.
So anyway, my brother ended up going back and cleaning up the streaks, and we quickly realized that this was not something we wanted to do. A lot of the small dealerships we went to had too small of a budget, and $3 to wash a car just wasn’t worth it.
What was your next client acquisition strategy?
After that, we started focusing on getting individual clients again. This was around late December 2019.
To get things going, I came up with the idea of running a New Year giveaway on Facebook.
The idea was that in order for customers to enter the giveaway, they had to enter an email address. At the end, I figured I would take the email addresses and, to all the people who didn’t win, send them an email with a great discount.
We already had a few five-star reviews at this point from friends and family and we had pictures of those jobs, so we used some of them to do a Facebook ad:
Unfortunately, even though we were giving away free details, not as many people entered as I thought.
I think a lot of this was due to not having my target market figured out quite exactly. I was targeting engaged shoppers ages 24-65 within a 15 square mile radius of Springfield, which was pretty broad.
After a week or so of running that ad and spending about $100, we got 40 people to enter the giveaway and I picked one of them randomly. Funny enough, the lady who won didn’t want the free detail, which was super confusing to me.
I don't know if she just didn't think we were credible or what, but I found out that a lot of people that had entered the giveaway were older people over the age of 55-60, not really the tech savvy people (this info came in handy later on).
Anyway, I ended up carrying through with what we originally had planned out: I sent an email offering 50% off to all the other people that entered, and we got one email back. One lady wanted the offer.
We gave her a full detail inside and out for $30 (regularly $60 at the time) and while we were detailing her car, her sister was also there and decided she wanted her car done. Both cars took around 4-4.5 hours, and we made $60.
Those were our first two technical strangers and we had them both leave reviews and got some great pictures and videos for our future ads. So that was kind of the real start of the business.
In total in January of 2020, which was technically our second month in business, we had $206 in sales. Our average sale was $51.20.
We knew at this point that we had to raise our prices as $30 for a full detail was way too little, but keeping prices small to start helped us gain that initial momentum.
Continuation of growth: $200 in sales to over $1,600
When February came around, I had the idea of the giveaway in my head, which didn't work, but I wanted to do some kind of offer.
That’s when I thought, what better time than Valentine's Day? People are looking for presents for their significant other and instead of buying the same old flowers and strawberries, I figured a mobile detail gift might hit home a little bit more.
So I set up a Facebook ad for Valentine's day saying, “Are you looking for the perfect gift for your significant other? We come directly to your home and wash your vehicle.”
Next, I set up a digital gift card (that I made using Canva) as a product on our site:
In order for people to buy, they just had to enter their address and contact information. I'd then email them a copy and write their name down on a piece of paper for reference. Whenever they were ready to schedule the detail, I would just set them up with a prepaid appointment.
The pricing was a flat rate for all vehicles, so no matter if the car was trashed or if it was a brand new condition, it was $59.99 for an interior detailing and a wash for the exterior.
We ran this as a Facebook ad linking directly to the gift card checkout page, and we saw a lot of success from it.
Some people saw the ad and didn't wanna purchase the gift card directly, but they still reached out and scheduled an appointment through phone call.
In the end, we went from doing a little bit over $200 in sales in January to $1674 in sales in February.
One key point that I figured out from the original New Years giveaway was that our target market was older people 40-50+. They were attracted way more to the offer than any other so I targeted them specifically.
I also figured out that females were way more likely than men to be interested, so we just stuck to targeting females.
We did fewer sales in March, for a total of $1,535, with this ad (which didn't perform as well as our Valentine's ad):
Referrals and more ad success: over $4,700 in one month
After February and March, we started to see referrals coming in from past customer recommendations and social media. That helped bring our April sales to over $2,500 without much paid advertising.
Then in May, we had a really successful month using the same Facebook ad strategy as we did for Valentine's Day, but for Mother's Day.
Tip: One of the biggest things I figured out was that by creating a video where I was showing my brother's face, the person seeing the ad was way more likely to become a paying customer because they could see who was going to be coming to their home to do the detailing.
We also did a similar digital gift card to the Valentine’s one, I just changed the wording:
All in all, with around $80 into our Mother’s Day Facebook ad campaign, we made over $4700 in May.
We were doing the exact same service as before at this point — the interior detail and wash — but we raised our prices up all the way from $59.99 to $109.99 since we had a lot more experience. That helped boost our revenue quite a bit.
Continued growth over summer into winter: $6,427 in one month
People tend to want their car detailed more during the summer, so those months really worked well for us.
- In June, we did $4400 in sales. Fell off a little bit from the previous month, but we also weren’t running as many Facebook ads.
- In July, we did $4,250 in sales.
- August, we did $6,427 in sales. That was the peak month, it fell off pretty substantially from there.
- September, we did over $3,800.
- October we did $2,000.
- In November, we did $2,300.
- December we did ~$3,200.
So you can see how it kind of falls off whenever the weather starts getting a little bit colder. But, that's also due to the fact we ran very few Facebook ads from September-December.
We ran a Black Friday ad in December and November, that's why we increased sales in December a little bit, but when we weren’t running any ads, all our sales came in organically from repeat customers, referrals, social media, and Google.
Oh, and another big reason why I like the summer months (May, June, July, August) and the reason why they're typically our highest-earning months, is because we’re out of school so we have more time to detail cars.
We were doing 2-3 vehicles a day in August when we did over $6400 in sales versus about 1 detail a day when my brother and I started school back up.
What’s your current system for pricing and servicing customers?
For our current system, we have a starting price for each of our three packages: interior, exterior or full. Then, we have add-ons that the customer can get for an additional cost if they’re interested.
So for the basic interior package, our current starting price is $100. This includes:
- Wiping everything down with all purpose cleaner or degreaser
- Cleaning and wiping the windows and mirrors
- Steam cleaning where needed (some vehicles don't need to be steam cleaned and do fine with a wipe down)
- If they have leather seats, we'll condition them
- If they have rubber mat floor mats, we'll pressure wash them
- Then we usually finish off the interior with a UV protective coating on places like the upholstery and dashboard, which just gives it a little bit of a shine. (We don't do this in all vehicles, it depends on the material of the vehicle and whether or not the customer wants it.
Where we charge more is for things like:
- Carpet shampooing, we add on $50 for. This includes carpet floor mats.
- If they have cloth seats and want them shampooed, that’s a $25 add-on.
- If they need their headliner cleaned, that’s a $20 add-on.
- If they have pets that travel with them, that's a $15 add-on.
- For vehicles with strong odors (such as cigarette smoke), we add on $10 extra.
The basic exterior includes a hand wash, wheels washed and tires shined, and a hand wax coating. Starting prices vary by vehicle:
- Sports/compact car ($60)
- Sedan ($70)
- Small truck/SUV ($80)
- Truck/Jeep/Minivan ($100)
Our exterior add-ons include:
- Headlight restoration ($50)
- Clay Bar treatment with 6 – 12 months ceramic coating ($110)
Again, these are starting costs. We give customers an exact price once we’re able to inspect their car in person, which is free of charge.
This system, which we developed over time through trial and error, allows us to make sure we’re getting paid properly for our time as some vehicles can take a lot longer than others depending on their condition. We try to shoot for $40-$50/hour minimum.
Any downsides to this type of pricing system?
I think we scare off some of our prospects when we tell them our pricing structure. Telling someone the price starts at $100 but that we can’t give them the exact price until we inspect the vehicle just adds time and energy into the process for both us and the customer.
When a customer wants their call detailed, the vast majority of them want one thing, and that’s for every single part of their vehicle to be cleaned to the best possible condition.
That’s why we offer 3 packages: interior, exterior, and full. I don’t want to confuse the customer. And I think we may switch back over to a set pricing model with very limited customizable add-ons to reduce the extra time that our current pricing system requires.
Would you ever consider trying hourly pricing or any other pricing models?
We haven't experimented with hourly pricing or any other pricing models. For mobile detailing, I think the project pricing just makes a lot more sense.
It is funny though because one of the dealerships that we now do a lot of cars for, as my brother's gotten better over time, the owner of the dealership will be like, “Man, I'm paying you $150 and you're getting this done in two hours now, like…this is too much.”
My brother had to tell him, like, “Listen man, my skill has increased over time and I've gotten better at this. I know what to hit first. I know the process and the system to do things to get them done efficiently. This isn’t something that you just grab someone off the side of the street and expect them to do the work that I do in the time that I can do it.”
And that's why it's based on a project price and not on an hourly price.
We have a few contractors that help us from time to time, and for a while we were paying them hourly, and we figured out that it's much better to pay them a commission based on the percentage of the total project. It's a lot more simple that way, and it makes a lot more sense in their mind and ours as well.
You mentioned working with dealerships again. Did you figure out a better way to work with them since that $3/car incident?
Yep, so we have two dealerships now that reach out to us time to time, one a lot more frequent than the other.
The one that's more frequent, it can be anywhere from two to three cars a week, and we have them at a flat rate of $150. Some of their vehicles come in a bit more trashed, but they get the flat rate of $150 just being that they're giving us consistent business.
The reason these dealerships worked out better than the $3/car ones is that they actually reached out to us directly and asked about detailing, not car washing. That made it a lot easier to sell them on our prices, as they understood the service we were providing and we set the proper expectations upfront.
How’s the business doing present day?
Most of our clients come through referrals now. We don't run very many Facebook ads nowadays. If we do run ads, it’s usually just for special offers and occasions.
We can stay pretty busy from booking through referrals, and once every now and then, someone will reach out through Google after seeing our listing.
Our listing is pretty low in the Google rankings, but just yesterday, I signed a contract with a company that's going to be helping to improve that rank. We're hoping to hit top three rank locally for keywords like car detailing, vehicle detailing, auto detailing, interior detailing, ceramic coatings, etc.
We have the reviews in place for our listing to stand out, so with a better ranking, we should start seeing a lot more phone calls coming through organically from Google searches.
How much time are you spending on the business?
I personally spend as little as an hour on the business during slower weeks. And that hour is mostly spent following up with customers to make sure everything went to their expectations, or budgeting.
The weeks in August where we're making over $6,000, I'm spending probably 3-5 hours a week doing Facebook ads, creating ad copy, sending messages to people as they're reaching out, talking on the phone with customers. Things like that.
Keep in mind, I couldn't do this without my brother as I have other commitments outside of the business right now.
My brother, he spends an average of 15-20 hours a week detailing customers’ cars. This would be a rough average for a month we do $3,000-$4,000 in revenue. Interior details usually take 2-3 hours. Exterior details usually take 1-2 hours.
There's a little bit of time to travel in there as well, but again, we tend to shoot for $40-$50/hour.
What are your plans for the future?
As we improve our SEO, get more reviews, and improve our referral rates, we're hoping to build up a base of maintenance clients. This is where the money's at and where you can really set up a mobile detailing business long term.
Luke Wilson talks about this a lot on his YouTube channel — Wilson Auto Detailing — and it’s where I learned the importance of it.
The maintenance client is essentially someone that is willing to have their car detailed every 4-8 weeks or so. They’re the people who really care about keeping their car clean and they’re willing to pay good money to do so.
Tip: We give our maintenance clients a discount as an incentive to continue to use us.
The plan is to have enough maintenance clients to keep my brother busy, and then for any new customers that come in, we can pitch them over to other contractors that we know.
We already have one contractor who's currently training with my brother multiple days each week for this. Once she understands the business a bit more and gets her own equipment, I'll start contracting customers out to her when my brother is full.
The plan is to pay each contractor a commission of around 70%.
In the long run, my brother and I have plans to eventually open a drive-thru car wash and possibly even an official detail shop, but for now, our plan for expansion in the near/short term is to continue to hire more contractors.
Who’s a good fit to start a mobile detailing business?
I think anyone would be. I really do believe anyone that's interested can start a mobile detailing business if they’re motivated enough to do it.
Luke Wilson, who I did a podcast with on the Student Hustles podcast, talks about his journey starting out mobile detailing when he was just 13 years old and his dad would drive him over to his customer's locations.
So if you're 13 and you wanna start this, you absolutely can. You’ll need your parents help to get you started, and you might have to do cash transactions as you won’t be able to get a card reader, but that’s absolutely fine.
And hey, if you’re older, you can start doing this as well. There’s really no age limit. It's just such a great business.
Plus, you can scale it as big or as little as you want. If you want one client a week, just to make an extra 150 bucks, you can do that. If you want a business where you have 15 employees underneath you and you want to make a million dollars a year, you can do that too.
I think this is an awesome business idea for students especially. Not only can you make way more money than you would doing something like working as a waiter, but starting a car detailing business, growing it, running ads, doing everything that’s involved, it will teach you a ton of great lessons and skills that will serve you for the rest of your life.
Any final pieces of advice?
First, don't make things too complex. Start small, don’t overthink it, and build up your equipment and offerings over time.
Second, have patience. Just like with any business, growing a mobile detailing business takes time. It took me three months before I had an offer that succeeded, and even then it was $1,500 in sales in a month. It took me another three months in order to build that up to $5,000 in sales.
Third, set the right expectations up front. You want your detailing customers to understand what a detail is, and you want to set the right expectations. I do videos to show customers what to expect, and I always tell them that results are never guaranteed. We can't guarantee that the stain on their carpet from the coffee they spilled five years ago is gonna come out. All you can do is tell them the process and show them the results of past customers.
And finally, don’t be afraid to ask for reviews. I call on the customer 24 hours after the detailing to ask how the service went and how my brother did. I then ask if they would leave us a review and text them over a review link. Without following up with our customers, we wouldn't have half the reviews we do now. Very few businesses follow up with their customers and the ones who do usually just send an email. Call the customer. Make it personal.
Where to go to learn more:
- Have questions about starting a mobile detailing business? Reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org
- Student Hustles Podcast – This is a weekly podcast I run with my co-host Brian Stovall featuring stories, strategies, hustles, and philosophies over how student entrepreneurs are building their income.