What follows is a review and evaluation of data obtained from Auto Laundry News Detailing Surveys from 2013 through 2020.
The mainstays in terms of services most offered include hand wax, shampoo and upholstery cleaning, leather treatment, buffing, and engine cleaning. Over the last several years, we can add to this list extended paint sealant, ceramic, deodorizing, and headlight restoration.
Detailers aren’t keen to offer express service. For the period, only 25 percent of freestanding detail shops did so versus about 50 percent for detail shops at car washes and mobile operations.
The data suggest that, unlike commercial car washing, detailing tends to be a six-day-a-week business for most operators. The exception is freestanding detail shops of which less than 10 percent say they are open for business on Saturday and Sunday.
For the period, the customer profile was divided 80 percent retail business and 20 percent wholesale, primarily auto dealerships. More than 60 percent of customers’ vehicles are three years old and older. Similar to commercial car washing, the split between female and male customers is roughly 50/50.
More than 60 percent of detail customers come from a distance of greater than eight miles from the business. Most detailers compete against three other locations.
Shown in Figure 1, the trend in percentage of detail operators reporting year-over-year improvement in their business is slightly negative (not statistically significant).
As shown in Figure 2, detail shops and mobile operators have been reporting fairly steady sales volumes. Arguably, detail shops at car wash sites have been pulled up by continued growth in industry wash revenues.
On average, freestanding detail shops and mobile detailers processed about 100 details per month and car wash sites about 150 per month.
For the period, average retail price charged by detail shop operators for complete service increased from $200 to $250 (25 percent) whereas average wholesale price rose from $140 to $180 (29 percent). Likewise, car wash operators’ retail and wholesale detail prices rose by 21 percent and 90 percent, respectively. During the period, the average per-car revenue for detail shops was $125 and $90 for car wash operators with shops.
Except for car wash sites, most detail premises are rented (i.e., triple net lease) whereas mobile operators tend to be home-based businesses.
Operating expenses are straightforward. Cost of goods includes credit card fees, chemicals and supplies, maintenance, and utilities. Whereas principal operating expenses are advertising, insurance, payroll expense, rent, and miscellaneous expenses.
For the period, cost of goods as percentage of gross sales revenue was 20 percent whereas operating expenses were 56 percent. As an analogue of similar stores, average annual gross revenue for detail shops and car wash sites for the period was $165,000 or an implied pre-tax profit of $39,600. Average annual gross sales revenue for mobile operations for the period was $138,000.
Considering mobile operators don’t face expenses such as rent or property taxes, they actually have a higher net profitability than their location-based counterparts.
Unlike commercial car washing, there are no cost-of-doing-business reports, study of consumer attitudes and habits, or census for the auto detail industry.
However, according to our research, there has been a steady decline in the number of full-service car wash sites with detail shops as the industry continues to converge on the express exterior and flex-serve conveyor models.
Similarly, there has been a decline in the number of free-standing detail shops as detailers have been drawn to skyrocketing growth in the mobile app market for on-demand mobile detailing.
Software platform companies such as Washos, Spiffy, Mobile Wash, and others continue to add locations to their digital network of operators throughout the country. Reportedly, most of these start-ups are posting double digit growth. The principal reasons are cost, profitability, and efficiency.
For example, the typical start-up cost for a freestanding detail shop is between $75,000 and $125,000 whereas for a mobile operation it is between $5,000 and $20,000.
According to Mobile Wash, the average ticket is $70 and about 75 percent of that money goes to the detailer.
Efficiency comes from business software specifically designed for detail operators to handle scheduling and dispatch, invoice and payment, task management, accounting, client tracking, and reporting.