Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
My name is Josh Belk and I’m the founder of Belk Mobile Detailing. Belk Mobile Detailing is a mobile automotive detailing business in Springfield, Missouri. We come directly to our customer’s homes to make their vehicles look new again. I’m currently a co-owner in the business, with the other owner being my brother Austin.
The majority of the business we do now is full details. A full detail typically includes interior vacuuming, steam cleaning, wiping all surfaces down, cleaning windows, shampooing carpets and/or seats, exterior washing, deep cleaning wheels and tires, and waxing.
We have four main types of customers that use our services: professionals, business owners, busy moms, and people looking to sell their vehicles. Our business has been generating an average of $8,000 over the past 12 months and detailing 60-80 vehicles per month.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
I’ve always been entrepreneurial and passionate about growing a business. In high school, I would make hundreds and sometimes thousands of dollars in just a few hours buying and reselling sneakers and Supreme clothing. I used to skip my first two classes every Thursday so I could stay home to purchase whatever hyped item was released on Supreme’s website that week. By far the greatest profit I made reselling Supreme was when I purchased two Supreme Fender Stratocaster guitars. I paid $1998 for each, resold one the same day for $3600, and resold the second a few weeks later for $4400.
Around this time was when Amazon FBA was starting to pick up. There were all kinds of videos on YouTube of Amazon sellers selling their courses teaching you how to make money selling products on Amazon FBA. With the money I had saved up from selling sneakers and Supreme as well as working part-time jobs, I paid $1200 for an online course that taught me everything I needed to know to be successful selling on Amazon FBA.
I spent around 1-2 months digesting this online course. I learned a lot during this time, and because I used a big chunk of my savings to purchase it I took the class very seriously. There are lots of online courses on the internet that can teach you a ton of valuable information.
I’ve taken several that taught me more than most of my college courses, and they are much cheaper! While I do recommend other people look into taking online courses that help further their skills, just be sure that the knowledge you are learning is also being put into action.
In high school, I spent months learning the ins and outs of the Amazon FBA business, researching products that I could sell, and eventually ordering the products from a supplier overseas. With a 50/50 partner, we decided we were going to sell a pack of rose gold balloons that could be used for parties, baby showers, and weddings.
Together, we spent $6,000 on the balloon sets, shipping, product photography, and other various business expenses. After months of research, communicating with the supplier, and waiting for shipping, we finally received our balloons and listed them on Amazon.
Long story short, the balloons didn’t sell like we thought they would and we lost the majority of our investment. After this failure, I started college and spent a few years without any side hustle. I constantly saw unique side hustles and businesses to start on YouTube and various websites.
Since a young age, my brother and I have always been super passionate about cars. After getting his license, my brother was constantly driving his Honda Accord around town and was always cleaning it. For a few months in mid-2019, I had been following a few YouTubers who were detailers, and I was learning a little about what it takes to start a mobile detailing business.
One day I got an email from Tai Lopez, a popular influencer and entrepreneur I followed, that listed “Three Businesses Anyone Can Start Today”. One of those businesses was mobile car washing. After speaking with my brother about this idea, we decided that together we would start our mobile detailing business together.
Unlike all the other ideas I had seen people talking about online, mobile car detailing was a local service-based business. I liked the idea of utilizing my friends, family, and the network I established when I was a kid to help build my new mobile detailing business. I felt this would give me a big advantage. Plus, having my brother who was passionate about cars, be a part of the business was a huge help.
Take us through the process of designing your business
To start, I spent around $500 on equipment, chemicals, and towels to get started. At first, we didn’t have an extractor to shampoo carpets or seats and we didn’t get a steamer until a few months after we launched.
Our main equipment was a vacuum, a bucket, a wash mitt, brushes, towels, and chemicals. We were pretty restricted on the services we could provide with just these tools but it gave us a good place to start without spending a ton of money.
At first, we set up several different packages with special names like “Deluxe Detail” and “Premium Detail”. We priced these packages extremely low to start with the intention of raising the prices over time as we gained more experience.
Our starting price for a complete detail, inside and out, was $50. In our second month of business, I remember my brother telling me that he just didn’t think the work was worth it for just a little money. I reassured him that these prices were only temporary and would soon increase.
Starting this business I was nervous and uncomfortable. Because I had started a previous business and failed, I was worried that this business could end with the same result. I was also uncomfortable telling my friends and family that I was starting this business. Cleaning cars isn’t exactly the sexiest business you could start, especially for a college-educated finance student.
I remember some of our friends would jokingly make fun of our business during the first several months we got started. They didn’t take it very seriously, and how could I blame them? The vast vast majority of businesses fail in the first year.
What gave me the confidence to push forward with this business was the comradery with my brother. It can be easy to quit when the only person that is affected is yourself. But my brother and I depended on each other to grow this business. We both played different roles in the business and we needed each other’s talents to grow.
As of today, we are set to break a record for our highest sales month yet. We’ve done over $15k in sales for April.
Just like sometimes you need a workout partner to stay accountable, the right business partner who is motivated and whose strengths complement yours can be very powerful in helping grow a new business.
Describe the process of launching the business.
When we first got started in November of 2019, I spent the first few weeks ordering the necessary equipment, building our website, designing our service packages, and setting up our social media pages.
After we had all the necessary things in place to begin working, I spent a few days going door to door at all the small dealerships around town offering our services. To get our foot in the door, we were offering to detail the first few vehicles at these dealership’s lots for free.
I probably spoke to 7 dealerships and only 1 of them agreed to give us a shot. We ended up washing the outside of 10 of their vehicles for free and they never called us back. These small dealerships were used to paying a crew of guys $3-$5 per car to wash each car on their lot. We were very desperate at first to start making money, but we quickly realized that only making $3-$5 a car from these dealerships was not worth the work.
After the dealerships, we moved on to detailing our friends and family’s vehicles. My mom sent out text messages to her friends telling them that her sons had started a car detailing business and we're offering 50% for a limited time. My mom sent that text out to over 30 people and only 2 of them booked appointments. At that time, we were charging $50 for full detail. That included the interior vacuumed, steam cleaned, wiped down, windows cleaned, door jams cleaned, and the exterior washed, waxed, and tires shined.
In December, our first real month in business, we made $310 in sales from detailing for friends and family. In an attempt to start increasing our reach and sales, we ran a massive giveaway for the 2020 new year.
We were giving away a free detail every month for the entire year of 2020. To enter, all you had to do was share our Facebook post and enter your email on our landing page. I thought we would pick one winner for the giveaway and then offer the rest of the entrants 50% off our full detail package.
We hoped to get several new customers out of this giveaway. We spent over $100 on Facebook ads for the giveaway over about a week and had around 40 people enter their emails.
I picked one random winner and sent them an email telling them they won. That person emailed back telling me they were no longer interested in the prize. I then emailed the other people who didn’t win the giveaway, thanking them for entering and telling them that while they didn’t win, we were still offering them 50% off our full detail package. We had only one person who responded to that email and set up an appointment.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
While I was unsuccessful with Facebook ads up to this point, I kept trying to identify the best audience and ad to successfully drive traffic to my website.
With Valentine’s Day quickly approaching in early February, my brother and I decided that we would offer a gift card for $59.99 that would include a full interior detail and an exterior wash. Using our website, I set it up so that people could purchase the gift card directly online.
Using the information I had gathered from our previous failed Facebook ads, I decided to use a video rather than a picture for this advertisement and targeted older married women interested in gifts.
I started the campaign on Feb. 5th and spent $10 per day until Valentine’s Day on the 14th. With the help of this Valentine’s Day special, we generated $1735 in sales over February. This campaign was our first big victory and it proved to me that I can be successful using Facebook ads. I think this campaign was successful because we used a video ad, a holiday special, and an easy online checkout system.
Over the next few months, we continued to use pictures and videos from the vehicles we were detailing to run new Facebook ads and specials. Our sales slowly began to increase and word of mouth was spreading about our new business. Using trial and error, we kept repeating the things that created successful Facebook ads and removed the things that proved unprofitable.
During this time, I also set up a Google business page and began posting photos there. Over time, Google's business would prove to be very successful in generating new customers for us. This past month in April 2022, we have received 61 calls and 147 website visits from our Google business page. This is all free traffic.
Another very successful Facebook campaign we ran was for Mother’s Day in 2020. We used a very similar approach we had used for our previous Valentine’s Day special, but this time we raised our price to $109.99 and we increased our advertising budget. By this time, people were starting to recognize our brand when they saw our ads and our engagement on posts was much higher.
Looking back, I discovered that some of the people who had entered our New Year’s giveaway at the beginning of 2020 finally became our customers later in 2020. These people might have seen 20+ ads from us before they finally decided to book an appointment. Therefore, I began to realize how important retargeting and persistence were when advertising online. We generated $4818 in sales in May 2020.
While Facebook ads and special offers helped launch our business, over time referrals and word of mouth became the largest source of new business. We go above and beyond with our customers and aim to blow their expectations out of the water to this very day.
We don’t rush details and make sure we have plenty of time that day to do as best of a job as possible. Also, we have continually worked to perfect our customer service and communication over the past two and a half years. As a result, our referrals and word-of-mouth marketing have skyrocketed. The best part of referrals is they will book an appointment nearly 100% of the time AND they will pay any price we say (within reason).
Another great strategy we’ve used to increase our referrals is building relationships with a few body shops, tint shops, and larger detailers focused on PPFs. The most effective way to start building a relationship with one of these businesses is to do business with them first.
We would wear our uniforms in the shops, and eventually, in conversation, we would mention we detail cars. Many places specializing in tinting, bodywork, and PPF typically get customers asking about detailing. Most of these places would just tell their customers, “we don’t do that.” But now that they knew we detail cars, they began referring the customer to us.
Another amazing strategy for building a long-lasting relationship with another business is to send them customers. We now send our customers who need window tinting, bodywork, or PPF over to these businesses, and when our customer calls they mention that Belk Mobile Detailing sent them. This works exceptionally well!
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
While we aren’t spending any money on advertising, we have recently hired a videographer who films several videos for us each month.
Part of my job in the business is to attract the types of customers who care about their vehicles and are proactive about keeping them clean. I label these customers as “protective and proactive”. We hired a videographer to show our customers that we are meticulous and professional.
Our goal is to design each video so that these protective and proactive customers call us to have their vehicles detailed. Our videographer’s job is to make the viewer feel like we are scientists detailing a car in a lab. While other detailers are showing up in their dirty work boots and ripped clothing, we are professionally dressed wearing gloves.
Going forward, everything we do is focused on attracting these protective and proactive customers who will buy a ceramic coating and pay us to maintain their vehicle.
Let’s look into some of our analytics:
Over the past 90 days, our website has received 1,161 unique visits with an average of 2.4 page views per visit:
Meanwhile, our Google business page has received 613 total actions over the past quarter. 430 of these actions were website visits while 153 people called us. Outside of Google and our website, we have a little over 600 followers on our Facebook page, around 100 Instagram followers, and around 300 emails outside of Google and our website.
Believe it or not, we haven’t done any email marketing to our existing customers. This is a priority for us, and I believe it will drastically increase the number of details each customer is booking in a year.
As of today, we are set to break a record for our highest sales month yet. We’ve done over $15k in sales for April.
Our plan for the rest of the year is to focus heavily on ceramic coating installations. A ceramic coating is essentially a more durable and longer-lasting wax. A ceramic coating job can range from $500 up to $2500, depending on the duration of the coating and the level of paint correction that is being performed.
Over the rest of the year, we will be marketing our ceramic coating jobs to our existing customers and through FB ads. A car that has had its paint corrected and ceramic coated stands out among all other cars on the road. The paint correction helps the paint look flawless with very few scratches, swirls, oxidation, or water spots while the ceramic coating provides the vehicle with an extremely slick surface and glossy shine.
A vehicle that is ceramic coated is significantly easier to detail than a non-ceramic coated vehicle. All of these benefits are why we will be marketing ceramic coatings more to our customers going forward. More money for us and shinier, longer-lasting, and easier to clean vehicles for our customers. Win-win!
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
Since starting Belk Mobile Detailing, I’ve learned several valuable lessons that translate to all aspects of my life. The first lesson, and perhaps most valuable, is that real growth has only come after committing to working on the business full time.
If I were still in school or working another job, I can confidently say we wouldn’t have hired our new full-time employee Blake and wouldn’t have generated over $15k in sales this past month.
Before starting Belk Mobile Detailing, I wanted quick passive income. After founding my company, I realized that while passive income may be able to be achieved, I must first spend many years working full-time in the business to create that passive cash flow.
I don’t see any other way the business can become successful without me, the founder and visionary, guiding and working alongside my team.
If you are looking to start a detailing business, spend less time-consuming content and more time detailing. If I had to start all over again I would stick to a similar blueprint to the one we followed.
Another valuable lesson I learned is that consistency was a major key to success. Several people followed our social media early in 2020 but didn’t book a detail until later in the year.
By consistently posting and showing our followers that we were committed to our business, our sales have increased over time from our consistent work from the beginning. We had to show people that Belk Mobile Detailing was something we were serious about growing before we could expect those people to pay us to detail their vehicles.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
We use Square for our website, credit card processing, and appointment booking Square also has many great marketing tools that we will be using soon. I picked Square because they have an easy-to-navigate and visually appealing online booking system. Most of the other companies with online booking were confusing and not visually appealing.
Square was also a one-stop-shop for everything our business needed. While other appointment booking companies tailor their services specifically to detailers, we won’t be switching anytime soon. We’ve married our business to Square and switching at this point would likely be a nightmare. Plus, I don’t believe this other software would have a significant enough effect on our business for us to switch.
The only other tool we use is ManyChatfor our Facebook chatbot. ManyChat has helped us out a ton! The chatbot can answer basic questions for anyone interested in our services as well as direct potential customers to our website.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
Luke Wilson’s YouTube has been one of the most helpful resources for starting my detailing business. He has tons of great content about equipment, products, customer communication, and more. However, I will say that if you are looking to get started with your detailing business be careful listening to too much Luke Wilson and other YouTubers. It can be easy to get overwhelmed quickly within the detailing world. I think anyone who is looking to get started should consume minimal content before starting.
As you start to get the ball rolling, you can begin watching more content. I say this because I’ve seen too many people pay hundreds of dollars for a detailing class and hundreds more on special equipment and chemicals before they have a single customer. While there is a learning curve with some aspects of detailing, a lot of the business is common sense. Just keep it simple!
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
As stated above, if you are looking to start a detailing business, spend less time-consuming content and more time detailing. If I had to start all over again I would stick to a similar blueprint to the one we followed. I would start with low prices to gain experience, build up your marketing material (photos and videos), and talk to the people you interact with about what you are doing. Your friends and family will be most of the people who support you at the start.
I know a detailer in a nearby city who would find luxury and exotic vehicles in the parking lots of Home Depot, Lowes, or any other store that he’d go to and offer the owner a free detail in exchange for a review. His success rate has been nearly 100%! Even better, what ends up happening is the owner of the vehicle often pays him what he would’ve charged plus several owners set up a monthly or quarterly detail. All just from him asking to detail their vehicle for free!
I believe a lot of these luxury car owners saw that this guy was professionally dressed, communicated well, and was hustling to try to build a business. Most people with nice cars respect that and would love to help out.
Another great place to market your services is on Facebook. You can join local neighborhood groups and make a post about who you are and what you do. Even better than this, you can detail your friend's and families' vehicles for free in exchange for them making a post on their Facebook page with you and their freshly detailed vehicle in the picture. If you have ten people that you can detail for free in exchange for them making a FB post you will be off to a great start.
Lastly, treat every customer you interact with like kings and queens. Take the time to go above and beyond in your service. Be professional, dress professionally, and communicate effectively. Think long-term. And most of all, be consistent.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
If you are someone who would like to begin building a detailing business, or if your detailing business has stalled, feel free to reach out to me at [email protected]
I have helped several people get started building their detailing business and offer to consult those interested in one-on-one help. I’m always happy to see if I can help!
Where can we go to learn more?
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
Get our 5-minute email newsletter packed with business ideas and money-making opportunities, backed by real-life case studies.