After spending time analyzing the auto detailing industry over the past few years, I wanted to take the time to outline a few things I’ve noticed that may impact the industry in 2023 and for years to come.
So many things have changed if you think back to the pre-internet 1980s and even 1990s when many consumers preferred to wash their own vehicles, but mobile apps and the on-demand economy has changed things.
According to Google Trends, the topic of ‘Auto Detailing” is twice as popular of a topic (relative to other terms being Googled) as it was in 2008. 2008 was obviously a bad economic time in 2008, but the industry has certainly rebounded and doesn’t look to be going anywhere.
The good news is auto detailing is still growing at around 3-4 percent per year (depending on the source).
With that said, here are a few things to pay attention to in order to capitalize this year and the years to come.
1. Mobile detailing is getting commercialized
One trend I think is worth noting is that it is getting more difficult for the small business owner to attract younger consumers without technology, considering how many larger companies (with on-demand mobile app-based businesses) have exploded on the scene recently.
I do think this presents a challenge and an opportunity if you are a small business owner with a couple of employees, because while consumers are willing to pay for services, they are looking for convenience.
Anyone can book a car wash or detail using an app, and within a couple of hours have someone at their house or work. Traditional marketing with flyers and the yellow pages are just no longer effective and need to be replaced by modern strategies like running ads on online social media and entertainment platforms.
2. One-on-one relationships and quality of work still matter: the barbershop example
While the industry is changing, building one-on-one relationships will still be important in 2023 and beyond. When a Ferrari owner hands over his keys to you (for example) a level of trust must be established..something that many larger companies I feel are struggling to do in auto detailing. You can book a technician in 10 minutes, but detailers with advanced skills are hard to come by. Sometimes you don’t know what you’re getting.
A simple comparison: The professional barber
To draw a comparison, think about the fact that you no longer have to really book an appointment at many walk-up men’s salons..stay with me for a minute. My dad had his own barber much like other men in the 1970’s, and personal relationships and technique were reasons to stay loyal for years. You knew what you were getting.
Like the barber example, some vehicle owners are willing to put up with the inconvenience of having to wait for a detail if they expect a consistent and high quality experience from a seasoned professional.
Fast forward to today, and I suspect more men get a haircut by someone they’ve never met than ever before, due to convenience.
On the flip side, high-end barbershops and luxury salons are making a comeback. It’s all about the demographic you target, like in detailing.
The future of requesting the same detailer
The good news if you are a detailer who truly is a master at your craft, is that many commercial mobile-app-based auto detailing companies don’t allow special requests to be made if customers find a detailer they like and trust.
You get what you get depending on who’s working. This opens the door for smaller auto detailers to establish personal relationships, get to know their clients, and offer to perform these services on a recurring basis.
Larger companies are often focused on growing their fleets, washing more vehicles per day, and really can’t compete with solo entrepreneurs that focus on the higher end of the market and less on scale.
After all, customers with luxury vehicles are willing to pay a little more if they know their vehicle is being handled with care by someone not on the clock.
3. Convenience will continue to change washing and detailing
Auto detailing is one of those industries that tends to lag behind other sectors when it comes to embracing technology, but over the past few years, apps and online scheduling will become the norm for the most successful auto detailing companies.
It’s worth investing in, because there are a lot of software products that make it easier for beginners.
4. Changes in scheduling and payment methods
Scheduling has become one of those challenges that in recent years has definitely seen the effects and benefits of modern technology. This has only been accelerated by the pandemic.
Although it’s not been too recent, software is being used by larger companies to route detailers to different locations based on demand, proximity, and utilizes AI and GPS technology. Many systems can also send out automated text messages or alerts to smartphones, and allow customers to pay online.
For many small detailers, taking the first step to modernize scheduling is key. You can either use Outlook or Gmail calendars, or eliminate back-and-forth of scheduling by allowing customers to choose their own time slots using a free appointment tool one that Hubspot offers here.
Payment methods in the coming decade
In 2021 and beyond, one area to pay attention to is payment methods. While many detailers now accept credit cards, Venmo, Apple Pay, and others, I expect huge growth in this area.
Mobile payments will play more of a role in the next 5-10 years, as consumers will continue to use less cash.
Not wanting the deal with cash and change has led traditional detailers to change their habits.
In many markets with younger consumers, this is now simply imperative to stay in business.
Not only credit card processing, but payment apps like Venmo and even Apple Pay you will need to be prepared for.
5. Eco-friendly automotive products are on the rise
Like it or not, consumers have become increasingly environmentally conscious over the past several years. I expect this to translate into more eco-friendly detailing products and a larger market of consumers that demand more biodegradable soaps over traditional cleaners.
With this trend you’ve seen more waterless products hit the scene, many of which are also biodegradable.
Many higher-end Class A office spaces are also beginning to require auto detailers use water containment mats and be aware of any town or city water runoff regulations, particularly around storm drains that feed fresh water sources.
While it’s perfectly okay to use the brands you love, having some eco-friendly products on hand at all times isn’t a bad idea. According to studies, around 35% of consumers are willing to pay more for eco-friendly services.
Check out these 15 eco-friendly products and ideas I outlined a while back if you are looking to offer some eco-friendly products or services in the near future.
6. More premium services
Car wash clubs, memberships, and recurring revenue is already beginning to transform those dingy, late 1990s car washes across America. Every day, I see a new car wash..or auto spa pop up with all it’s shiny new feature.
More detailers are now offering everything from headlight restoration services to oil changes, much more than your typical car wash and detailing package.
Since many people have a limited amount of time during their lunch break, and don’t feel like dealing with cash or cards, a nice auto spa with RFID scanners for members makes for a convenient, in and out experience. As long as there is an account balance, the gate should open!
And it sure beats a dark, filthy car wash tunnel with a broken credit card reader attached to a gas station.
7. Tunnel washes will continue to emerge
One that note, tunnel washes are continuing to get better and more technological. While many washes are old and outdated, expect more of these older tunnel or conveyer washes to be rebuilt, torn down, or outfitted with modern technology like sensors-controlled gates for members, or even light shows within the tunnel.
Touchless or even soft touch car washes will likely continue to pop up over North America, which is why offering personal, humanized detailing services will be so important. It’s just hard to compete for the business of a consumer that isn’t willing to pay more than 20 to 30 bucks per month for more than a tunnel wash.
On the other hand, the size of the market is increasing worldwide, especially in EMEA, so I expect plenty of franchising opportunities to exist.
Just to recap, I really am optimistic about the auto detailing market, even though there will likely be increased competition with car washes and more technology-driven mobile detailing companies for the average auto detailer.
While the tools and products used in the industry will likely improve, Many business owners in the car wash industry will be required to update their equipment to remain competitive. This remains the same for many detailers who have not yet fully embraced digital technology. While the industry likely won’t change overnight, change is coming and it’s important to stay prepared.
To stay prepared for any changes coming, networking is a great idea! Here is a list I compiled of the best car wash and detailing trade shows to consider attending this year.