One of those not-as-often-talked-about businesses closely related to mobile detailing is fleet washing.
So many business owners these days invest thousands (sometimes millions) of dollars purchasing trucks, vans, and other fleet vehicles.
With such a large upfront investment, more and more are realizing how important it is to keep them clean from time to time.
The opportunity that exists in fleet washing
I recently performed a quick Google search for fleet washing services in my area, expecting quite a bit of competition, but nothing really stood out.
Sure, you’ve got pressure washing companies, but very few companies actually specialize in fleet washing (or detailing), compared to the thousands of detailers who target consumers. Not businesses.
Most detailers simply can’t handle the volume (or know where to go to acquire customers). For this reason, I see fleet washing as one of the best opportunities in vehicle washing at the moment.
While there is a barrier to entry that regular ol’ detailing doesn’t have, it can be quite lucrative.
In this blog, I’ll break down 8 helpful tips for getting started, and what to know before starting (or investing) in this type of business.
1. Acquire corporate accounts for repeat business
As opposed to detailing, one of the main keys to success in washing fleet vehicles is securing business relationships.
While you do have repeat customers in mobile detailing, fleet washing is highly dependent on who you know and what accounts you currently have or can acquire.
Since you will mainly be focusing on corporate accounts, an important strategy for acquiring new business is to approach fleet managers to sell them on your services.
Even if they already have a vendor, one strategy that works quite well is to offer to wash one of their vehicles for free to showcase your services.
This works especially well for fleets that are growing and will likely be looking for fleet washing in the future.
2. Understand what type of wash package you’re comfortable providing
It may seem like an obvious tip, but it’s important to decide who your ideal customer is before getting into the business.
Washing 10 sprinter vans (as opposed to 10 box trucks) is completely different, so decide who your ideal customer profile is based on your ability and experience.
Fleet washing vs detailing
When it comes to washing an entire fleet of vehicles, a simple two-step wash that simply removes dirt is the expectation for simply washing trucks efficiently, as opposed to the other end of the spectrum.
An owner of a fleet of 5 vans typically will likely expect each vehicle to be washed and detailed like a car, as opposed to an owner of a fleet of 75 semi-trucks and trailers who may only care about dirt removal.
Set the expectation
To avoid an unhappy customer, always set the expectation for service prior to striking any agreement so both your crew and the customer know what to expect.
If the customer desires a higher level of detail per vehicle (and is willing to pay for it), be sure the customer has information on your wash packages and what services are included.
Some customers may look under wheel wells, look for spots on side mirrors, as well as numerous other spaces, so having this conversation beforehand will help protect you.
3. Select a business model that works for you
When it comes to washing a fleet, the amount of profit you can expect all depends on the business model you choose.
While you can make a lot of money washing a high volume of box trucks or semi-trucks and trailers, you’ll likely need to invest in a much larger trailer (or several trailers), in addition to larger water tanks.
If you prefer washing smaller fleets made up of cars or vans, you can likely get by with a single detailing trailer. Keep in mind, this is a completely different business model, with many customers requiring more attention to detail + interior detailing.
Another pretty good business model is to only focus on interior detailing for semi-trucks. Again, it helps to decide on a business model beforehand and not plan to offer everything to everybody.
Offering volume discounts
Providing volume discounts is a good idea generally, but it’s important to have enough accounts and work throughout the week to stay profitable.
Some fleet washing companies may charge $15 to $25 per vehicle which beginners shouldn’t try to compete with!
The advantages with this model are obviously a better price point for customers, but if you’ve never had experience washing large fleets it’s best to start small before adding large accounts.
Focusing on high-quality services and low volume
As an alternative to the first pricing model, many people focus on finding the right corporate accounts that are willing to pay more for a more complete wash (and detail).
Owners of gas tankers (for example) will sometimes want these polished instead of simply cleaned which usually means more money in your pocket. Targeting drivers that own their trucks is a great way to a foot in the door without committing to larger jobs right away.
Other commercial accounts may want windows cleaned, tire shine applied, as well as a coating of wax and polish. It really all depends on what the fleet owners prefer in your area and the services they are looking for.
I would recommend this business model for beginners since it is much easier to become profitable early on.
4. Have the right equipment
Unlike the mobile car wash and detailing business, fleet washing companies also usually specialize in pressure washing (but not always) which means you will need a pretty large water tank and generator to power your fleet washing business.
Below is a list of some of the basic equipment you are likely to need prior to starting a truck or fleet washing business:
- (1) Commercial pressure washer
- (1) Dual-axle open trailer with spares
- (1) 500-gallon water tank
- (2) Separate holding tanks for two-step wash chemicals
- (1) Water recovery and filtration system
- (1) Low pH acidic detergent
- (1) High-pH alkaline-based detergent
- (1) Aluminum brightener
- (1) Generator to power pumps and other devices
- (1) Retractable hose reel
- Hoses and pumps to feed your pressure washer
Unless you have the capital to purchase industrial-grade equipment you will need for fleet washing, you may want to use your current detailing setup (with a larger tank) just to get started.
Check out this post I wrote on a few mobile detailing setups for some ideas.
5. Have a water reclamation system
Since many municipalities have penalties and fines for water runoff and contamination, having a water reclamation system for your runoff is a great idea for mobile fleet washing.
In addition to blocking water from entering storm drains (where it could potentially pollute other freshwater sources or the environment), a water reclamation mat can also help you conserve water in your tanks.
Some cities like Houston even have police forces that monitor this type of activity, so it’s never a bad idea to check with your local officials.
If you are looking into reclamation, Mi-T-M makes several of these units you can read more about on their website here.
6. Understand the two-step wash process
For most people entering the truck washing world, your equipment will likely consist of a commercial pressure washing unit and two different types of chemicals used in what is called a two-step wash.
How a two-step wash works
In the fleet washing world, a two-step wash begins by applying a low-pH chemical followed by a high-pH chemical to the surface of a vehicle in order to break the electromagnetic bond dirt has with the surface.
After the low-pH acid is applied, the second step of this process usually involves an alkaline soap like Strikeforce.
This soap contains surfactants which will allow the soap to lift the loosened dirt away from the vehicle.
Agitation using a brush is the best way to remove dirt but is typically not required for most jobs.
7. Join the UAMCC
Another great idea is to join the United Association of Mobile Contract Cleaners (UAMCC).
This is an organization that is made up of cleaning contractors across the country in order to help provide resources for entrepreneurs looking to grow fleet or pressure washing businesses.
Fleet washing certification
Membership to this organization also includes access to fleet washing certification which can definitely help you win some of these corporate jobs. They also provide unlimited job leads for certain levels of membership, discounts on pressure washing supplies, local networking seminars, and much more.
If you are new to the industry, it’s definitely worth taking a look at to help grow your business as quickly as possible.
8. Do you industry research
Since most large truck fleets require daily driver vehicle inspection reports (DVIR) understanding that clean vehicles are safer vehicles is a selling point worth knowing about.
I recently covered this DOT compliance topic in a post on fleet washing here you may want to check it out.
Fleet owners will appreciate this level of familiarity, and it’s something to mention in your sales pitch to set you apart.
While this site is dedicated mainly to detailing and washing cars, fleet washing is really not a bad option if you’re willing to put on the effort it takes to learn.
If you have the right equipment and connections it can be one of the more consistent revenue generators, since you are dealing with other business owners that understand the value a clean fleet of vehicles has on their reputation.
If you’re thinking of starting a business, be sure to check out these free business and marketing resources I assembled specifically for business owners.