So you’re considering selling car wash and detailing products. No matter what you decide to sell to, you need to first make sure that you are able to purchase these products at a cost where you can grow and run an actual business.
Since finding suppliers and inventory to sell as a beginner was challenging for me several years ago when I was reselling products on eBay, today I thought I’d share a few things I learned for anyone considering selling auto detailing products. Keep in mind that I am not an expert in sales tax or business formation, and always consult with a CPA or tax professional before starting an auto detailing products business.
Selling auto detailing products online
To be blunt, unless you have experience in e-commerce and understand profit margins, the entire detailing products market can be a difficult one to actually scale.
The problem with selling auto detailing products on marketplaces like eBay, Amazon, or even your own website using a platform like Shopify, Bigcommerce, or WooCommerce is finding a sustainable source of products you can purchase at true wholesale prices through a distributor.
Tip 1: Get a resale permit or license
If you’re starting out as a solo entrepreneur like I was, one thing to know is that many distributors require a resale license and/or a brick and mortar location to legally sell to you.
With auto detailing products specifically, some may even require minimum orders since sprays and other traditional products come in cases of 25 (for example). Often times the wholesaler won’t break up these pallets to sell in smaller quantities.
Tip 2: Order detailing supplies from a distributor
One site I came across you may want to check out is CWRDistribution.com, a wholesaler for brands like Meguiar’s. They actually do sell to individuals but require you have a business license to purchase at these wholesale prices. Some detailing brands they carry do permit the resale of these products on marketplaces like eBay or Amazon, but keep in mind some manufacturers may prohibit online resale. It’s always best to know what brands you can legally sell online before placing an order.
The truth of the matter in auto detailing is that unless you are a big-box retailer and have agreements with distributors, it can be challenging to gain access to higher-margin products like generators or pressure washers.
Distributors vs wholesalers
Distributors work the closest with manufacturers (often called authorized distributors) and usually only sell to individuals with an established legal business, as well as significant retail or e-commerce experience.
Many distributors sell to wholesalers, who then mark up these products before selling directly to retailers. If at all possible, try to find the authorized distributor of a detailing brand you are considering, instead of a wholesaler who purchased from a distributor. The closer to the manufacturer you can get in the supply chain, the better.
Finding auto detailing products at true wholesale prices
It’s also important to make the distinction between wholesale and retail. Many auto detailing websites on the internet that claim to sell at “wholesale prices” are still marking up the true wholesale price they received from the distributor.
Anytime that you find a wholesaler selling online via a Marketplace like eBay or Amazon, just be aware that they may be competing with you. Approaching a small manufacturer may be the best option for some products, so it’s always worth doing a bit of research to decide what products are out there.
I think it’s also important to decide if you would rather be a distributor of a product versus a reseller or retailer. Operating as an online retailer and purchasing from a distributor can be challenging in the category of detailing supplies because the margins are really tight.
If you have a sales background, applying to become a distributor may be the better financial move.
Ordering and stocking detailing products
For most people the most challenging route to purchasing products is actually having a place to process and store inventory. Setting up an inventory system was a critical part of my e-commerce experience, so I knew where products were located whenever a customer placed an order.
Check out this post I wrote on another one of my websites for a quick guide to creating a basic inventory system as a small business owner.
For the vast majority of detailing products margins are extremely low, since many sprays and other products retail for under $20. Unless you are purchasing in extremely large quantities it may be worth looking into distributors that sell vacuum systems, compressors, or other high-dollar detailing supplies with higher margins.
If you aren’t particularly set on selling auto detailing products exclusively, consider adding in automotive parts or aftermarket accessories to your product offering. This is what I would do personally, just to expand my available opportunities for sourcing inventory.
Private labeling your own auto detailing products
If you are into the art of auto detailing and not just selling products, another option that you may want to consider is private labeling. This is one of the most effective ways to actually sell products if you have a following on social media, YouTube, Instagram, or another channel.
Have you always wished there was a product in detailing that you could create? There are many ways to formulate products to your taste, and then have them manufactured either in the US or overseas depending on where you live.
The great thing about private labeling, is that you are not competing with other retailers who stock the same product. This is especially important and auto detailing since many retailers carry the same products. Your profit margin‘s are also a lot higher, but the upfront investment can be pretty high as well.
Auto detailing distributors to consider
While there are a ton of distributors you can find online through a simple Google search, be sure to have your paperwork ready before approaching a distributor or wholesaler. I like to look for a ‘Log In’ button, which is a good way to tell if a company actually provides a gated platform for retailers only (and doesn’t make their catalog available to the general public).
A few auto detailing distributors I’ve found you may want to check out are:
With any wholesaler you work with, having a resale license is key to purchasing these products in bulk. You can certainly do this sole proprietor, just look into how to receive a resale permit for your state.
Based on my experience, this is a free process, that just requires you register a DBA (doing business as) name through your state’s Register of Deeds. Before purchasing in large quantities, you must understand how to keep track of your business expenses, cost of goods sold, and when and how to pay any local, state, and federal taxes you are required by law to report.
Retail arbitrage in auto detailing
If you’ve never sold auto detailing products before, one of the best ways to get started is simply to browse clearance sections of online auto detailing supply stores in a practice called retail arbitrage.
If you can make money on these products by reselling them on eBay or Amazon, this may be the best way to get started without finding a wholesaler right away. While you obviously don’t have to have a business license to do this, you need to keep track of inventory for accounting and tax purposes.
One last thing I will say about selling products in the auto detailing industry is that while it can be done, the margins can be slim. E-commerce is really the only feasible outlet for making a living selling these types of products since many brick and mortar businesses really struggle in attracting enough foot traffic to retail such inexpensive products.
As a word of advice, don’t be afraid to think outside of the box and select a unique blend of products. While most people think sprays or waxes, commercial car wash vacuums or hose reels may be an area to focus on if you get approved to sell these types of items.
Have any other tips to share when it comes to selling products online? Let me know!