Note: This article is for business owners on how to set their prices, not customers looking to compare prices between detailers.
You’re armed with the right products and have the skills to detail perfectly every time, and now you want to launch a side business or research going full-time into detailing as your own boss. But how do you set your business prices? How do you know what to charge customers? How does quoting or making a quote work? This simplified guide will help.
Standard Profit Pricing
On the surface, it’s straightforward math:
Price = Profit + Cost
If you want to make $5 and your cost is $3, then you need to charge $8. Those numbers work for a lemonade stand, but detailing has labor involved and that’s often charged hourly.
Price = (Hours x Hourly Profit) + Cost
If you want to make $5 per hour and the job takes up 2 hours and $3 in supplies, you need to charge (5×2)+3 = $13. Again, simple numbers to the scale of a lemonade stand but you get the idea.
You can go down to pennies on this or you can work out a flat “rate” for your costs. Measuring out ounces of product gets tedious very quickly so it’s not recommended. Leave that for lemonade stands.
Work out a monthly cost for everything (website, shop lease, etc), and look at how many vehicles you can do per month. If your costs total up $1200 per month and you can do 20 vehicles per month, you need to cover an additional $60 per job to break even. You can balance that out with your profit number if needed, which is common when first starting out.
Watch your costs over time and use a three month average or week-over-week average when calculating long-term costs. The more data you have, the more accurate your math will be.
We’re not you. We don’t know (and do not want to know) your personal financial situation. Do you have low living expenses? Are you in an expensive city? Trying to burn down a bunch of loan payments? The profit you want to make per hour or job will vary WILDLY between regions, cities, and individuals.
Get a spreadsheet or paper and run the numbers. Math out what a typical service would wind up costing at different profit values. Pick the one that works best, then adjust as you go.
Price Adjustments and Discounts
Go up, not down. Prices going down tend to attract more difficult vehicles, so avoid heavy discounts to “get your name out there” early on. It’s a good idea on paper, but bad in practice because it’s not sustainable long term. It’s possible that your clientele will change over time as your prices go up. Customers come and go, and that’s okay.
Minor seasonal discounts around holidays and package bundles (such as interior + exterior) are solid ways to get attention without losing the bank.
Quoting a Detailing Job
There are several methods to figuring out quotes if you want to do more research into running a business, but this method is simple to get you started.
Quoted Price = Size Base Price + Up-Charges + Service Charges
Size Base Price. Not all vehicles are the same, and you generally don’t want to charge the same price for a truck that you would for a small car. It’s common to have baseline prices for vehicles separated by size based on how many hours it takes to do them. If an average sedan takes you about 2 hours, use your math from the previous section to make a base price assuming it takes 2 hours.
Up-Charges. You can also include additional charges for conditions that take up more time, such as pet hair or biohazards like bodily fluids. Stain removal and scratch removal are common up-charges for interior and exterior.
Service Charges. If you have extra services such as applying specialty coatings, make a charge for those too.
These should be spelled out on your website or pricing guide, and your written quote for the customer needs to have everything listed for transparency so they can sign-off on the work being done. This ensures there are no miscommunications about payment.
Having prices listed as “starting at X” are better than rigid prices. It leaves you room for setting price based on your estimation for how many hours it will take and any up-charge requirements such as interior disasters. Over time you’ll run into a lot of different situations that affect the amount of time and product it takes to get things done, so keep good notes and look at your data for what sticks out.