Owning a pressure washing business can be a profitable venture. But if you are just getting started in the industry, how do you get your first truck-washing gig?
Our account managers at Hydro-Chem Systems interact with mobile wash businesses of all experience levels on a regular basis, and this is a topic that continues to come up.
We compiled a list of fleet washing tips, industry tricks, and common practices you should consider before you get your first truck washing job. Please read this carefully, as this information could be your launching point into a very lucrative industry.
1. Do your research
Before you set up shop, run your first ad to get your name out there, or book your first gig, make sure you research what other companies did first, and what they're currently doing. This way you can give yourself the best chance of avoiding the same mistakes they made and capitalize on the lessons they learned.
These days there are dozens of resources you can turn to; Facebook, YouTube, blogs, pressure washing groups, industry events — or even other pressure washing companies.
Here are a few blogs from our own website that you should check out:
But don’t stop there. Talk to your local pressure washer sales and service dealer. They will likely have equipment, accessories, chemicals, and advice to get you started.
In some instances, other fleet washing companies may offer networking and hands-on training. While you could seek out companies in your direct area, some may not be receptive to this as you may be in competition with each other. Network with fleet washers 1-2 hours outside of your area to avoid potential conflict of interest.
Finally, research what other mobile washers are charging for their services, what methods they are using, and what pressure washing equipment they are leasing.
2. Find out what your customers need
Not all trucks are the same! Some types of vehicles may have unique needs in order to get them clean or your client might have a specific ideas for the level of clean they expect. The last thing you want is to go to provide a basic clean only to find out the truck is covered in concrete or has a fresh hand-polished surface.
Learn more about what you will be washing and what is expected from the customer whether it’s day cabs, sleepers, dump trucks, box trucks, dry vans, reefers, tankers, or gravel trains.
The best way to avoid this problem is by asking questions. Here are a few questions you should ask your customer:
- What kind of results are they looking for (quick wash, touchless wash, undercarriage cleaning, detailing, etc)?
- How often do they want their fleet cleaned?
- What is their truck made of? Look at the trucks to learn if you have to clean polished aluminum surfaces.
It’s also good to let them know if it is your first wash to better set their expectations. Jobs with high levels of expectations or special circumstances may not be right for your first time.
3. Conduct a site survey
If you’re setting up at a new location it is important you survey the site to make sure it can support your operation.
Find out if you will have access to water while you are on the job site. Some locations may have an accessible spigot for using water and connecting to your machine or filling your water tank. Others may not and you will have to provide water or leave to refill your tank.
If you are using the customer’s water, check the water quality by determining if it is city water or well water. The best way to check would be by testing a small sample using hardness strips, a TDS meter, or taking it to a pool store. Not all water is created equal, hard water with large amounts of dissolved solids can leave spots or negatively affect your results.
Determine where the trucks will be parked when you clean them. Will they be parked in a row, will they have to be moved, and which pieces need to be cleaned? Do you need special insurance to move them? Is there space between them to wash them properly?
Bonus Tip: Also, make sure you locate any storm drains or water runoff streams. While cleaning, you MUST NOT allow wash water, chemicals, or debris to enter a water stream. You should learn more about the regulations in your area regarding water runoff and check with your local EPA requirements.
4. Buy the right equipment
As mentioned above, basic pieces of information such as what you are cleaning, what is expected, and details such as water supply, runoff, and vehicle positioning are important.
The bare minimum for getting started would be a pressure washer, water, detergent(s), and some simple accessories. These could include buckets for mixing chemical detergents, hand mitts, brushes, extension poles, pump sprayers, and chemical application devices.
If you have never washed a truck or piece of equipment, we suggest using the bare essentials to get started. This allows you to perform fairly basic washing jobs to determine if you can complete the job and if you desire to perform the services again.
There are several methods of washing and equipment that can help you become more efficient and produce better results. However, for first-time washers, the investment costs and experience to properly operate and understand these may not be feasible.
Read more about our list of "When fleet washing goes wrong."
5. How to get the job done right
The simplest method for washing a truck or piece of equipment is with a pressure washer, soap, and brush. Touchless wash methods can be used but may not be as practical or produce the desired results for your first wash.
If the piece you are washing is heavily soiled with road film, mud, or other debris, you may want to pre-rinse it with your pressure washer. But make sure not to get your nozzle too close to the surface to avoid damage to paint, glass, or decals.
Apply your soap to begin cleaning – utilizing pump sprayers, accessories for your pressure washer, or even dipping a brush into a bucket, get your soap onto the surface. Work in smaller sections to avoid drying. When brushing, be sure to use friction on all surfaces and avoid missing spots. When rinsing, rinse from the top-to-the-bottom with overlapping passes and try not to overspray onto clean surfaces.
Once cleaned, touch up any spots you have missed. The most troublesome areas will be bug residue, grills, mirrors, windshields, rims, and areas where water drains or “weeps” from seams. If you are washing with hard water, you may want to hand-dry windows and glass surfaces to avoid water spots.
6. How much should you charge?
Pricing can depend on many factors including how long the wash will take, consumable costs (fuel, detergents, accessories), special services, and competitor pricing.
“Retail” truck wash businesses operating a stationary facility will often post pricing online. Other mobile pressure wash companies may advertise pricing, but this is less common.
Pricing may also change based on the number of pieces to clean, frequency of washing, and expectation level.
When pricing your first truck washing job, the best advice may be to offer a free demo or test wash to determine answers to the questions above. You should know how much it costs YOU to wash the truck, including the time, consumables, and labor costs. Sometimes, you can let the customer know in advance that pricing may change based on your experience with the wash, though they may not continue to use your services.
Congrats on completing your first wash and (hopefully) knocking it out of the park! If you desire to continue fleet washing and growing your business, consider the following:
- Always be improving: Whether you have cleaned a single truck or piece of equipment or multiples, you will likely continue to improve your process and efficiency. Much like any new sport, hobby, or skill, more practice and repeating the process typically leads to more success.
- Stick to a Schedule: Determine with the customer how often they would like you to wash for them and what times work best. Also, analyze your costs and pricing to ensure your business is profitable and the customer is paying a fair price.
- Make connections: Connect with other potential customers in your personal and professional, network to determine if they have a need for your services. Check with other businesses in the vicinity of your customers to determine if they have the need for your services. Ask for referrals!
- Reinvest in your business: Consider upgrading your equipment, detergents, and wash methods to become more efficient — with better results. Also, look for ways to control costs by purchasing accessories, equipment, or detergents in bulk.
But if there is one piece of advice you should remember, it’s this: continue to learn, research, and network with others in the industry. Feel free to reach out to one of our advisors at Hydro-Chem Systems and we’d be happy to point you in the right direction for your fleet washing questions.
We might be experts in the fleet washing industry, but we aren't experts in your specific situation. When starting any new business, there’s a few more topics that require in-depth research due to varying state regulations and individual business needs. Some of these include the following:
- Licensing and Regulations: Each state and municipality may have different licensing requirements required for new businesses, and can vary greatly in environmental regulations related to water runoff, chemical usage, and waste disposal.
- Insurance: The type and amount of insurance necessary can vary, and you should consult with insurance professionals to determine the right coverage for your business.
- Safety Measures: Proper safety practices, including the use of personal protective equipment and chemical handling, should be researched and implemented to protect both employees and the environment. Determining what PPE is appropriate for use will depend on your specific chemicals, equipment, and on-site locations.
- Record-Keeping and Accounting: Managing finances and keeping accurate records is essential, but the specifics will depend on your business structure and accounting needs.
- Employee Management: If you plan to hire employees, you'll need to establish proper hiring and training procedures, which may vary based on your business's size and scope.
- Marketing and Branding: You want to create a professional brand, which can include designing a website, leveraging social media, and running targeted advertising campaigns to attract customers. Oftentimes, a third-party marketing partner can help you find the best solution for your area and your business.