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11 detail lessons to live by

October 11, 2010
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There are many articles written on the subject of what not to do; so I want to change the perspective and let you know what many successful detailers are doing right. Detailers with the greatest odds for continued success will:

1. Have a detailed business plan — Successful detailers know exactly where they are going and how they are going to get there.

They have a clean-cut road map, and they have a plan of action to ensure they succeed. These detail business owners know their business will not survive on hard work, hope, enthusiasm, prayers and good intentions alone.

It also requires frequent and objective assessments, analysis of market conditions, meticulous planning and excellent execution to achieve success.

2. Accept responsibility — President Harry Truman kept a sign on his desk stating "The Buck Stops Here." If any member of his administration ever made a bad decision, Harry accepted the responsibility.

Successful detailers do the same. They take final responsibility for any actions or decisions by their employees. Then they take appropriate corrective action.

They know if they pass the blame to employees, this will undermine their own credibility as well as the degree of respect they receive from their employees.

3. Share information — Secure detail business owners share knowledge, strategies and plans with employees. This helps inspire the staff and gives them a sense of participation in the business.

In contrast, insecure owners keep their employees in the dark because they believe too much knowledge will hurt them. For many, these actions de-motivate employees and create concern in the eyes of the bank.

Both the employees and the bank want to see a sense of business continuity, because if the owner keeps all the key knowledge and then happens to meet an untimely death, the continuing existence of the business would be in grave jeopardy.

4. Be a walk-around owner — Successful detail business owners know their job is to provide the resources for, and meet the needs of their employees.

To accomplish this, they don't lock themselves in their office. Instead, they are constantly interacting with employees, asking questions and listening carefully to the responses. They then take action to ensure both their goals and those of their workers will be accomplished.

On occasions they can detail, but a successful detail business owner is not a detailer, he or she is a manager.

5. Hire the right people — Successful owners develop job descriptions for key positions and don't hire the first applicant that comes along.

They resist the temptation to hire friends and family. They know superstar results only come from superstar team players, not prima donnas. They take the time to check out potential candidates and have intensive interviews to see if the person will fit in.

They want to ensure their expectations and those of the potential candidates are not mutually destructive, and they want to make certain there are no skeletons in the closet. They patiently find the best fit and hire the best person.

6. Put everything in writing — In dealing with customers, vendors, banks, employees, and more, successful owners know that a handshake is no longer good enough.

They make sure every agreement, contract, arrangement, job review and order is spelled out in a written document agreed to by all parties.

7. Maintain the highest ethics — Outstanding owners recognize that trust, fairness, honesty and integrity are major factors of business growth. They treat all others in a manner they would want to be treated, even when difficult decisions must be made.

By exhibiting the highest ethics at all times, they command the full support of others, both inside and outside their business.

8. Remain fanatical about customer service — This means ensuring customers are satisfied both now and in the future. If any customer has a complaint, these owners resolve it to the customer's satisfaction rather than according to their own opinion of what ought to be done.

They know that only by keeping customers happy will they ensure significant growth over the long haul.

9. Keep a constant handle on their financial position — They recognize putting all fiscal responsibility in the hands of an accountant is a recipe for disaster.

Successful detail business owners are constantly monitoring key financial areas to spot negative trends and take action before they become serious problems.

10. Take calculated risks — They never make decisions based on a desire or gut feeling. They quantify the risks involved and then act in a manner that will minimize their exposure.

Because they know that nothing always goes according to plan, they always have a contingency plan in place.

11. Never forget the importance of marketing — Good owners realize sales is the only activity within their business that directly contributes to profits, and sales will only continue to expand with a strong, carefully crafted marketing program. That is why their business always seems to be in the news.

Does this list accurately describe you? If not, it may be time to make some changes in your outlook and actions.

R.L. "Bud" Abraham is president of Detail Plus Car Appearance Systems, Portland, OR, and a 30-year member of the car-care industry. He can be contacted at

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