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Quality control is in the hands of the shop owner

October 11, 2010
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It’s time that the detail industry begins to realize what other industries have already discovered: you have to turn out the kind of work your customers want and have come to expect from every service establishment.

If you conduct market research on your potential customer base you will find they are value conscious when they purchase vehicles, and even more so when it comes time to sell or trade in. Their most important concerns are:

  • Quality of shine;
  • The durability of the protection (guarantee); and
  • Length of time to get the vehicle done.

You will also find that not all auto manufacturers are very concerned with designing and building cars with incredible finishes (clear-coats and pearl coats) or interiors with top quality fabrics, leather or vinyl.

Changing the way employees think
Armed with this research and these statistics, you should be ready to announce to your staff and technicians that you are now a customer-driven, quality-production detail shop.

This is, however, easier said than done.

There is a period of implementation that starts with clear communication of what is expected of your crew, experimentation of procedures and, most importantly, training sessions, training sessions, and more training sessions.

The most difficult thing to change is the way your employees think about their role in the overall picture. It will be difficult to overcome the “that’s just the way it is” attitude.

Good employees want to be part of a quality-conscious organization and will discover that quality does equal production, profits and customer satisfaction.

Evaluate the whole scenario
Shop owners and managers who run evaluation reports on productivity — comparing one worker with another — will most likely view technicians that produce the most in the least number of hours as being the most valuable to the shop. But, maybe that’s not the case.

Let’s say two detail technicians in the same shop are called Danny Detailer (DD) and Pauly Polish (PP).

DD is super speedy and PP is average in speed. Each is given identical average jobs to do. The promised return time is 1:00 pm.

While DD has his work done in 3.0 hours and it is ready for quality control (QC) inspection, PP spends 4.5 hours on the job before complete. For evaluation purposes, DD is producing at a greater production rate than PP.

But, let’s analyze this situation.

DD got his detail done early, while PP took 1.5 hours longer. However, after the QC inspection, a number of things were found to be unacceptable with DD’s job and the car was taken back into the bay for a redo. PP’s job was perfect.

The delivery time was met on PP’s detail, but it was 1.5 hours late on DD’s detail. PP’s job went through the system smoothly while DD’s job created a problem in the shop. Not to mention, the owner of PP’s car appreciated getting it back at the time promised.

A detail shop owner or manager who doesn’t realize that production costs per hour in the detail area run far more than those in the wash bay, will also not understand that DD’s higher production rate was actually counter-productive to the shop’s higher profit potential.

Any detail shop can be a quality-production shop if it chooses to be.

It starts with management being totally convinced that quality and production are inseparable and realizing what the customer really wants and expects, and knowing the cost of reworks and waste.

Define quality
To find the quality standard, people generally look to the industry but, unfortunately, our industry doesn’t have a specific quality standard. The question is — why not?

Suppose you went shopping for a quality television. By your definition of quality, the criteria might be that the TV must:

  • Turn on immediately after hitting the power button;
  • Have brilliant, sharp colors;
  • Have clear reception and clear image reproduction; and
  • Last at least 15 years.

In order to satisfy your criteria of a quality television, the manufacturer had to develop numerous requirements to meet that standard.

Let’s suppose you found that quality in a television, purchased it, and a short time later it was damaged by an electrical storm.

The owner’s manual directs you to certain repair shops with technicians who are trained and qualified to repair that type of television.

Your expectation of a quality repair is to have the television repaired to the same condition as before the electrical storm. The repair shop would guarantee your expectations if they follow repair requirements established by their industry and the manufacturer.

The other repair shops listed in the owner’s manual would also be able to offer the guarantee because they too would be following the same consistent repair requirements. Basically, they are all on the same level playing field.

As a customer, you don’t know about electronics or what is necessary to repair the television, and you don’t really care. But you do know what you expect to get back as a finished product.

Industry standards
In the detail industry, there are few manufacturer requirements and specifications to look to that provide extensive knowledge, training and expertise.

The specifications there are lack explicit detail requirements in order to return the vehicle to a like-new condition. You will discover if you look, that the few requirements (not set by our industry) are inconsistent.

One other requirement, inconsistently set by our industry, is to return the vehicle to as close to a like-new condition and appearance, with no consideration for the condition of the car when it came in.

The detail industry needs consistent requirements to achieve an industry standard.

The customer’s expectations of quality, and the detail condition definition, are one and the same.

Developing your own standards
You could develop hundreds of detail requirements pertaining to the standard of quality your customers expect.

While developing the requirements, think about productivity and the tasks and functions each technician would have to accomplish to reach the level of quality and efficiency you want in your shop.

After establishing requirements, you might discover that the number of re-dos is reduced substantially, or that you were able to increase the level of each technician’s efficiency and quality performance.

This would be due to the fact that the requirements served as a very clear method of communicating to your technicians and staff what was expected of them — and to your customers, what they could expect of your detail shop.

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