Spend an hour talking to Gina Budhai, managing partner of Car Pool Detail, and it’s not hard to see why her customers are willing to drive over hundreds of miles and across state lines to visit her detail shop in Richmond, VA. The success of Car Pool Detail is built on the thousands of stories Budhai has collected while operating her detail shop.
Each story represents the relationship between herself and her clients. Over the years she has discovered more than just coins and French fries stuck between the seats. Thanks to the time she devotes to learning about her customers, she has found long-lost neighbors of her own, helped two customers realize they were in fact brothers, reunited a father and son, and much more.
Making the connection
Much of Budhai’s success is owed to her father, Garret, who shares the same warmth and generosity of spirit. If Gina has a story for you, her father has one to match. Her integrity and sincerity all stem from this part of her family tree, and it was in fact Garret who drew her to the detail industry after he spent years supporting the family in that way.
While Budhai’s shop is efficient and it shows that she is a dedicated taskmaster, she also makes sure to take time to speak with her customers and develop a relationship with each and every one. Like her father before her, she enjoys educating her clientele about the detail process and will spend a great deal of time explaining a particular service, even if it is only to show the customer that it is not necessary for their vehicle.
Budhai feels that this is indeed the primary aspect of her job; to give knowledge to her customers and make them better, more knowledgeable consumers, whether they choose to have their vehicle detailed at her shop or elsewhere.
But these conversations have another purpose. As she explains the detail process, Budhai also takes time to learn about her customer: Who is he? Where is he from? How did he come to be at this point in his life? Aside from building a business relationship, it helps to understand the type of customer she is dealing with, Budhai explained, and will later serve to help her sell him the detail services he needs to be happy.
Although Budhai, PC&D’s 2006 Detailer of the Year, has a thousand stories that illustrate her philosophy of education and connection to the customer, there is one that perhaps best shows her father’s influence.
One day, a sharp dressed young man came to Budhai’s shop with a luxury vehicle. He asked her for a few services and was very exact in his manner and tone. Budhai wondered if he really knew what he was purchasing, and she asked him as much.
“He then went on to tell me — in such detail and in very specific terms — about the services he wanted. I couldn’t believe it,” Budhai recalled. “I thought it was a little odd, and asked him what he did for a living.”
The man was a doctor, and although he seemed polished and intelligent, Budhai thought he was really too much at leisure to know this much about detailing services. She asked a few more questions, wondering if maybe he supported himself through school or college as a fly-by-night operator.
No, he was in fact from northern Virginia and had only recently graduated. He had no connection to the detail industry.
But Budhai thought she found her clue — she asked him about his upbringing in northern Virginia, where Budhai herself hails from. Still, the conversation wasn’t leading anywhere, and so Budhai asked him point blank how he came to know so much about detail services.
He described a visit to a shop when he was still in college, and before he owned a luxury car, when a detailer once explained the science behind detailing and told him how to shop for services. Budhai nearly started to roll her eyes right then — she should have known. The detailer was, of course, her father.
Taking the time
Any other detailer might think the time spent on these conversations and relationships was wasted. After all, in the detail business every minute, every hour, every day counts. If you’re not polishing, waxing, wiping, or vacuuming, you probably aren’t making money.
But Budhai said her father taught her the greater value of networking with her customers, some of whom come from as far away as Florida or Maryland to get to her shop. And you can see that he is right by taking a glance around the walls of her lobby, which are lined with awards and certificates of appreciation.
“It’s really important to me that I know who I am working for and that I give them the services they need,” Budhai explained. “I really can’t do that unless I know who they are.”
Budhai also sees the value in building relationships that might be favorable to her business. She has met many businessmen and women who have in turn had something to offer her, whether it is simply advice on marketing opportunities or something more concrete, like a cross-promotional opportunity.
“You really never know who might walk in your door,” Budhai said. “I have customers from all walks of life and they are each very important to my success.”
A myriad of customers
Budhai isn’t kidding when she says her customers come from all walks of life. On a sunny Thursday, her shop was filled with a healthy mix of luxury cars and minivans, some needing only a wash and wax, while others were in the process of extensive detailing for fire and smoke damage.
For her part, she gets enjoyment out of all that her business can offer. The “menu” for Car Pool Detail is really a comprehensive checklist of possible services, none of them packaged because like her clients, Budhai feels her offerings are too important and singular to be grouped together.
She has made a name for herself for being thorough and precise. Car Pool Detail remains amongst the highest price range in her market and she has all intentions of staying there.
“I really don’t see the point in competing on price,” Budhai said. “If you want to go somewhere else and pay less for a service, go ahead. I always tell a potential customer that, and I’ll even let him know where he can go to get that price.”
“But I know that if they really want that service done — if they really need that particular service — they’ll be back. The price I am asking is for the price of doing the job. I really don’t think you can get any of these services for less and expect a quality job.”
After all, detailing is about results. Although a carwash might be able to get away with offering convenience or an exceptional price, detailers must perform at a certain level in order to make a profit. That is why Budhai, a founding member of the National Association of Professional Detailing and Reconditioning, spends so much time and money to educate herself and her employees, as well as to work to improve the detail industry.
“I really want to see [the detail industry] get to that point where it is very professional and respected and the detailer is able to charge the right price for the right service,” Budhai said. “I think that is where we are headed and where we need to go.”