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Boat detailing for better profits

June 03, 2009
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Editor’s Note: This article is an exclusive Technical Tip written for Professional Detailing e-News. If you would like to submit an article or topic idea for the Management Tip of the Week, please e-mail Editor Kate Carr.

As an auto detailing professional, you may have noticed the volume of customers coming into your shop or calling you on the phone has dropped dramatically. While we, the professionals, see auto detailing as a necessity and not just a luxury, others probably don’t.

What can professional detailers do to make up for the loss of volume and actually increase out bottom-line? Easy answer – boat detailing!

Why boat detailing?

While the following may not pertain to all boat owners, I will list the typical traits I notice about the boat owners I deal with on a daily basis. The typical boat owner is:

  • Self-employed;
  • Busy;
  • Enjoys leisure time; and
  • Has money for extra spending dollars.

Most importantly, however, is the boat needs detailing services at a minimum of once a year, preferably 2-4 times a year to preserve the finish and uphold its value. A boat’s finish needs to be maintained, just as the zincs need replacing and the bottom needs to be painted each year. Unlike a car’s clear coat, the boat’s finish (gel coat) needs a removal of oxidation and some form of extra protection each year.

I know of cars that can go years and years without detailing and the finish will hold up. Never have I seen a boat look well preserved that went a year or more without detailing the finish. Boat owners know this and they most likely do not have the time to do it themselves. That’s where you, the boat detailing professional, can make your mark. And it takes just one boat at a marina to claim your spot without expensive advertising. Why? It’s a domino effect because no one wants to clean their own boat.

Where do I start?

I stumbled upon this lucrative niche after an auto detailing customer asked me to take a look at his boat. All it took to build up recognition and business was for other owners at the marina to see me detailing his boat. It’s just that easy. This is an underserved market. This is a very profitable market. This is a very labor intensive market!

In addition to being seen, you will also want to call or visit your local marine supplier, service yard, marina, etc. and ask to speak with the manager (it helps to find out the manager’s first name before you call so you don’t sound like a solicitor when you do make the call). Introduce yourself and your services, offer a price list, a stack of business cards, and your liability insurance certificate to show your professionalism. Explain the benefits of boat detailing. In other words, show them they need you, not just want you.

You should also mention your new service offering to current customers. Put posters up in your shop or offer a coupon deal as part of any service purchase. Even if your client doesn’t own a boat, his neighbor or co-worker might and he can always pass along the flyer or coupon. As in any profession, awareness is everything.

Selling the boat detailing service

As mentioned earlier, the boat detailing industry is highly lucrative. Determine your hourly rate, the costs of running this new service, and the profit margin you would like to make. Then adjust your prices to the actual demand, most likely higher, in your market place.

The template of pricing a boat for detailing services is by foot; the longer the boat, the wider the beam, and taller the super-structure (fly bridge, room level, helm area), the more the service will cost. To keep it simple, your pricing menu should include choices:

  • Hull only;
  • Topside only;
  • Hull & topside including cockpit, etc.

The sub-menu for these choices should include prices per foot for:

  • Wash/clean, compounding & wax;
  • Wash/clean & cleaner wax.

Depending on your location, your prices may vary. For example, if you live where I do, in Trenton, NJ, competition is minimal and I have the upper-hand when it comes to pricing my services. I start at $14 per foot for a wash/clean & cleaner wax. For a 60’ Sea Ray Sundancer, I can charge $22 per foot for a complete detail, which includes hull/topside/cockpit. For a boat costing $1,150,000, the boat owner most likely will not flinch when quoted a price of over $1,300. If I was in Miami, Florida, my prices would have to be adjusted to compete against the high number of boat detailing services there.

Okay, you have an interested party who wants their boat detailed by you. Great! Now how do you do it? Stay tuned for the follow-up to this article about “How-to” clean and detail a boat in the next issue.

Brian Angelucci is the owner of Precision Auto & Marine.