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Discovering underserved markets

How one mobile detailer became an RV specialist after finding a void in the car care industry.

April 25, 2013
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To modern consumers, the idea sounds crazy. But, often carwash and detail shop customers have no idea what services they actually need. This is especially true because some are unfamiliar with the up-to-date services that are now are available. While a dirt-covered vehicle and a wrecked interior are pretty easy to diagnose, the desperate need for an undercarriage wash or a full paint polish can be more difficult to discover.

Yet, who can blame the customers? In this industry, entrepreneurs and suppliers work feverishly to create new products and offerings. Businesses update services on a daily basis to better serve their customers and their bottom lines. Constant change — hopefully all improvement — can put even the most dedicated customers a step behind.

For the newest car care services available, there may be a market learning curve. Here, using education and advertising, business owners must help potential customers by publicizing and popularizing their unique offerings in their market. For the mobile service Monster Detail based in Hemet, CA, advertising and marketing proved important when it came to educating their customer base about their unique RV cleaning, transport and setup service.

Complete setup

Monster Detail Owner Brad Barnett said his company is able to offer traditional detailing on cars, trucks, boats and motorcycles. But, the business’ specialty is cleaning and polishing RVs and larger vehicles. Barnett and his employees have received special training for Fiberglas care and repair, and they are frequently called upon to do a lot of polishing, including gel coat and decal removal services. For semi-trucks, services may also include aluminum polishing on tanks, stacks, wheels and head racks.

“I like taking on the bigger stuff. I like to be able to spend a full day at one job and not have to bounce around to multiple locations,” Barnett said. “Being we are a mobile unit, we do service them on sites.”

Specializing in RV cleaning and delivery means Monster requires a different type of mobile detail setup. Barnett noted that the company uses a large GMC Kodiak truck and pulls a long 20-foot enclosed trailer. The large truck is a necessity so that the RVs can be delivered to parks by Monster after they are cleaned.

Due to a regular surge of yearly snowbirds, Monster has found success as a one-stop RV setup service. For many customers, Monster will remove RVs from storage then clean, polish, deliver and completely set up the vehicles, Barnett stated. When a customer arrives at the RV park, his or her home-away-from-home is clean, delivered and plugged in with awnings out.

Then, when the customer is ready to return home, Monster can pick up the RV and return it to storage as well. After living in the RV for three or four months, they can contact Monster Detail and make another appointment. Barnett explained, “We’ll pick it up and take it right back to storage for them, and they never have to worry about moving it or driving a truck down. It makes it convenient for them.”

Loving the location

Barnett said that the Hemet, CA, area is partially a retirement area. There are about six major RV parks near the city that have well over 900 spaces in them. In addition, Hemet is close to Palm Springs, and there are a lot of snowbirds that come down from Canada, Oregon and Washington to visit the area’s resorts.

This concentration of yearly visitors is the focus of Monster Detailing’s advertising and marketing efforts. “We advertise a lot,” Barnett said. “We focus our advertising in the parks with the site maps. We’ll do any of the events that the any of parks put on [as well].” Through these advertisements, Monster’s presence in the RV parks and word of mouth referrals, the company has managed to pick up a number of repeat customers.

Other than the park advertising, the company also depends on its wrapped truck and trailer to be a rolling billboard. Over the years of operation, Barnett revealed that the truck and trailer have been the business’ best advertisement. Because of this, the company works to keep the truck and trailer clean and presentable. “People see it, and they recognize it, and they write the number down. It stands out.”

Monster’s location also provides a good bit of commercial and fleet work for the business. In addition to RVs and retail work, Barnett said his operation works with:

  • Casinos, including Soboba Casino;
  • Valet auto salvage;
  • Tow truck companies;
  • Race teams;
  • NAPA;
  • Carquest; and
  • Lowe’s.

Investment over savings

In the RV market here, there are some competing operations in the area. Barnett revealed that there are actually three other companies that offer similar packages, but his customers depend on Monster due to the company’s dedication to service. Every year, returning customers expect Monster to produce the same exact result. In this service-heavy area of the detailing industry, the customers are generally not willing to pay a marginally cheaper rate only to have a competitor mess up the service.

Barnett said there are many examples of his customers using other companies based on a lower rate or price. But, in the end, they were left with swirl marks, burned paint or peeling the decals. Since this market is made up of people who have a lot of money invested in their RVs, most prefer reputable operations that will service their expensive vehicles correctly the first time.

Trailer and equipment

Specializing in larger vehicles means Monster Detail sometimes needs special equipment to complete detailing jobs correctly. First, the long enclosed trailer is a must for the operation. Here, a traditional van would not offer enough room for storage and equipment. Barnett explained that the trailer is ideal he likes to keep chemicals and equipment out of the weather, organized and locked away.

California’s water restrictions are another reason the operation has to use a large trailer. To this end, the trailer includes two large water tanks, Barnett said. Most days, the company carries 300 gallons of water in one tank for washing and cleaning. While working, Monster catches and pumps all of its dirty water back into the second 350-gallon holding tank.

For exterior polishing, Barnett said he uses a high-speed orbital with a foam pad. This machine operates at high speeds, which means it can cut polish. Even so, it will not leave any swirl marks on vehicle finishes or RV exteriors.

For interior cleaning, Monster depends on both a hot water extractor and steam cleaning equipment. When working with RV interiors or cleaning car headliners, the steam cleaner is the best choice for materials that cannot get wet. “A lot of companies will just … spray them, spot clean them and scrub them with a brush and vacuum,” Barnett stated. “That doesn’t get them clean. They have to be steam cleaned.”

The best products

Barnett started out working for a detail company in Coeur d’Alene, ID, while still in high school. He had always loved keeping his personal items clean, so he enjoyed working at the small car care business. Though he started out working on cars and more traditional vehicles, he soon began working on RVs and boats. Barnett then told the owner that he wanted to be in charge of RV cleaning for the business. After a year and a half working for the shop, he started his own operation. He moved Monster to California when he turned 21.

When it came to picking products for use in his own business, Barnett recalled the products he had used at the other operation, and he contacted a supply company. Also, he spoke with other professionals about the products that perform well on Fiberglas.

Still, Barnett made the decision to go out and learn how to do the detailing processes correctly by going through more training and learning about the tools he needed to use. Additionally, this training helped him find products that worked. “My whole key behind this business was I wanted to use the best stuff possible and do it the right way the first time.”

This learning process included a lot of trial and error. “[I was] trying stuff out for myself, basically,” Barnett stated. “A lot of people say things work. But the biggest thing is to actually use it, to put it in the sun, to put it on the Fiberglas and watch and see what it does. Once you have the right product that works, it makes the job so much easier.”

In fact, new products are often tested on Barnett’s own RV. Having his own RV allows Barnett to see how a product is to work with, how long it lasts and how it beads the water. Especially being in California, the environment is hard on polishes because higher temperatures and direct sunlight “bake” the product. Generally, a polish coat will only last through the summer or maybe seven months. Barnett frequently advises his customers “polish it now or paint it later.”

Expert advice, dependability and finding the perfect products — remembering crucial steps like these has allowed Monster Detail to acquire a niche between a lot of competing companies in the area. Years of service in the same location has helped Barnett create his successful operation. “We have a huge reputation in our area, we do a ton of RVs, and a lot of people know about us,” Barnett concluded.