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Detailing

Detailing around the world

April 24, 2012
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They say that if you look in the mirror you obviously see yourself as others see you. Possibly you have never even considered that there was a detailing industry outside the U.S., save in Canada, but there is, and it is much like the U.S. industry in many ways. If you want to know what equipment they use, what chemicals they use, what supplies they use and what procedures they implement, all you have to do is look at what is being used and done in the U.S., for the most part.

Are the operations fixed or mobile? Are they in conjunction with a carwash? Sold at the dealership?

The answer is: Yes!

Even the "waterless wash" segment of the industry is growing in popularity everywhere in the world. To best understand the international detailing industry, let's take a look at it by area of the world, if I may. While I have traveled to almost every continent in the world (not every country) and experienced the detail and carwash industries there, my comments are certainly not the final word on the subject.

Canada

The Canadian market is really a microcosm of the U.S. market in every way. There are free-standing fixed operations; mobile operations; operations in carwashes; operations in dealerships, some that sell to the public; operations in quick lubes; and operations that sell to the public in body shops.

As a "semi-socialist" country, the government regulations in Canada can at times be more difficult than the U.S., but like the U.S., regulation enforcement varies from province (state) to province.

All equipment, chemicals, supplies and procedures used in the U.S. are also available in Canada, only much more expensive.

Mexico

While Mexico is much like the United States in that there are free standing operations and a few mobile operations, a great many of the "Auto Estetica" (which is Spanish for "auto detailing") operations are in conjunction with hand or automatic carwashes.

A huge difference in Mexico is that many of the hand washes are quite primitive. More and more of the hand washes are, however, installing pressure wash systems to speed up the process.

The Mexican auto estetica business owners have access to the same equipment, chemicals and supplies that U.S. operators have, plus Mexico has manufacturers of such products too, but the U.S. products are still a favorite among the operators.

Central America

In my travels throughout the countries of Central America, I have, again, found the market very similar to Mexico. Depending on the country, you find some very modern automatic carwash operations with detail centres and on the other hand some very primitive operations. While in Honduras I observed a wash operation on the bank of a river. The customer's would perilously drive their cars down to the river bank, and there the operators would dip their bucket into the river and pre-rinse the car with a few buckets of water. Then they would use the same bucket with a little soap (very little, operators everywhere try to save money), and they would wash the car then final rinse with fresh water.

The most advanced operations I found in Central America were in Costa Rica and Panama where they had very modern automatic carwashes with auto detailing centres. In the early 1980s I personally sold four carwash systems in Honduras and helped develop them into carwash/detail centres that, at that time, did very well financially.

Countries like Guatemala, Belize, Nicaragua and El Salvador have a few automatic carwashes, but for the most part the industry in those countries is still a bit more primitive compared to others.

The Caribbean

The major island in the Caribbean, which is again a microcosm of the U.S. market, is Puerto Rico, where you have an as advanced carwash/detail industry as you do in the U.S. There is not much you can say about this market other than to say it is exactly like the U.S. market. Especially since the country is controlled by the U.S. government and has the same EPA and labor laws that govern businesses in the U.S. All of their equipment, chemicals and supplies are imported from the U.S. and from Europe.

Depending on the island, its size and the people and car populations, you can find a very advanced to a very primitive carwash/detail industry. For example, Trinidad has a car registration that almost equals their car population, yet is somewhat primitive in the number of modern carwashes. Yet they do have a "Mexican-like" detail industry.

Aruba and Curacao in the Netherland Antilles off the coast of Venezuela are both very modern and the most advanced islands in the Antilles. While small, they do have automatic carwashes and relatively advanced detailing businesses.

The Cayman Islands, namely the major island Grand Cayman, has two modern automatic carwash operations with auto detailing centers. While a relatively small island, Grand Cayman is very modern and advanced because it is still a British Colony and the banking capital of the world, I am sure, with over 450 banks on the island.

Not having the opportunity to travel to many of the other islands, and not doing much business with these islands, I cannot comment with any firsthand experience as to what the state of the detail industry might be other than to say that if there are cars there, there must be carwashes and detail operations. Plus, there's a great opportunity for a detailer with business acumen to make a good living in paradise. Were I about 40 years younger, knowing what I know now, I would not hesitate to pick an island and start a carwash/detail business.

South America

Each country in South America, while in most cases larger than U.S. states, are similar in terms of this discussion of the carwash/detail industry. How advanced the industry is depends on how advanced the country is economically and socially. The big players in South America are: Venezuela; Colombia; Brazil; Argentina; and Chile.

That is not to say that the carwash/detail industry is non-existent nor advanced, but the other countries are too small to use as an example of what the industry might be as a whole. I would suspect that many of these smaller countries are much like Central America with Ecuador and Peru being the countries with the most activity in the carwash/detail business.

Brazil, as you may know, is not Spanish but Portuguese. Of all the big players it is the most advanced country economically. Because of their need to import oil and the huge drain on currency, for many years, Brazil did not allow importing other than for very, very essential items. As a result the country developed its own industries. They have the largest population in South America and several large urban cities. There are numerous automatic carwash locations throughout Brazil, most of which are from Ceccato because they have their own manufacturing plant in Brazil. The detailing business is, again, much like Mexico and the U.S. in that there are some modern facilities and many more back-alley operations.

I remember my first visit to Sao Paulo, Brazil, in 1979. After visiting several carwashes/detail operations, I thought to myself, "Gosh, if I came to Brazil and set up a carwash and detail shop I would become a millionaire in no time." How right I was, and how much I could regret that non-decision. But we play the cards we are dealt.

Colombia and Venezuela are much like Brazil, but they do allow importation of equipment, chemicals and products. They have large populations, several large urban cities and a large car population. There are many automatic carwash/detail operations in every city as well as a number of primitive locations.

Of all the countries in South America, Argentina and Chile are the most advanced and probably the most similar to the U.S. and European markets in terms of automatic carwashing and auto detailing.

Anyone who travels to these countries and the major cities, Buenos Aires, Argentina and Santiago, Chile, are struck by how European and/or modern they are, and that is a fact, both cities are like visiting a European city.

The automatic carwash industry was introduced to Argentina and Chile when an alert businessman by the name of Jose Kerzberg in the mid-60s signed a manufacturing license agreement with Auto Christ of Germany to manufacture their equipment. His agreement covered both Argentina and Chile, and he aggressively sold in these markets until 1979 when he signed a similar agreement with Hanna Carwash of the U.S.

These carwash locations were typical of a modern automatic carwash in the U.S., plus they all offered some type of polishing, waxing and interior cleaning, or what we refer to as auto detailing.

With the economic fluctuations in these countries since that time, imports have either been very difficult or somewhat difficult, which means that while there is a presence of U.S. and European suppliers of carwash and detailing equipment and products, it is sometimes difficult to get consistent importation of the products.

However, the industry still moves forward and again is much like what you would find in the U.S.

Keep in mind, in all of South America the middle class is much smaller than the U.S., and the opportunity for a person to start their own business as one can in the U.S. with a few hundred dollars is literally non-existent. Other than having cars park by the river and using buckets of water to wash the car.

Join me next month in Part 2 of this series in which I show you how things are done in Australia, New Zealand, Asia, western and eastern Europe, and the Middle East.

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