Learning, inventing and teaching
How Richard Lin’s cross-country drive planted the seeds for business success, product innovation and detailing videos.
After a tour of ShowCarDetailing.com’s work space, an onlooker might say it is less of a shop and more of a laboratory. First, the 3,000-square-foot work area includes two distillers that boil all day to create 0 ppm distilled water. The work area also has two vehicle lifts over floors covered in Racedeck flooring. The flooring is lit up with custom 6,000-lumen LED lighting that shows paint defects better than the sun. In addition, the business is home to over 20 different polishers, including four Rupes polishers imported from Italy.
“We are known for our ability to correct and restore paint that others would turn away as being impossible to correct,” Co-owner Richard Lin said. “We are also known for having lots of cool toys.” Lin has owned and operated the detail business with his wife, GillianMay Lin, since 2005. After spending one year as a mobile service, Lin made the decision to open the ShowCarDetailing.com location in Anaheim, CA in 2006.
According to Lin, the secret to his business’ success has been catering to an audience that loves their cars regardless of wealth. While many detailers in the Anaheim area choose to focus only on high end customers, Lin thinks of himself as more of a problem solver. To effectively solve problems, proper analysis of the detailing issues and sensitivity to the clients’ needs have both proven crucial.
“We spend a great deal of time educating our customers and providing them a level of service that few can match,” Lin explained. “When a new client comes to us, they immediately know we are different from other detailers by the questions we ask. Our unique evaluation process gives them a chance to feel comfortable with our expertise.”
First, employees are prepared to answer any question a potential client may present. Next, Lin will address concerns by displaying the past results that ShowCarDetailing.com achieved using the paint evaluation process. Finally, Lin provides a written estimate. Nine out of 10 times, potential customers will decide to schedule an appointment “right then and there.”
One recent example Lin provided was a customer with a Lamborghini Gallerdo. The client was from Boston, and he was traveling through the area. He wanted to find someone that knew how to wash his expensive sports car using the best methods available. Lin said the client had reached out to dozens of detailers, but many were focused on “eco-washes” and other “green” techniques that did not emphasize the quality of the wash.
In the end, the client selected ShowCarDetailing.com because the business used distilled water, a foam cannon and the two bucket wash method with lamb’s wool mitts. Another factor was the shop’s different methods of drying using either air or microfiber waffle weave towels. After Lin finished with the Lamborghini’s paint, he noticed a number of defects and asked the owner if he was interested in paint correction. Lin also realized the convertible fabric top was not repelling water. He then asked when it had last been treated and whether the client was interested in a treatment.
“He was already enamored by us as he watched how we worked,” Lin recalled. “What began as a simple carwash on an exotic turned into a job with lots of photo opportunities and chances to make big improvements.”
Products and tools
That is one of Lin’s favorite things about detailing: Meeting people that have real problems and changing them from skeptics into passionate believers and fans. But beyond that, Lin also loves the challenge of inventing, solving technical problems and teaching other detailers that are willing to learn. “Detailers are a unique bunch,” he said. “We obsess about every nuance and never stop learning new techniques to improve ourselves.”
ShowCarDetailing.com utilizes the techniques and chemicals that have proven to be the safest and most effective, whether the shop is washing and waxing a dozen fleet vehicles or a single Lamborghini. The employees incorporate the latest techniques and chemicals from Europe along with the best products available in the U.S. Overall, products from multiple lines, including Lin’s own, are frequently used on customers’ vehicles.
The most important factor for choosing soaps, polishes and cleaners is that they are safe and effective, Lin stated. While his preferred wheel cleaner can be expensive to use, it is has shown to be effective on every wheel type including bare, uncoated aluminum. “I tend to stick with what works for me instead of trying every new chemical that comes to market as I believe it is important to master what you have,” he said. “I have good relationships with several manufacturers as well as a network of professional detailers that will try out products first or let me know what is coming.”
But, when it comes to tools, Lin likes to be the first to discover something useful and share it with others. Recently he found a digital microscope that is sold in the youth science market that could be used for his work. Soon, dozens of the microscopes were sold all over the world after Lin showed how they could impact detailing work.
In 2005, Lin invented two detailing aids that could be used in different shops, and in 2007 he created a new exterior plastic trim restorer. Lin worked with his father, a world-renowned cosmetic scientist, to create the trim restorer because he needed a product for all of the plastic on the MINI Coopers he detailed. In 2010, Lin launched a pretreatment product to permanently remove polish and wax residue from exterior plastic. The new product was designed to prep plastics for use of the trim restorer Lin developed. “That was also the first year we attended SEMA and became members,” Lin said. The company had its own booth in 2011 and 2012.
Training and techniques
Even so, Lin does not just develop products and detail cars; he frequently trains other detailers and creates new detailing techniques as well. In fact, Lin started teaching after he attended several free clinics put on Meguiar’s. “I loved to share what I learned, and teaching clinics was a great outlet for me to teach others and gain more experience for myself,” he said. “I modeled the clinics around the fun part ... hands-on teaching. To keep costs down, we would do a potluck for lunch and barbecue burgers on my grill.”
Lin’s link to detailing clinics began in 2003 when he bought a MINI Cooper. After purchasing one of the hard-to-find cars from a dealership in Memphis, TN, he took a cross-country road trip through 13 states. The car was a mess due to the 5,000 mile drive, and Lin wanted to learn the best way to maintain the vehicle. He attended a clinic at Meguiar’s through his local MINI car club.
At this first clinic, Lin met Mike Phillips. “I brought my video camera to create a 30 minute DVD of the clinic and became good friends with the instructor, Mike Phillips,” he said. “Over the next several years we would join forces and shoot instructional DVDs on how to polish paint.” In addition, Lin would hold detailing clinics based at his home for other MINI owners, and eventually he and Mike Phillips parted ways. Lin feels that the separation allowed him to build his own dedicated following.
One of Lin’s latest detailing quests is developing and teaching paint touchup techniques that will rival the results of respraying a panel. In the detail industry, touchup has frequently been treated as a quick and dirty temporary color mask. Combining airbrush, chemical levelers, bondo fillers, air powered orbital tools and infrared curing lamps, Lin said that he has achieved nearly invisible touchup results. “I have a vision for how this can change the industry, so I am working with a friend that is on the board of the [International Detailing Association],” he revealed.
That said, Lin still attends training to develop his own skills. Two of his “biggest supporters” and men Lin has great respect for are Joe Fernandez of Superior Shine and Kevin Brown of BuffDaddy.com. Lin participated in an advanced wetsanding class that the pair taught last year and enrolled ShowCarDetailing.com’s newest employee as well. Lin noted that a detailer can never stop learning, especially when there is an opportunity to work with “the best.”
Employees and forums
Lin explained that finding quality employees has proven to be his business’ biggest challenge. While he feels great to have a shop that is booked out a month in advance, trying to find qualified employees that share Lin’s passion and ethics has been a challenge. As a general rule, the shop does not hire people off the street or people that have worked in body shops or production detail shops.
If an individual expresses an interest in working for ShowCarDetailing.com, Lin will invite them to one of his free clinics and watch how the person works and interacts. If he feels there is potential, the candidate is invited back to be trained and assist on selected projects. “They must have an open mind to accept new ideas and techniques, they must accept responsibility for their own actions and be respectful,” Lin stated. “And most of all they need to be passionate about what we do as the work isn’t always easy.”
For detailers looking to enter the industry, Lin suggested that they learn and master the trade before trying to start a business. Too many people today think detailing is an easy business to get into with low overhead, but many do not take the time to learn the first thing about detailing, Lin stated. Thus, potential detailers should find a mentor, adopt the attitude that they can never stop learning, absorb everything, practice, make mistakes and find a niche.
Next, a detailer should master people and customer service skills. Also, it is a good idea to take business classes and learn how to run a business. Finally, detailers should get involved with other detailers and learn together. Lin said that new detailers should take more classes and read the detailing forums but remember to not believe everything that they read or see.
Lin said he has been active in various online forums for many years. Today, he still does a lot of research using these forums and social media sites before purchasing anything for his business. Although Lin is not affiliated with any officially recognized detailing groups, social media based groups have proven to be excellent resources for networking with other detailers.
“When I first got into this business, I really didn’t identify with other detailers. Most detailers thought I was nuts for not using their favorite sea sponges to wash cars,” Lin stated. Many of his peers could not relate to working on a car for 10 or 12 hours or understand why Lin promoted the idea of polishing in the dark for white and silver cars. “I forged ahead alone, always trying new methods and learning how to perfect paint, and never losing sight of my ultimate goal, to always do the best I possibly could for the best results possible.”
Owner: Richard Lin and GillianMay Lin
Number of employees: 2 full time, 3 part time
Number of locations: 1
Year opened: 2005
Location: Anaheim, CA