Professional Carwashing & Detailing

Do you know the numbers?

October 11, 2010
They say you cannot manage what you cannot measure. This is true of any business, but especially in the detail business. If you know the numbers then you are on the right road to financial success.

Auto detail business owners and carwash detail managers better know the numbers and have these numbers down cold if they plan to make a profit. What numbers should they know? Well, for starters:
  • Sales;
  • Profits;
  • Budgets; and
  • Overhead.
Detailers should also have a count of numbers as they relate to time management. For instance, how many hours it takes to detail a car is obviously very important to know.

Time standards
To truly be productive and successful, you need to establish time standards for yourself and your staff. A good detailer knows the production rate for any given service his company offers. At a minimum, you should know how many man-hours it takes to complete a full-detail.

To learn this, and build a history, you need to measure:
  • Size and condition of vehicle;
  • The employees’ effectiveness; and
  • For mobile operations, non-detailing activities such as travel time, setup and tear-down.
To calculate, begin by classifying the vehicle:
  • Size: Compact, mid-size, full size, SUV or van.
  • Condition: Good, moderate or dirty.
Spot-check these by timing the detailer when working on various sized vehicles and those in differing conditions. Once you know the average times to clean various sized vehicles in differing conditions, you can more easily estimate the prices. The formula becomes your hourly rate multiplied by the estimated time to do the work.

Pay special attention
Remember that some areas will require more work than others, depending on the vehicle’s condition. Special attention should be placed on carpets that have ground in dirt, wheels with baked-on brake dust, and to paints with severe oxidation. For these special cleaning/detailing situations you need to calculate the extra time necessary to complete the task.
Finally, don’t forget to include these actions in your time estimate:
  • Set-up;
  • Clean-up; and
  • Delivery or other special services that must be done.
If you want to increase your profits or continue to win the never ending cost battle, you have to know your detail operation’s numbers. Using accurate time studies gives you the data to properly price a job.

The variables
Cleaning times vary based on the size of the vehicle and condition, as stated. They also will vary depending on the type of equipment and chemicals used.

As an example, waxing a car requires different tools than a severely scratched paint finish so time standards will be different for each vehicle.

Choosing the right tools, chemicals and process, whether it is a specific brush or a buffer is important.

Isolate specific detail jobs and evaluate the tools, chemicals and procedures used. Also, isolate one, two or three of your detailing personnel and have them evaluate these different procedures. Then, pick the most effective and efficient tools, chemicals and process and measure their productivity.

Remember, you cannot expect people to work at an Olympic speed, but you can expect them, when properly trained, to work at an acceptable rate of speed, that is profitable to you.

When evaluating procedures and various tools used, price is an issue. Thus, consider your return on investment (ROI) or the impact on your budget. Always remember your greatest cost is labor. The price of a more efficient tool must be considered if it reduces labor. Many times the higher priced tool will reduce your overall costs and pay for itself in a short period of time.

The final count-down
Another number to be aware of is total wages; including fringe benefits, health insurance and vacation time. All of this adds up and affects your cost of operation.

Therefore, by knowing your numbers, using the most efficient tools and well-trained personnel, you will improve your detailing efficiency and profit.


R.L. “Bud” Abraham is president of Detail Plus Car Appearance Systems, Portland, OR, and a nearly 40-year member of the car care industry. He is also a member of the Western Carwash Association Board of Directors. Abraham can be contacted atbuda@detailplus.com.