Professional Carwashing & Detailing

How detailers can prosper in tough times

October 11, 2010
Open a newspaper or watch TV these days and you see stories on economic doom and gloom. The housing market is in disarray, oil prices continue to rise and the dollar is weak. But what does this current economic condition mean for the detail industry, if anything?

It is easy to develop a pessimistic attitude about business when assaulted with these types of reports every day, but we in the detail business have to keep a positive attitude and not buy into all of this negative conversation. Of course there are hurdles to overcome, but there is also a certain amount of stability in our industry and areas of opportunity for the smart detailer business owner.

While the slowdown in our economy has had a negative impact on many segments in the economy and in our industry, there is a continuous need for detail services by both the dealer and consumer.

Despite it all, detailing is steady
Overall detailing is a relatively stable business compared to a lot of industries. For one, the number of both vehicles and drivers on the road in America is increasing every year and most experts don’t anticipate this trend receding.

Even when people don’t buy new cars, they take care of those they own. Marketing efforts can help educate consumers about the importance of maintaining their vehicle’s appearance in order to increase the value of their investment. Your advertising and signage should subtly remind customers that detailing their vehicle is not a luxury, but rather a necessity to maintain the value of their vehicle.

Of course, price volatility is an ongoing issue for the detail industry. Pricing has been and will continue to be a problem. Chemical companies are telling us they are experiencing increases in raw material prices, especially for petroleum-based products and this will translate into higher chemical prices. Other suppliers are facing large increases in transportation costs.

Meanwhile, customers are looking for a decrease in prices for most goods and services. It’s really a triple whammy — manufacturers raise their prices, so does the distributor, but the customers are demanding lower prices, and as a detailer your cost of doing business is rising.

Even as you navigate through these troubled economic times, historical issues remain. Internal costs related to labor and benefits continue to rise, so attracting better employees is still an important issue to your success.

Working smarter and more efficiently
Despite the obstacles discussed, success and growth is possible for detail business owners. Your ability to grow will depend on working smarter and more creatively while becoming more efficient in order to become a partner with your customers.

Information technology is one tool that you can utilize to improve the efficiencies of your business. Your increased efficiencies can and should carry over to your customers, making your relationship more valuable to them than that of a competitor.

You want to increase your focus on becoming consultative problem solvers for your customers. This will be beneficial for parties because becoming involved with the customer allows you to mitigate price increases in your services.

There are great opportunities for the smart detailer. They are the person who says, “You know what, Mr. Customer? Let’s take some time and work this out together. There are ways we can meet the needs of the vehicle and still give you value for the money you spend.”

Know the problems customers are facing
One way for a detailer to prosper in this economy is understanding the problems customers are facing and being prepared to offer them solutions. Providing added value will help customers solve their vehicle needs and still meet budgetary pressures.

Inventory and product mix are also areas that some detailers can benefit from managing more closely. With economic downturns make more of your purchases direct rather than through distributors.

For some expanding your market channels provides an option. By diversifying your products it offers detailers the opportunity to take advantage of lower prices, close outs, etc.

Opportunities are knocking
Even in a down economy, there are areas of opportunity that will allow for growth. A good way to start identifying these areas is by looking at what target markets are likely to be stable despite a slowing economy.

Going green can be a growth opportunity. If you promote your business is using green products and being green you will attract a certain segment of the market; and a much larger part of the market in the future. Educate customers on the benefits of patronizing a green business will help speed adaptation by consumers to be environmentally friendly.

There are efforts being made to form buying and marketing groups to achieve an economy of scale, allowing detailers to buy needed chemicals and supplies at low prices. Hopefully industry associations can aid in this process, but leadership and the call-to-action must come from the detailers themselves.

While 2008 will likely be a departure from the strong and certain economies of prior years, it will also offer detailers the opportunity to strengthen their business and their place in the market. By developing stronger relationships with customers and suppliers while taking advantage of the existing opportunities, they will be able to come through these uncertain economic times ready to prosper.

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 at