Professional Carwashing & Detailing

How to get smarter when you're already brilliant

October 11, 2010
Talk to many detailers and you come away with the impression that they believe they know everything about detailing and are as brilliant as the shine they put on a car.

But we all know that is not true. What is sad is that so many detailers don’t even know what they don’t know.

That said, there are still detailers who know they don’t know, and want to do something about it.

These operators are the ones who attend detail seminars and trade shows, read the industry journals and magazines, and surf the Internet looking for information. As well, these detail business owners are joining detail associations that offer an opportunity to gain information.

“20 Group” concept
Borrowing a page out of the auto dealer book, the International Detailing Association (IDA) is looking at the extremely successful “20 Group” concept that is used by auto dealers to grow and improve themselves and their dealerships. These groups are known by many names: Focus Groups, Performance Groups, Master Mind Groups or Enhancement Groups. The International Carwash Association (ICA) has already enjoyed some success with its similarly modeled program, Business Improvement Groups (BIGS).

Whatever the name, the key ingredient with these groups is that they all have some form of continuing education available.

The concept is simple: Bring business owners and/or managers from different areas of the country together in a controlled learning environment and spend a day or two sharing common problems, ideas and potential solutions with other operators. The beauty of this concept is that it affords an opportunity to test ideas, seek answers to problems and discuss potential solutions without having to actually execute them first.

One of the goals of the IDA (of which I am a founding member) is to form similar groups to achieve the same benefits enjoyed by auto dealers. The IDA seeks to form Enhancement Groups for detail operators to share best practices and use combined efforts to solve unique industry problems.

Lifelong learning
This opportunity to bounce ideas off of other detail business owners who share the same concerns and problems is a tremendous benefit to all. You can use solutions to problems that have already been tried and tested by other owners which will eliminate considerable time and effort in the process, as well as reducing mistakes significantly.

When it comes to learning, people can be broken into two categories:
  • Those who feel like they have had enough education and have no interest in advancing their skills; and

  • Those who are lifelong learners.
The lifelong learners are constantly striving to learn new and better methods. As a supplier and consultant to the detail industry, I have had the opportunity to work with and observe the successes that lifelong learners have been able to achieve by fostering this attitude for learning.

One detailer in particular stands out. Over the years, I have observed this man grow his business from a dingy two-bay shop to a modern, well-equipped, high tech operation doing nearly half a million dollars in sales.

A few years ago he met another detailer at a trade show and borrowed one of his successful practices. A polite, uniformed and well-groomed employee greets the customer and makes the appointment or writes up the ticket. This frees the owner to manage the business, and customers respond very well to the greeter system.

In an Enhancement Group you would have the opportunity to listen to other detailers discuss the trials and tribulations of their approaches to the business and you are able to avoid some of the problems that others had when implementing new concepts.

Another detailer that I know and is a lifelong learner started attending trade shows and meeting other detailers. He was experiencing significant high labor costs and what he learned from the detailers he met and networked with helped him to reduce labor costs, get greater productivity and increase sales. He credits all this from networking with other detailers.
One idea that he working on is a salary pay plan for his technicians. He pays his technicians a salary that is adjusted each quarter based upon their previous quarter’s performance results. Implementing this plan has helped him increase labor gross, ensure that technicians will not want to leave him and improved his customer satisfaction.

It is innovative ideas like these that will make the concept of Enhancement Groups invaluable. Forward thinking operators are constantly pushing the envelope looking for better, faster, more convenient ways to grow their businesses and satisfy their customers’ needs.

What’s inside
So what would happen at such a group meeting?

First, the group members decide to schedule a meeting at a convenient location that would be cost effective for everyone (well, at least most of the people) attending.

Meetings would be structured to make the most of the time available. Each session starts with a “state of the business” review by each member. Members discuss with the group their goals for their business, what they have accomplished and what they are working to accomplish.

After these initial discussions, each member shares with the group one problem that they would like to address during the meeting. Then a list of the problems is made on a board and each member of the group shares with the group how they would address or solve the problem. This group problem solving approach gives not one or two ideas on how to address a problem but as many different ideas on how to resolve a particular problem as there are members in the meeting.

After the problem-solving sessions are completed, the members might share their financial performance. It is suggested that operators are ranked by gross revenue and those who are doing a great job are recognized for their efforts which provides incentive to those who are at the bottom to do something to get off of the bottom of the list.

At the conclusion of each meeting, members might be asked to commit to the group what changes they plan to implement when they return to their businesses that will improve their operation before the next meeting. This sets the stage for progress coming into the next meeting.

These meetings can be conducted as often as is helpful to the operators, although it is suggested the groups meet a minimum of once a year.

If you are interested in becoming part of an Enhancement Group, consider contacting your regional or national association to join or help create such a program. You will be glad you did.

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