One mistake people make when they open a detail business is they don’t put much thought into marketing. The saying “build it and they will come” does not apply to auto detailing. Think of yourself as a fisherman — you have to get the right bait out there to lure in the customers. Once you have them, the next step is to make sure you keep them.
The following are the best rules for marketing your detail shop. Follow these, and you’re sure to lure in some fresh faces.
Rule #1: Do good work
No amount of marketing can replace doing quality work. If you are already an experienced detailer, you are a step ahead of the game.
If you are not an experienced detailer, find a mentor and learn as much as you can. Practice on old cars, ask questions, and experiment with different procedures and products until you are proficient at detailing.
If you have a passion for the business, if you love your job, success will follow. Have someone critique your work. Find your weak points and polish them to perfection.
Rule #2: Hit the streets
You can spend thousand of dollars on advertising, but in my book, the best advertising is the free kind. I spent a lot of time going from door to door talking to people about why they should bring me their car to have it professionally detailed.
You will find that most people like to receive information on car care, and the more you can impress them with what you can do, the more likely they will make an appointment.
Rule #3: Go to car shows
Car shows are a great place to meet owners who collect nice cars. Most of the people will welcome any tips or information you can give them on car care. Folks who attend car shows are fanatics about how their car looks. You may even find many of these people are members of car clubs — another way to connect to potential customers.
Car clubs welcome guest speakers where you can talk for 15 minutes and address a crowd of anywhere from 30-100. Be sure to bring lots of business cards.
Rule #4: Town festivals and craft shows
A great place to promote your business is at town festivals, oftentimes held once a year. Make sure you concentrate on towns near your business.
At these events, the cost of a 10x10 foot space is minimal, around $50. I usually bring a tent, a table and some products to sell. As people come by, talk to them about your business, describe the advantages of a professional detail and pass out cards and fliers. The first festival I attended, I received six new customers and a host of solid leads.
Rule #5: Host detailing clinics
One of my greatest marketing achievements was the introduction of my detailing clinics. After doing some extensive research, I discovered that local libraries host programs and paid the instructors using tax dollars.
I approached the program director at my local library and asked her what she thought about the idea of an auto detailing program. She thought it was a unique idea and said it might attract attendees, so we planned the program three months out.
The opening day of the program, I was amazed that over 65 people had signed up (comprised of 30 percent women). I found out this was a record number for a first run class in the library’s history. When the class was over, I was delighted to see how many people approached me, thanked me for hosting the class, and teaching them about car care.
This class set the stage for what has now been a total of over 200 clinics, most being taught at libraries and park districts. The best part is the attendees get in for free. Another bonus is the new business source it provides. When people learned how much time and work can be involved in a complete detail, many decided to have me do the work. In a short time, I branched out and started hosting the class at high schools and junior colleges.
Since I’m pretty passionate about detailing and I’m a good public speaker, I started to reach out to private organizations like the Lions Club, the Rotary Club and several women’s groups. My name became recognized fairly quickly and soon my business was taking off faster than I could ever have imagined.
Rule #6: Sell products
Think about this: When you open a business and provide a service, you have a limited geographic area that you can cater to. When you sell a product, anyone on the planet can buy it if you market it properly.
Many of the people whose car I detailed asked me what products to use on their cars in-between details. This got me thinking about how I could capitalize on this market. Another group you can target is the do -it-yourself crowd. I found this group spends a lot of cash on car care products. I put together a line of basic items that I could sell, and quickly discovered the profit was well worth the effort.
Before long, my product sales accounted for 34 percent of my gross sales. You can talk to almost any quality company that sells detail supplies and ask about a private label program in order to become a distributor.
You can save a lot money on the purchasing price of the products, allowing you to retail the same products at a competitive price, many times cheaper than what the consumer can pay direct. When you set up your clinics, you can bring product with you to sell.
Rule #7: Sponsor Internet car forums
Marketing products on the Internet yields a quick turnaround. I picked a small amount of online forums: Chrysler, Pontiac and Cadillac. I paid a fee to the site in exchange for the opportunity to talk about my products and services. There are many thousands of people that frequent these forums, and once you prove to them you know what you are talking about and they have your confidence, they will buy products form you.
Once a few people have success using the products and post positive feedback, orders start rolling in. You can set up an internet payment service (i.e. Pay Pal) easily and have money directly deposited into your account when an order is placed.
Rule #8: Create a website
Nothing promotes your business faster or informs customers better then a well organized website. I listed all my services, posted dates of my clinics, listed articles written about me, had all my products and descriptions on it, wrote tips on car care, and even had a picture gallery.
When visitors review your site, they can see you are a professional and they can become educated just by reading the posted information. Many of my appointments were made through my website; it’s a tool you can’t do without.
Rule #9: Value-added services
Two services I added were paintless dent removal and installation of 3M film. To jump-start the services, I made some calls to some smaller companies in each type of business, then asked if they were interested in doing some side work. It didn’t take more than a few phone calls to line up two craftsmen in each profession.
I also asked for some references, to ensure quality work. Both of these men did work for me on the side, and I usually scheduled appointments for later afternoons or weekends. They discounted their price by 50 percent, which meant I could mark it up 40 percent and still be cheaper than other facilities.
Time involved was about 40 minutes per dent, and about two hours to install the film. Every customer is a potential candidate for the film — I sold the 3M film to quite a few people who had come in only for a detail. I added about 25 percent to my monthly profit, and I didn’t even have to do the work. My only regret is it took me three years to discover the advantage of adding these services.
Rule #10: Tell everyone about your business
I once ran into a guy who owned six collector cars. He called me within three days and made six appointments for all of his cars.
Don’t be shy: I once saw a black Corvette with a ton of swirl marks, so I wrote a personal note to the owner explaining how I could remove them, and left the note on his windshield. He called me that evening to say he could not believe I took the time to write it.
He continued, saying he wanted to get his car detailed but didn’t know anybody he could trust. I ended up detailing his car, and he liked it so much that he had me detail his wife’s car and referred me to a few of his friends. Word of mouth travels fast when you do a good job.
Gary Kouba, former owner of Perfect Auto Finish in Roselle, Illinois, teaches auto detailing at libraries, high schools, and junior colleges and has authored a DVD on car care. Gary is active on car forums, supplying information on auto detailing.
He has contributed information for a book on how to start an auto detailing business, and his seminars air on local cable TV.
You can contact Gary at: firstname.lastname@example.org.