Professional Carwashing & Detailing

The E-myth

October 11, 2010

A few years ago, Michael E. Gerber introduced his E-myth principles to the world in his book, “The E-Myth.” The “E” stands for “entrepreneur.”

Gerber helps you to see and understand why the harder you work at your detail business, the less you seem to accomplish.

The fatal mistake many detailers make is to think that knowing how to detail qualifies a person to operate a detail business.

Unfortunately, it is only recently that operators in the detail and carwash industries are realizing how this relates to them.

If you have not read “The E-Myth” or the updated version, “The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don't Work and What to Do About It,” you need to do so.

You will immediately see that the message relates directly to the detail industry and cuts to the very core of problems experienced by most detailers and carwash operators who have detail operations.

I’m my own triplet
A detail business owner or manager needs to be three people-in-one: the entrepreneur, the manager and the technician.

Realize it or not, these three co-exist within your mind, but they battle each other in so far as how to handle the daily problems, decisions and the detail business direction. The three can work in harmony, but they also can dominate one another and hinder the growth of the detail business.

The entrepreneur
The entrepreneurial spirit is what drove you into business, isn’t it? It’s the voice inside that said you didn't want to work for someone else; you could do it better.

Many successful detail business owners look back and realize it isn't as easy as it seemed at the time, but they still look at the decision as the best one they ever made. Carwash operators question why they ever decided to offer detail services, but agree it is a profitable business.

Being an entrepreneur is critical in pushing you to take risks and to continually re-evaluate your business. When you consider the way the detail industry is changing today, even more change is needed to stay in business. These changes are opportunities, and your “entrepreneurial spirit” allows you to embrace these.

But change can lead to chaos or to projects that never get finished. It can lead to over-budget expenses, loss of workers and even bankruptcy.

You must know when it is proper, and when it is not proper, to use these ambitious, sometimes risky traits during the growth of your detail business.

The manager
This person looks at the overall operations of the business and wants order and accountability. Anything you’ve done to set up processes and order in your business has come from this part of your being. But as a manager you dislike the entrepreneur, who is apt to make decisions by the seat of his pants.

A manager is not usually a risk-taker unless they have proper documentation, accurate financial information and a business plan. The entrepreneur has little patience with the methodical process a manager wishes to follow.

However, you must be a manager if your business is to sustain itself, expand and grow. You must have systems in place and delegate responsibility.

Don’t let your position as a manager hinder you from making necessary changes and taking advantage of opportunities as they arise. As mentioned, the manager likes systems and procedures to always stay the same. The manager can be inflexible and will not change, even if the detail business needs to change to grow.

The technician
This person is the key to your early success, but now probably the biggest detriment to your future in the detail business. Most detailers (or carwash operators who hire detail managers) see the technician as the greatest strength, and yet, their greatest weakness.

This person understands detailing inside and out. The technician can usually do every job in the detail process. The tendency of this person, if allowed to dominate the business, is to purchase the most up-to-date detail shop equipment, while their office and other equipment is primitive, at the least.

A common response to updating equipment is: “If it can't make me more money detailing the car, it isn't worth it!”

This disposition always hinders the growth of a detail business.

In the detail business today, the most common areas of change centers on understanding that a detail business is a “sales organization” first, and not a “service organization.”

However, the technician cannot easily accept this. The technician remembers when he performed the work, wrote the estimates, delivered the vehicles and did all of the paperwork. To him, the most important part about the business is to detail the vehicle.

The E-Myth and you
When the business was first started, it was the technician who made it survive. Now it is the technician who is often the cause of its failure. This is the number one challenge when working with detailers worldwide.

If you cannot make the transition from technician to manager, your detail business may not survive as things change. Specialization is the answer.

All business people are faced with challenges that require a “specialist” to solve. During the detail process you might do this often.

Your shop may have a person who is a specialist in buffing and polishing or interior cleaning. As a technician you can clearly see the need for a specialist. However, it is not always clear when a detail business owner needs a specialist to assist in running the actual business.

Education is the key
Books and tapes can help steer you in the right direction. Seminars are also a beginning and can be valuable to you and your staff.

However, look beyond the normal “technical seminar” that you would probably attend to business development and management seminars.

These are offered by local or state agencies to help small businesses, typically through industry sources and community colleges.

If you go to such seminars you will understand why you are frustrated. You will begin to see the bigger picture and learn about solutions to some of your business challenges.

What do you, and even your staff, do when a vendor suggests you read a new business book or attend a seminar? Nobody likes change.

However, to make changes will require you to set strategies, implement changes, train your staff and perform accountability assessments on a regular basis.

This process is often overlooked. It is amazing how much can be done to improve a business, yet the opportunity often is missed.

You need to have a clear vision of your future, to train people to do it your way, to get sales in the door and maintain a high customer satisfaction. To accomplish this requires systems (manager) and sales skills (entrepreneur), as well as being able to see opportunities and seize them.

You must be able to work on your detail business, rather than in your detail business. You must understand the three persons of the E-Myth and realize that if the technician dominates, you will always be working in your detail business.

The correct balance can be achieved, but will require taking off the blinders and chains to accomplish.

Fire your technician and fire up your business.

R.L. “Bud” Abraham is president of Detail Plus Car Appearance Systems, Portland, OR, and a 37-year member of the car-care industry. He is also a member of the International Carwash Association Board of Directors and can be contacted at